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Stinging Report Says Bush White House Kept Justice Dept. Lawyers in the Dark on Warrantless Wiretaps

There’s no sugar coating the ugly truth about the way things were handled. The biting report also confirms outsiders’ suspicions that the White House undermined the Justice Department’s mission.

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By Carrie Johnson and Ellen Nakashima
Washington Post Staff Writer
WASHINGTON — The Bush White House so strictly controlled access to its warrantless eavesdropping program that only three Justice Department lawyers were aware of the plan, which nearly ignited mass resignations and a constitutional crisis when a wider circle of administration officials began to question its legality, according to a watchdog report released today.

The unclassified summary by five inspectors general from government intelligence agencies called the arrangements “extraordinary and inappropriate” and asserted that White House secrecy “undermined” the ability of the Justice Department to do its work.

The report is the first public sign of a long running investigative review of a program that provoked fierce conflict within the highest levels of the Bush administration in 2004. At the time, the Justice Department’s second in command and the director of the FBI both vowed to resign if President Bush continued with electronic intelligence gathering that they believed was outside the boundaries of the law.

Today’s report was mandated by Congress in legislation last year that updated the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act of 1978 to accommodate new technologies. The bulk of the review remains highly classified.

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