Citing Bush Statement that Such Hearings are 'Good for Democracy', Ranking Minority Member of House Judiciary Extends Invitation
Former Deputy AG, Ardent Administration Defender, Architect of Torture Memos, John Yoo Also Called to Testify
By Brad Friedman on 1/12/2006, 12:51pm PT  

In response to George W. Bush's statement yesterday that hearings on the NSA program are "good for democracy," Rep. John Conyers (D-MI), on behalf of the minority members of the U.S. House Judiciary committee, has today sent invitations to Attorney General Alberto Gonzales and former Deputy Assistant Attorney General John Yoo to testify at planned hearings next Friday on the matter of warrentless NSA spying on United States citizens.

In the letter to Gonzales, obtained by The BRAD BLOG, Conyers quotes from Bush's comments yesterday at a Town Hall Forum in Kentucky in apparent support of such hearings (full letters to both Gonzales and Yoo posted at bottom of this article):

I would note that, just this past Wednesday, the President stated his support for this type of congressional review of the National Security Agency program. He stated, “There will be a lot of hearings and talk about that, but that's good for democracy – just so long as the hearings, as they explore whether or not I have the prerogative to make the decision I made doesn't tell the enemy what we're doing.” The purpose of our inquiry is precisely that, to explore whether the President possesses the constitutional or statutory power to authorize the surveillance he did.

Yoo, now a law professor at the University of California, Berkley has been an ardent defender of the Bush Administration's unrestrained exercise of Executive power in secretly monitoring United States citizens via warrantless NSA wiretaps. He is also reportedly the architect, along with Gonzales, of several controversial Administration positions concerning their right to torture and the notion that prisoners of war in Afghanistan and elsewhere did not fall under the protections of the Geneva Convention.

The congressional hearings are scheduled for next Friday by Democratic members of the U.S. House Judiciary Committee.

In a statement to The BRAD BLOG, Conyers discussed his strong belief in Congressional oversight of the Executive branch despite unwillingness of members of Bush's own party to do so.

"It is imperative that we do everything we can to investigate abuses by the Bush Administration, whether the Majority is willing to or not," he told us. "Last time we held hearings on the Downing Street Documents, we were forced to the basement, but that didn't stop our message and the message for more than 500,000 Americans from getting out."

Conyers and other Democrats held hearings last June on the so-called "Downing Street Documents", which revealed the Bush Administration had planned to use military power in Iraq long before they had admitted as much to either Congress or the American people.

Those hearings, carried live on CSPAN, were followed by Conyers' hand-delivery of more than 500,000 signatures from Americans, demanding answers about those top-secret British memos from the White House.

The Democrats have once again requested a Capital Building Hearing room from the Republicans, who control scheduling of such rooms. They have yet to hear back as to wether they will be granted one or not for next Friday's hearings.

Scheduled to testify at the hearings so far are: Bruce Fein, Associate Deputy Attorney General under Reagan, Jonathon Turley, Professor of law, George Washington Univ. Law School, Jeffrey H. Smith, former CIA General Counsel and Caroline Frederickson of the ACLU.

Smith, it was revealed by an ABC News report hours ago, has sent a 14-page memo to the House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence countering the notion that Bush had legal authority to order warrantless wiretaps on U.S. citizens. Smith avers that "it is not credible that the 2001 authorization to use force provides authority for the president to ignore the requirements of FISA."

That memo, not previously released with ABC's report, can be downloaded here [PDF].

The complete letters to Gonzales and Yoo follow...

Letter from Conyers to Gonzales:

January 12, 2006

The Honorable Alberto Gonzales
Attorney General of the United States
U.S. Department of Justice
950 Pennsylvania Avenue, NW
Washington, DC 20530

Dear Mr. Attorney General:

I write to invite you to appear as a witness at a congressional briefing next Friday on the Bush Administration's warrantless surveillance of U.S. citizens. The briefing will examine whether the President has the constitutional or statutory authority to order surveillance within the United States absent judicial approval.

I would note that, just this past Wednesday, the President stated his support for this type of congressional review of the National Security Agency program. He stated, “There will be a lot of hearings and talk about that, but that's good for democracy – just so long as the hearings, as they explore whether or not I have the prerogative to make the decision I made doesn't tell the enemy what we're doing.” The purpose of our inquiry is precisely that, to explore whether the President possesses the constitutional or statutory power to authorize the surveillance he did.

In particular, the Members who will be participating would like to hear the Justice Department's opinion on the constitutional and statutory underpinnings for the surveillance, the extent to which any Department officials and attorneys raised concerns about the legality of the surveillance, and, more generally, what limits there are on the President's powers while the U.S. Armed Forces are engaged in the use of force.

The hearing is scheduled for 10 AM on Friday, January 20, 2006. Appearing as witnesses will be: Bruce Fein, Associate Deputy Attorney General under President Reagan; Jeff Smith, CIA General Counsel under President Clinton; Jonathan Turley, Professor of Law at George Washington University; and Caroline Frederickson, Washington Legislative Director for the American Civil Liberties Union.

We would look forward to hearing the Administration's views on the legality of the surveillance and, as such, would welcome your participation. Please reply through the Judiciary Committee Democratic Office, 2142 Rayburn House Office Building, Washington, DC 20515 (tel: ###-###-####; fax: ###-###-####).

Sincerely,

John Conyers, Jr.
Ranking Member

Letter from Conyers to Gonzales:

January 12, 2006

John Choon Yoo
Professor of Law
University of California, Berkeley
School of Law
890 Simon Hall
Berkeley, CA 94720 7200

Dear Professor Yoo:

I write to invite you to appear as a witness at a congressional briefing next Friday on the Bush Administration's warrantless surveillance of U.S. citizens. The briefing will examine whether the President of the United States has the constitutional or statutory authority to order surveillance within the United States absent judicial approval.

In particular, the Members who will be participating would like to hear diverse opinions on the constitutional and statutory underpinnings for the surveillance and, more generally, what limits there are on the President's powers while the U.S. Armed Forces are engaged in the use of force. You have been an outspoken advocate for broad presidential powers and undoubtedly would make a significant contribution to our discussion and to the American public's understanding of our Constitution.

The hearing is scheduled for 10 AM on Friday, January 20, 2006. Appearing as witnesses will be: Bruce Fein, Associate Deputy Attorney General under President Reagan; Jeff Smith, CIA General Counsel under President Clinton; Jonathan Turley, Professor of Law at George Washington University; and Caroline Frederickson, Washington Legislative Director for the American Civil Liberties Union.

We would look forward to hearing whether you will participate in our inquiry. Please reply through the Judiciary Committee Democratic Office, 2142 Rayburn House Office Building, Washington, DC 20515 (tel: ###-###-####; fax: ###-###-####).

Sincerely,

John Conyers, Jr.
Ranking Member