Roberts criticizes Democrats over surveillance issue

Fresh off Monday’s appearance with President Bush to defend the warrantless wiretapping program, U.S. Sen. Pat Roberts is battling Democrats over the issue.

Roberts, R-Kan., said this week that his Senate Intelligence Committee would discuss the program, but he accused Democrats of playing politics with the issue.

“I think we can all agree that intelligence issues, especially in the middle of a war, should not be used as fodder for political advantage,” he said in a letter Wednesday to Democrats who had called for aggressive investigation of the program.

But Democratic members of the committee complained that Roberts had done little to satisfy their concerns.

“To date, our committee has not announced its intention to thoroughly investigate the program,” they said in a Tuesday letter signed by Sen. Jay Rockefeller, D-W.Va., and the six other Democrats on the committee.

The New York Times in December disclosed that the National Security Agency, under the authorization of President Bush, had been eavesdropping on communications between U.S. citizens and people outside the country – while bypassing a secret federal court set up in 1978 to monitor and approve federal wiretaps.

Critics say Bush broke the law with the program. But the president defended the program Monday during his appearance at Kansas State University – with Roberts onstage with him – and again Thursday during a news conference at the White House.

“The program’s legal, it’s designed to protect civil liberties and it’s necessary,” Bush said Thursday.

While Roberts has expressed support for the president’s position, fellow Kansas Republican Sen. Sam Brownback has expressed skepticism. Brownback serves on the Senate Judiciary Committee, which will begin hearings on the matter Feb. 6.

And Democrats remain critical.

“We believe : the significance of this intelligence collection program and the controversy it has engendered requires our committee to take action,” committee Democrats said in Tuesday’s letter.

Roberts, in his letter, said the committee would be briefed on the issue Feb. 16 by the Department of Justice.

He warned Democrats not to politicize the issue.

“Doing so,” he wrote, “is unnecessary, unwise and potentially dangerous.”