WASHINGTON – The Department of Justice is prepared to share with a select number of senators some classified documents about the government's terrorism surveillance program, Attorney General Alberto Gonzales said Wednesday.
The court orders and accompanying documentation are part of the materials that led to the secret Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court's taking over authorization of the wiretapping program.
At a Senate Judiciary Committee oversight hearing of the Department of Justice on Jan. 18, Sens. Patrick Leahy, D-Vt., and Arlen Specter, R-Pa., pressured Gonzales to turn over the documents, but Gonzales hesitated and expressed concern that revelation of "operational details" of the specific terror investigation that led to the FISA court's initial involvement would compromise the probe.
"We'd obviously be concerned about (how) the public disclosure may jeopardize the national security of our country. But we're working with the Congress to provide the information that it needs," Gonzales said.
"It's never been the case where we said we would never provide the access," he said.
Specter said he will review the documents and decide if releasing them to the public would pose a national security risk.
"My own view, there ought to be max disclosure consistent with national security interests," Specter said.
President Bush secretly authorized the spying program after the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks, allowing the National Security Agency to bypass court review and conduct domestic surveillance of people suspected of links to terrorism.
The administration announced the day before the Senate hearing that the president would no longer seek authorization for the surveillance program now that the FISA court had issued orders authorizing electronic monitoring of a suspect or suspects in an ongoing investigation.
With those orders, the first of their kind, the program fell under the FISA court's jurisdiction. The classified orders were issued quietly by the court approximately one week before the administration announced the change.
Gonzales said that the court orders, which are classified, would be shared with Leahy and Specter as well as some members of the Senate Intelligence Committee and maybe some senior staff with the proper clearance. He did not specify how those orders would be shared.
They will not be released publicly, he said.
"We're talking about highly classified discussions about highly classified actions of the United States government," Gonzales said.
FOX News' Ian McCaleb and The Associated Press contributed to this report.