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GOP senator wants explanation of warrantless-mail-search claim
By NEW YORK DAILY NEWS
WASHINGTON — The Republican sponsor of a postal reform bill called Thursday on President Bush to explain why he used it to claim he can open domestic mail without a search warrant.
Sen. Susan Collins of Maine questioned Bush's controversial Dec. 20 "signing statement" in which he stated if there were an emergency he wouldn't need a warrant to open letters. The bill he signed into law that day, co-sponsored by Collins, requires search warrants for mail.
"It is my hope that the administration will clarify its intent with this recent statement," said Collins, a GOP moderate.
The former Senate Homeland Security Committee chairwoman added that she has long had concerns about Bush's broad use of signing statements that attempt to reinterpret laws passed by Congress.
But White House spokesman Tony Snow insisted that "there is nothing new here."
Snow said Bush's signing statement — which followed a bill-signing ceremony during the winter congressional recess that was off-limits to reporters — merely stated "present law."
An assistant attorney general, though, wrote in a 2005 letter to Rep. Jeff Flake, R-Ariz., that warrantless mail searches "would be highly unusual."
And, "even then you'd have to go to a judge after the fact and explain what you've done," Attorney General Alberto Gonzales told Flake during an April 2005 House Judiciary Committee hearing.
National security law experts have been divided, and most agree that the courts would have to sort out whether the president is right.
Bush has been the most prolific of any president in issuing the nonbinding proclamations that try to reinterpret laws.
When signing the bipartisan postal reform law, he asserted that it gave him the right to order warrantless mail searches in "exigent circumstances," meaning emergencies, and for foreign intelligence purposes.
Questioning his claim Thursday were civil libertarians, veteran law enforcement agents and lawmakers, including Sen. Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y. He called it a "last-minute, irregular and unauthorized reinterpretation of a duly passed law."
Sen. Hillary Clinton, D-N.Y., said Bush's latest action shows he's "willing to circumvent those legal protections intended to safeguard both our citizens' privacy and our national security."