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House panel approves wiretap resolution

By
STEPHANIE SONNTAG

WASHINGTON, June 22 (UPI) -- GOP lawmakers are threatening to pass a "resolution of inquiry" forcing the handover of documents about the president's program of warrantless wiretapping.

The House Judiciary Committee approved a Democrat-sponsored "resolution of inquiry" Wednesday requiring the administration to turn over records concerning any government requests for "access to telephone communications records of persons in the United States" not made under the 1978 Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act or other criminal statutes.

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At the committee meeting, Chairman F. James Sensenbrenner Jr., R-Wisc., expressed his frustration with the administration, which has stonewalled congressional requests for information about the controversial program -- designed to monitor telephone calls, e-mails and other electronic communications into and out of the United States by people believed linked to terrorist groups like al-Qaida.

"I have concerns about the justice department's lack of cooperation in providing the committee information," Sensenbrenner said, adding that the committee ought to approve the resolution to "send the administration a message."

The program was approved by President in October, 2001, but -- aside from a small group of Congressional leaders briefed personally by the vice president -- lawmakers did not know about it until a leak to the New York Times enlightened the whole world Dec. 16, 2005.

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On Feb. 8, Sensenbrenner sent a letter to Attorney General Alberto Gonzales requesting detailed information on the program. On April 6, Gonzales appeared before his committee and Sensenbrenner again expressed his frustration with the attorney general's refusal to answer questions.

"It is imperative that this committee has the information it needs to conduct appropriate oversight to ensure the constitutionality of this program," Sensenbrenner said.

Sensenbrenner will determine whether the resolution reaches the house floor for debate. He affirmed that unless Gonzales and the administration respond to the judiciary committee's requests, he will put the resolution up for debate.

The somewhat unexpected adoption of the resolution is indicative of the many lawmakers with concerns over the administration's secrecy about the surveillance program.

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