WASHINGTON – Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Arlen Specter cranked up his dispute with the Bush administration over executive power on Thursday, threatening to subpoena documents on the White House's warrantless surveillance program.
Specter said he had not received a response to his request that Attorney General Alberto Gonzales appear before the panel this month to answer questions about the surveillance program and other touchy subjects — such as the FBI raid on a lawmaker's office last month.
"I will ask for authorization for a subpoena if we do not get an adequate response," Specter told the committee.
Such prodding may not be necessary, according to the Bush administration.
"We are currently working with Chairman Specter to set a date for the attorney general to appear," Justice Department spokesman Eric Holland said.
The Pennsylvania Republican, who won the administration's goodwill by ushering two of its nominees onto the Supreme Court in the last year, has engaged in an increasingly tense standoff with the White House over matters he believes could amount to abuses of executive power.
Under that umbrella fall several administration policies that Specter wants to examine and the White House has resisted explaining. The administration argues that the details are matters of national security and subject to executive privilege.
The policies include a probe into Bush's domestic surveillance program that has been dropped by Gonzales' Office of Professional Responsibility; revelations that the government, aided by telephone companies, is keeping records of calls made by Americans; the government's attempts to investigate and prosecute journalists who refuse to reveal their sources; and the FBI's raid last month on Rep. William Jefferson's Capitol Hill offices as part of a bribery probe.
Specter also wants to examine the statements Bush issues when he signs bills into law, in which the president enumerates how he will interpret them.
"There's a whole litany of questions that the attorney general is going to have to answer," Specter said this week. "We're going to press him as hard as we can."