The often illegal and un-Constitutional administration of President George W. Bush is not giving up on its program to use the National Security Agency to spy on Americans. The administration Friday asked a federal judge to delay enforcing her order for a halt to the NSA’s warrantless communications surveillance program.
The Justice Department argued that ending the intelligence-gathering program threatens “the gravest of harms to the government and to the American public” and leaves the country “more vulnerable to terrorist attack.”
Constitutional scholar Jonathan Turley of George Washington University says the government’s argument is a crock and says the court’s decision, if upheld on appeal, could provide grounds for impeachment of the President.
“This ruling is a bad situation that just got worse for the White House,” says Turley. “These crimes could constitute impeachable offenses.”
Turley says the ruling has “serious implications” for Bush and that the President has violated federal law at least 30 times.
The White House, of course, disagrees and trots out the overused “national security” argument to try and offset the seriousness of the judge’s ruling.
“We respectfully submit that this court should not override the national security judgment of the president and the nation’s senior intelligence officers regarding the harm that would result” from the program’s suspension, the government lawyers argued in a motion filed with the court.
U.S. District Judge Anna Diggs Taylor ruled last month in Detroit that the National Security Agency’s warrantless surveillance program is unconstitutional and ordered that it be halted.
“There are no hereditary Kings in America and no powers not created by the Constitution. So all ‘inherent powers’ must derive from that Constitution,” Taylor wrote in her lengthy opinion.
White House aides attacked Taylor’s integrity and credibility, noting that she was an appointee of former President Jimmy Carter.
A Republican National Committee press release declared: Liberal judge backs Dem agenda to weaken national security.
Turley says such tactics are typical for the Bush White House.
That’s what’s really distasteful; This is not the first judge to rule against the administration. But every time a judge rules against the administration, they’re either too Democratic or they’re too tall or too short, or they’re Pisces. I mean, it, you can, all this spin, this effort to personalize it is really doing a great injustice to our system. If you look at this opinion, it’s a very thoughtful opinion. The problem is not the judge. The problem is a lack of authority. You know, when Gonzales says I’ve got something back in my safe, and if you could see it, you’d all agree with me, well, unless there’s a federal statute in his safe, then it’s not going to make a difference.
The Justice Department appealed Taylor’s decision to the Cincinnati-based 6th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals. Attorney General Alberto Gonzales, who pushed the spying program while White House Counsel over the objections of then AG John Ashcroft, promises to carry the fight all the way to the Supreme Court if necessary.
The American Civil Liberties Union, which brought the suit along with 11 other parties, will oppose a stay, but agreed to delay enforcement of the injunction until Taylor hears arguments Sept. 7.
“Every time the NSA engages in warrantless wiretapping, they are violating the law and the United States Constitution,” ACLU attorney Melissa Goodman said.
The controversial program allows the NSA to monitor communications into and out of the United States when links to al-Qaida are suspected. Breaking with historic norms, President Bush allowed the NSA to conduct the surveillance without first getting court approval.
In its latest filing, the Justice Department argued that Taylor’s verdict is overly broad because it calls for an end to the program entirely, not just with respect to the ACLU and the suit’s other plaintiffs.
The government lawyers also argued that the judge’s decision is flawed because classified facts needed to evaluate the case are protected under the so-called “state secrets” privilege.
Associated Press writer Katherine Schrader contributed to this story.