Bush Vows Domestic Surveillance to Continue
By TERENCE HUNT, AP White House Correspondent
1 hour, 43 minutes ago
President Bush, brushing aside bipartisan criticism in Congress,
said Monday he approved spying on suspected terrorists without court
orders because it was "a necessary part of my job to protect"
Americans from attack.
The president said he would continue the program "for so long as the
nation faces the continuing threat of an enemy that wants to kill
American citizens," and added it included safeguards to protect
Bush bristled at a year-end news conference when asked whether there
are any limits on presidential power in wartime.
"I just described limits on this particular program, and that's
what's important for the American people to understand," Bush said.
Raising his voice, Bush challenged Senate Democratic Leader Harry
Reid and Democratic Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton — without naming
them — to allow a final vote on legislation renewing the anti-terror
Patriot Act. "I want senators from New York or Los Angeles or Las
Vegas to go home and explain why these cities are safer" without the
extension, he said.
Reid represents Nevada; Clinton is a New York senator, and both
helped block passage of the legislation in the Senate last week.
"In a war on terror we cannot afford to be without this law for a
single moment," Bush said.
Reid fired back quickly. "The president and the Republican
leadership should stop playing politics with the Patriot Act," he
said in a statement that added he and other Democrats favor a three-
month extension of the expiring law to allow time for a long-term
The legislation has cleared the House but Senate Democrats have
blocked final passage and its prospects are uncertain in the final
days of the congressional session.
On another issue, Bush acknowledged that a pre-war failure of
American intelligence — claiming that Saddam Hussein possessed
weapons of mass destruction — has complicated the United States'
ability to confront other potential emerging threats such as Iran.
"Where it is going to be most difficult to make the case is in the
public arena," Bush said. "People will say, if we're trying to make
the case on Iran, `Well, if the intelligence failed in Iraq,
therefore, how can we trust the intelligence on Iran?'"
The news conference ran just shy of an hour. It was the latest in a
series of events — appearances outside Washington, meetings with
members of Congress and an Oval Office address on Sunday night — in
which the president has sought to quell criticism of the war in Iraq
and reverse his months-long slide in the polls.
In opening news conference remarks, Bush said the warrantless
spying, conducted by the National Security Agency, was an essential
element in the war on terror.
"It was a shameful act for someone to disclose this important
program in a time of war. The fact that we're discussing this
program is helping the enemy," he said.
On Capitol Hill, Democrats rejected Bush's rationale and said he had
abused his authority.
"Where does he find in the Constitution the authority to tap the
wires and the phones of American citizens without any court
oversight?" said Sen. Carl Levin (news, bio, voting record), D-Mich.
Sen. Russ Feingold (news, bio, voting record), D-Wis., said, "We
will not tolerate a president who believes that he is the sole
decision-maker when it comes to the policies that this country
should have in the war against terror and the policies we should
have to protect the rights of completely innocent Americans."
"He is the president, not a king," Feingold said.
The existence of the program was disclosed last week, triggering an
outpouring of criticism in Congress, but an unflinching defense from
Bush and senior officials of his administration.
The president spoke not long after Attorney General Alberto Gonzales
said Congress had given Bush authority to spy on suspected
terrorists in this country in legislation passed after the attacks
of Sept. 11, 2001.
Bush and other officials have said the program involved monitoring
phone calls and e-mails of individuals in this country believed to
be plotting with terrorists overseas.
Normally, no wiretapping is permitted in the United States without a
court warrant. But Bush said he approved the action without such
orders "because it enables us to move faster and quicker. We've got
to be fast on our feet.
"It is legal to do so. I swore to uphold the laws. Legal authority
is derived from the Constitution," he added.
Domestic issues were scarcely mentioned during the news conference.
But at one point, Bush responded to criticism of his record on
racial issues, exacerbated by the images of thousands of blacks
stranded in New Orleans after Hurricane Katrina.
"One of the most hurtful things I can hear is, you know, Bush
doesn't care about African-Americans," he said. "First of all, it's
not true. And secondly, I am — I believe that — obviously, I've got
to do a better job of communicating, I guess, to certain folks." He
urged Congress to reauthorize the Voting Rights Act and promised to
The session was dominated by national security issues — principally
the newly disclosed spying program by the NSA.
Bush emphasized that only international calls were monitored without
court order — those placed from within the United States and going
overseas, or those placed from other countries to individuals living
in this country.
He stressed that calls placed and received within the United States
would be monitored as has long been the case, after an order is
granted by a secret court under the provisions of the Foreign
Intelligence Surveillance Act.