Thursday, January 24, 2008

Bush Opens Wiretap Documents to House

WASHINGTON (AP) -- Ending months of resistance, the White House has agreed to give House members access to secret documents about its warrantless wiretapping program, a congressional official said Thursday.

The Bush administration is trying to convince the House to protect from civil lawsuits the telecommunications companies that helped the government eavesdrop on Americans without the approval of a court. Congress created the court 30 years ago to oversee such activities.

House Intelligence and Judiciary committee members and staff will begin reading the documents at the White House Thursday, said an aide to Intelligence Committee Chairman Rep. Silvestre Reyes, D-Texas.

Reyes and ranking Republican Rep. Pete Hoekstra of Michigan requested the documents in May, saying they would not support telecom immunity without them. The Senate committees were given the documents last fall.

The documents include the president's authorization of warrantless wiretapping, White House legal opinions going back to 2001, and the requests sent to the telecommunications companies asking for their assistance, said the official, who declined to be named because of the sensitivity of the classified program.

The White House's offer comes as the Senate grapples with how to update the 1978 Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act, the law that dictates when federal agents must obtain court permission before tapping phone and computer lines inside the United States to gather intelligence on foreign threats. Agents may tap lines outside the country without court oversight.

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