Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Arlen Specter (R-Pa.), the Senate's most persistent Republican critic of the Bush administration's lawless surveillance program, is miffed that Vice President Dick Cheney has tried to cut him out of the loop on the issue. When Cheney met with the other Republicans on the Judiciary Committee in an attempt to tamp down any talk of investigating the NSA's surveillance program or seeking judicial review of it, Specter wasn't invited:
Mr. Specter, who had been considering issuing subpoenas to compel telephone company executives to testify, learned of Mr. Cheney's actions only when he went into a closed meeting of the committee's Republicans on Tuesday afternoon, shortly after encountering the vice president at a weekly luncheon of all Senate Republicans.
Mr. Specter's tone in the letter [to Cheney] was restrained, but he made no effort to hide his displeasure at having been outmaneuvered and, in his view, undermined, by Mr. Cheney.
"I was surprised, to say the least, that you sought to influence, really determine, the action of the committee without calling me first, or at least calling me at some point," Mr. Specter wrote. "This was especially perplexing since we both attended the Republican senators caucus lunch yesterday and I walked directly in front of you on at least two occasions en route from the buffet to my table."
In a letter back to Specter, Cheney insists "these communications are not unusual–they are the government at work," while Specter retorts: "He does not face head on; he does not deal with his not having taken it up with the chairman….This isn't me personally; this is institutional. This is not the way government works, to deal with a committee without going through the chairman."
Although the argument has the flavor of a note-passing squabble between schoolgirls ("I KNOW you saw me in the cafeteria! I walked right in front of you!"), with any luck Specter's personal pique will encourage him to persist in asking the right questions about the president's disdain for the law.