A letter drafted by the Obama administration specifically to inform Congress of the government’s mass collection of Americans’ telephone communications data was withheld from lawmakers by leaders of the House Intelligence Committee in the months before a key vote affecting the future of the program.
The February 2011 document was declassified last month and has been cited repeatedly by administration officials and legislative leaders as evidence that the surveillance program had been properly examined by Congress as part of an aggressive system of checks and balances.
A cover letter to the House and Senate intelligence committees that was sent with the document asked the leaders of each panel to share the written material with all members of Congress.
Ronald Weich, who was an assistant attorney general at the time, wrote that making the material available to Congress would be an “effective way to inform the legislative debate about reauthorization” of the provision of the Patriot Act that served as the legal basis for the phone surveillance. A similar document was available to all members of Congress in 2009, prior to a 2010 reauthorization vote.