Will Pennsylvaina Republican Arlen Specter be the one who finally puts the brakes on the PATRIOT Act? He certainly sounds like he is pissed off enough to buck Dear Leader on this issue.
A senior Republican lawmaker expressed frustration Tuesday with the Justice Department’s failure at a closed-door briefing to provide information about its use of the sweeping antiterrorism law known as the USA Patriot Act.
The lawmaker, Senator Arlen Specter of Pennsylvania, who leads the Judiciary Committee, said he and others in the Senate sought details from senior intelligence officials at the Justice Department and the Federal Bureau of Investigation about their demands for records and their use of roving wiretaps, secret search warrants and other provisions in the law.
Although the Justice Department last week released batches of newly declassified data about the use of the law, officials indicated that the most sensitive information would have to be delivered to members of Congress through classified meetings.
“This closed-door briefing was for specifics,” Mr. Specter said after emerging from the session on Tuesday. “They didn’t have specifics.”
Mr. Specter said that with many questions about whether the law has impinged on due process and civil rights, Congressional officials “want to see exactly what they’re doing and where the justification is.”
He said Justice Department officials “got the message” about his frustration, and he promised, “We’re going to be digging.”
While Senator Orrin G. Hatch, a Utah Republican who preceded Mr. Specter as chairman of the Judiciary Committee, was a staunch ally of the Bush administration on law enforcement matters, Mr. Specter is seen as far less predictable, and he made clear on Tuesday that he would not give the administration a free pass.
He said the Bush administration had failed to justify its need for one of the more disputed provisions in the law, allowing agents to demand records from institutions like libraries for intelligence investigations.
“There’s a great public concern about library records,” Mr. Specter said.