Dems, Bush spar over domestic spying

Democratic senators took the Bush administration to task Friday for
four years of domestic spying, while the president fought back with a
planned embrace of the intelligence agency that is carrying out the

In preparation for Senate hearings, Edward Kennedy of
Massachusetts noted that President Bush asserted in 2004 that “when
we’re talking about chasing down terrorists, we’re talking about
getting a court order before we do so.”

That Bush statement came
at the same time the National Security Agency was engaging _ at the
president’s direction _ in warrantless eavesdropping on Americans.

“If President Bush can make his own rules for domestic surveillance, Big Brother has run amok,” Kennedy said in a statement.

a proposed Senate resolution, Kennedy and Sen. Patrick Leahy of Vermont
rejected White House assertions that congressional action after Sept.
11 authorized warrantless eavesdropping inside the United States.

joint resolution of Congress authorized the use of force against those
responsible for the Sept. 11 attacks, but it “says nothing about
domestic electronic surveillance,” Kennedy declared.

back, Bush plans a Wednesday visit to the NSA, where he will reassert
his claim that he has the constitutional authority to let intelligence
officials listen in on international phone calls of Americans with
suspected ties to terrorists.

“We are stepping up our efforts to
educate the American people,” White House press secretary Scott
McClellan said of the trip to the NSA, based at Fort Meade in Maryland.
McClellan called the program “a critical tool that helps us save lives
and prevent attacks. It is limited and targeted to al-Qaida
communications, with the focus being on detection and prevention.”

John Cornyn, R-Texas, said the new audio tape of Osama bin Laden
threatening attacks on American soil “is a vivid reminder why we must
continue to intercept communications between al-Qaida overseas and
potential operatives in the United States.”

On Monday, deputy
national intelligence director Mike Hayden, who led the National
Security Agency when the program began in October 2001, will speak on
the issue at the National Press Club.

On Tuesday, Attorney General Alberto Gonzales is delivering a speech on the program in Washington.

also plans to testify Feb. 6 about the secret program before the Senate
Judiciary Committee where Kennedy and Leahy are members.

Democrats said Bush has committed a crime in authorizing the spying and
that House Republicans have abdicated their responsibilities by
refusing to hold hearings.

Rep. John Conyers, the House Judiciary
Committee’s top Democrat, and other Democrats met in a basement room of
a House office building Friday to hear a panel of lawyers and activists
discuss whether Bush had committed an impeachable offense.

the Justice Department on Wednesday issued a 42-page legal
justification for the eavesdropping program, an expanded version of a
document the agency sent Congress last month.

“Making their
argument longer didn’t make it any better,” said Rep. Chris Van Hollen,
D-Md., a Judiciary Committee member. He said Bush’s secret approval of
warrantless eavesdropping had made congressional debate on the Patriot
Act meaningless.

The NSA’s warrantless eavesdropping program is
“an intelligence operation in search of a legal rationale,” said George
Washington University law professor Jonathan Turley.

“What the
president ordered in this case was a crime,” added Turley, who said
House Republicans are establishing a terrible precedent by not holding
oversight hearings.

To fend off criticism, Deputy White House
Chief of Staff Karl Rove and White House spokesman Scott McClellan
referred to statements by John Schmidt, a Clinton administration
associate attorney general who defended the program.

wrote last month in the Chicago Tribune that Bush’s authorization of
the NSA surveillance is consistent with court decisions and Justice
Department positions under prior presidents.


AP White House reporter Deb Riechmann contributed to this story.

© 2006 The Associated Press