Republicans demand answers on spying

Bush ordered surveillance without obtaining court approval

December 19, 2005|By KNIGHT RIDDER/TRIBUNE

WASHINGTON -- Key Republicans said yesterday that President Bush will have to explain why he ordered secret eavesdropping on U.S. residents without first obtaining court approval, keeping pressure on the White House after Bush's unapologetic admission that he ordered the surveillance to combat terrorism.

Fanning out to different Sunday morning news shows, Republican Sens. Arlen Specter of Pennsylvania, Lindsey Graham of South Carolina and John McCain of Arizona noted that a 1978 law specified that a special federal court must approve any surveillance of U.S. citizens conducted for intelligence purposes on American soil.

Graham, sounding the most skeptical of Bush's authority, said it was insufficient for Bush simply to notify top congressional officials of his orders.

"I'm going to challenge the idea that any president, any member of Congress, can collaborate with each other and deal the courts out if the courts are required to be involved," Graham said on CBS' Face the Nation.

Specter, the chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee, stood by his decision to hold hearings about the president's orders to the National Security Agency to monitor, without court-approved warrants, international phone calls and e-mail originating in the United States. The New York Times reported Friday that the orders prompted the NSA to spy on hundreds and perhaps thousands of U.S. citizens and other U.S. residents.

"There are limits as to what the president can do under the Constitution, especially in a context where you have the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act, which makes it unlawful to have spies or surveillance or interceptions on citizens in the United States unless there is a court order," Specter said on CNN.

Bush said Saturday that he authorized the surveillance to prevent attacks. He said he notified top members of Congress on 12 occasions and said the decisions were reviewed by the attorney general and by his top legal counsel.

Appearing on NBC's Meet the Press yesterday, Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice defended Bush's decision, saying the 1978 Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act that required the special court warrants did not foresee the kind of quick action needed to stop terrorists.

That law, however, does permit the attorney general to act in an emergency as long as the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court is notified within 72 hours after the surveillance has been ordered.

Congressional leaders acknowledged over the weekend that Bush notified the four Republican and Democratic leaders in the House and Senate as well as the four top Republicans and Democrats in the House and Senate intelligence committees.

Senate Democratic Leader Harry Reid of Nevada acknowledged that he had been briefed on the four-year-old domestic spy program "a couple months ago" but insisted the administration bears full responsibility. Reid became Democratic leader in January.

"The president can't pass the buck on this one. This is his program," Reid said on Fox News Sunday. "He's commander in chief. But commander in chief does not trump the Bill of Rights."

Reid also called for an investigation, and House Democratic leaders asked Speaker Dennis Hastert to create a bipartisan panel to do the same.

House Democratic Leader Nancy Pelosi of California said in a statement that she was notified shortly after Bush authorized the spying and said she was given updates "on several occasions." Pelosi said the administration considered the briefings notifications, "not a request for approval."

"I expressed my strong concerns during these briefings," Pelosi said.

McCain said he would welcome congressional hearings that tried to determine why the president sidestepped the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act, but he cautioned that the war against terrorism required aggressive intelligence gathering.

"We all know that since September 11th, we have new challenges with enemies that ... exist within the United States of America. So the equation has changed. Why did the president choose not to use FISA? That's a legitimate question," he said.

The Associated Press contributed to this article.

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