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White House shared docs in exchange for telecom immunity

The White House cut a deal with the Senate Intelligence Committee, allowing the committee to see documents on its warrantless surveillance program in exchange for advocating immunity for telecom companies. That was the charge levelled by Judiciary Chairman Patrick Leahy (D-Vt) and ranking Republican Arlen Specter (R-Pa), according to the Washington Post.

The White House cut a deal with the Senate Intelligence Committee, allowing the committee to see documents on its warrantless surveillance program in exchange for advocating immunity for telecom companies. That was the charge levelled by Judiciary Chairman Patrick Leahy (D-Vt) and ranking Republican Arlen Specter (R-Pa), according to the Washington Post.

The two said the "unacceptable" and demanded that the documents, which were provided only to the Intelligence Committee, be turned over to the Judiciary Committee as well.

Tony Fratto, a White House spokesman, said yesterday that what the White House did was "not exactly" a quid pro quo but that the intelligence panel "expected to legislate on the liability" and so "we've been accommodative on sharing information."

Fratto said that the White House could not make documents containing presidential authorizations and the Justice Department's legal opinions underpinning the surveillance program available to members not already briefed on the NSA program, as members of the Intelligence Committee were. He said talks are ongoing on that point.

An Intelligence Committee aide said there was "no quid pro quo."

"The documents we'd already received and carefully reviewed certainly led (Sen. Jay) Rockefeller (D-WV) to the opinion that immunity was justified in this case," said the aide. "But we felt it was an important principle to not allow the administration to deprive the committee of the full panoply of documents before they proceeded to markup."

Sen. Russell Feingold (D-WI), a member of both the Intelligence and Judiciary panels, said the NSA program was illegal, whatever legal opinions the White House and Justice Dept. come up with.

"That makes it an executive power grab that is not justified by the statute or by the Constitution," he said.

"Everything (an aide) saw and reported to me would indicate that the terrorist surveillance program involved was illegal and not something permissible given the clear exclusivity language in the statute," said Feingold, referring to current law, which specifies that FISA, along with Title III of the 1968 Wiretap Act, shall be the "exclusive" means to authorize domestic wiretaps.