The investigation into leaks about a domestic spying program should determine whether the motivation was damaging security or revealing a potentially illegal activity, a Democrat on the Senate Judiciary Committee said Sunday.
“There are differences between felons and whistleblowers, and we ought to wait ’til the investigation occurs to decide what happened,” said Sen. Charles Schumer, D-N.Y.
On Friday, the Justice Department opened an investigation into who divulged the existence of President Bush’s secret domestic spying program. The New York Times reported last month about warrantless surveillance conducted by the National Security Agency since the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001.
Sen. Mitch McConnell, a Kentucky Republican who appeared with Schumer on “Fox News Sunday,” urged the Justice Department to “go after those who breached our national security and endangered Americans in the war on terror.”
Bush has acknowledged the existence of the spying program and defended it as essential to securing the nation. He has cited his constitutional powers as well as a congressional resolution issued after the Sept. 11 attacks as legal justifications for the program.
The Times reported Sunday that a top Justice Department official objected in 2004 to aspects of the NSA program and would not sign off on its continued use as required by the administration.
James B. Comey, a top deputy to then-Attorney General John Ashcroft, was concerned with the program’s legality and oversight, the Times reported. Administration officials then went to Ashcroft, who had been hospitalized for gallbladder surgery, to gain his approval, according to the newspaper, but it was unclear whether Ashcroft gave his approval.
Neither Comey nor Ashcroft would comment on the meeting, according to the Times. White House spokesman Trent Duffy, with Bush at his Texas ranch, declined Sunday to answer questions about any of the administration’s internal discussions.
The Republican chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee, Arlen Specter of Pennsylvania, has called for hearings into the program. McConnell said he would prefer that any hearings be held by the Intelligence Committee, which likely would be in secret.
“We’re already talking about this entirely too much out in public as a result of these leaks … and it’s endangering our efforts to make Americans more secure,” McConnell said.
Schumer, while supporting a leak investigation, questioned shifting the focus from the administration policy to the person who revealed the information to the press.
“To simply divert this whole thing to just looking at the leaker and saying everything else is just fine is typical of this administration,” he said.
Schumer sent a letter Sunday to Specter asking that he call to testify current and former administration officials, including Comey, Ashcroft, Attorney General Alberto Gonzales and White House chief of state Andrew Card. He asked that Specter join him in requesting the administration to waive