Telecoms Help with Wiretapping; Gonzalez Grilled by Senate Committee

CAPITOL HILL -- Attorney General Alberto Gonzales says President Bush acted "with authority" when he authorized a warrantless spying program. Appearing before the Senate Judiciary Committee, Gonzales said the president used powers granted under both the Constitution and federal law.

But he was challenged by Republican Senator Arlen Specter, who told Gonzales that even the Supreme Court has ruled that "the president does not have a blank check."

The chairman of the Judiciary Committee wants the program's legality reviewed by a special federal court. He asked Gonzales: "There are a lot of people who think you're wrong. What do you have to lose if you're right?" Gonzales initially sidestepped the question, but then told Specter he would have no objection to such a review.

In related news, the nation's largest long-distance carriers reportedly helped the National Security Agency wiretap calls to and from the U.S. without warrants. USA Today reports MCI, Sprint and AT &Tgrant access to their systems without warrants or court orders.

And the newspaper says the companies provide call-routing information that helps physically locate the callers. Verizon, which has acquired MCI and Sprint, had no comment on the report. A call to AT&T was not immediately returned.

The New York Times first wrote about warrantless wiretapping in December. The paper has reported that long-distance carriers were cooperating but hasn't named them.