TELECOM Digest OnLine - Sorted: Gonzales Defends Bush Eavesdropping

Gonzales Defends Bush Eavesdropping

Katherine Shrader (
Mon, 6 Feb 2006 12:24:15 -0600

Gonzales Defends Legality of Surveillance
By KATHERINE SHRADER, Associated Press Writer

Attorney General Alberto Gonzales insisted Monday that President Bush
is fully empowered to eavesdrop on Americans without warrants as part
of the war on terror. He exhorted Congress not to end or tinker with
the program.

Gonzales' strong defense of Bush's program was challenged by
Republican Sen. Arlen Specter, chairman of the Judiciary Committee,
and committee Democrats during sometimes contentious questioning.

Specter told Gonzales that even the Supreme Court had ruled that "the
president does not have a blank check." Specter suggested that the
program's legality be reviewed by a special federal court set up by
the 1978 Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act.

"There are a lot of people who think you're wrong. What do you have to
lose if you're right?" Specter, R-Pa., asked Gonzales.

However, he said that court was already quite familiar with the
program. He also said he did not think the 1978 law needed to be

And, said Gonzales, "To end the program now would afford our enemy
dangerous and potential deadly new room for operation within our

Specter told Gonzales that federal law "has a forceful and blanket
prohibition against any electronic surveillance without a court

While the president claims he has the authority to order such
surveillance, Specter said, "I am skeptical of that interpretation."

A former Texas judge, Gonzales played an important role as White House
counsel in developing the legal justification for the spy program. He
served in that post from January 2001 to February 2005.

Committee Democrats, who have generally contended that Bush is acting
illegally in permitting domestic surveillance by the National Security
Agency, sharply grilled Gonzales.

Sen. Patrick Leahy, D-Vt., asked if the authorization Bush claims to
have would also enable the government to open mail -- in addition to
monitoring voice and electronic communications.

"There is all kinds of wild speculation out there about what the
president has authorized and what we're actually doing," Gonzales

"You're not answering my question," Leahy retorted. "Does this law
authorize the opening of first class mail of U.S. citizens? Yes or

"That's not what's going on," Gonzales said. "We are only focusing on
international communications, where one part of the conversation is

Gonzales said the fact that the nation is at war gives the president
more powers than during peacetime. "The president is acting with
authority both by the Constitution and by statute," he said.

Gonzales called the eavesdropping program "reasonable" and "lawful,"
and said much of the published criticism about it was "misinformed,
confused or wrong."

Monday's hearing got off to a rocky start when Republicans and
Democrats disagreed over whether Gonzales should be sworn
in. Democrats said he should, but Specter said it wasn't necessary.

He wasn't. "My answers would be the same whether I was under oath or
not," Gonzales told the panel.

Gonzales reiterated the administration's contention that Bush was
authorized to allow the NSA to eavesdrop, without first obtaining
warrants, on people inside the United States whose calls or e-mails
may be linked to terrorism.

Sen. Edward M. Kennedy, D-Mass., told Gonzales the administration
broke with the time-honored system of checks and balances by not
seeking greater congressional cooperation.

Kennedy said the eavesdropping program could actually weaken national
security, raising the prospect that terror suspects could go free if
courts rule evidence collected from such surveillance to be tainted.

"We're taking a risk with national security which I think is unwise,"
Kennedy said.

"We don't believe prosecutions are going to be jeopardized because of
this program," Gonzales told Kennedy.

Gonzales declined to discuss details of the operation, as skeptics of
the program have demanded. "An open discussion of the operational
details of this program would put the lives of Americans at risk," he

The program has sparked a heated debate about presidential powers in
the war on terror since it was first disclosed in December.

Gonzales argued that Congress did, in fact, authorize the president in
September 2001 to use military force in the war on terror.

The Judiciary Committee's Democrats want Specter to call more
administration officials for questioning, including former Attorney
General John Ashcroft and ex-Deputy Attorney General Jim Comey, both
of whom reportedly objected to parts of the program.

Specter said such appearances were possible.

The committee chairman asked Gonzales if he would have any objections
to Ashcroft's appearance before the committee on the spy program.
Gonzales told Specter his committee could ask whomever they wanted to
appear. "Senator, I don't think I would have an objection."

On the Net:

Senate Judiciary Committee:

Copyright 2006 The Associated Press.

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