WASHINGTON -- A high-ranking Republican lashed out at President Bush yesterday, suggesting that the White House may have broken the law by failing to inform Congress of a "major" intelligence program and other undercover activities.
Rep. Peter Hoekstra of Michigan, chairman of the House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence, complained that he had received a briefing from the Bush administration on several intelligence programs only after learning of them from a whistle-blower.
"It is not optional for this president, or any president or people in the executive community, not to keep the intelligence committees fully informed of what they are doing," said Hoekstra, who revealed no details of the intelligence efforts on Fox News Sunday.
Alex Conant, a White House spokesman, declined to comment, but said the administration would "continue to work closely with the chairman and other congressional leaders on important national-security issues."
Hoekstra's accusations follow months of dispute over the public disclosure of key administration intelligence efforts in suspected terrorism cases, such as the National Security Agency's warrantless wiretapping of people in the United States and the monitoring of international bank transfers.
Although Hoekstra had been informed of those initiatives, he wrote a letter to Bush in May in which he complained of being kept in the dark on several undisclosed programs.
A close White House ally, Hoekstra told Bush that the failure to disclose the information "may represent a breach of responsibility by the administration, a violation of law, and just as importantly, a direct affront to me and the members of this committee."
"The U.S. Congress simply should not have to play 'Twenty Questions' to get the information that it deserves under the constitution," Hoekstra wrote in the letter, first disclosed by The New York Times.
Hoekstra said yesterday that a whistle-blower had stepped forward to alert the committee about the intelligence efforts, which he described as an example of the process "working appropriately." He said he then asked for the briefing by referring to the programs' code names.
Jim Puzzanghera and T. Christian Miller write for the Los Angeles Times.