Specter Won't Subpoena Telecom Executives


By KATHERINE SHRADER, Associated Press Writer
Tuesday, June 6, 2006

(06-06) 15:20 PDT WASHINGTON (AP) -- Phone company executives won't be grilled by a Senate panel anytime soon about their roles in the Bush administration's eavesdropping program.

Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Arlen Specter, R-Pa., said Tuesday he will hold off subpoenaing the telecommunications chiefs while he works with the White House on his legislation that would ask a secretive federal court to review the constitutionality of Bush's surveillance operations.

Democrats accused Specter of abdicating Congress' oversight responsibilities.

"Why don't we just recess for the rest of the year?" the committee's top Democrat, Sen. Pat Leahy of Vermont, asked sarcastically. "Vice President Cheney will just tell the nation what laws we'll have."

Bush has acknowledged that the National Security Agency monitored — without court approval — the communications of terror suspects when one person was in the United States and another was overseas. Until Bush ordered the operations shortly after 9/11, a judge had to sign off on such monitoring.

Following a report last month in USA Today, lawmakers have said the government is also using general information on Americans' telephone calls — such as the number called, and the number dialed from — to analyze calling patterns to detect and track suspected terrorist activity.

Specter had threatened to subpoena executives of the major phone companies to get them to testify about their cooperation with the NSA. But in an informal conversation, one company lawyer told Specter the executives wouldn't be able to testify about any classified information. Specter said Cheney told the committee the restriction would apply to everyone the senators want to question.

"I cannot make them talk," said Specter, who later acknowledged that the executives have access to more information than senators.

In exchange for deferring action on the phone companies, Specter said Cheney has specifically agreed to work with him on his legislation.

Specter rejected suggestions that he was letting the White House dictate the committee's agenda, and he said he plans to have Attorney General Alberto Gonzales before the committee later this month.

"I yield to no man or woman on pressing this administration on these issues," he said.