George W. Bush's Domestic Spying: Legal or Illegal?

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This article is part of our coverage of the
Bush administration's domestic spying programs.
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Is George W. Bush's Domestic Spying Legal or Illegal?

"What's wrong with it is several-fold. One, it's bad policy for our government to be spying on American citizens through the National Security Agency. Secondly, it's bad to be spying on Americans without court oversight. And thirdly, it's bad to be spying on Americans apparently in violation of federal laws against doing it without court order." --Former Congressman and CNN Contributor Bob Barr on CNN's Situation Room, December 16, 2005.
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A January 6, 2006, Congressional Research Service report concluded that the administration's justification for the warrantless eavesdropping authorized by President [George W.] Bush conflicts with existing law and hinges on weak legal arguments," rebutting "the central assertions made recently by Bush and Attorney General Alberto R. Gonzales about the president's authority to order secret intercepts of telephone and e-mail exchanges between people inside the United States and their contacts abroad." --Carol D. Leonnig Washington Post, January 7, 2006.
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On January 19, 2006, the Department of Justice issued a detailed "white paper" which said that "the president has the legal authority to approve the [warrantless wiretapping] program because of the power given to him in the Constitution to protect the country as well as in the post-9/11 authorization to use military force passed by Congress." Anthony Romero, ACLU Executive Director, "criticized the release of the new legal review," saying "'The fox may now be guarding the henhouse, which is why we need an independent special counsel.'" --CNN.

George W. Bush's phone records spying


"The current dispute over whether the president had the authority to order domestic spying without warrants, despite a law against it, has put new focus on the legal officials who have guided Bush," Peter S. Canellos wrote in the December 27, 2005, Boston Globe. The qualifications of former Attorney General John Ashcroft and White House counsels Alberto R. Gonzales and Harriet E. Miers "could become a focus of the upcoming Senate hearings on the spying decision."

Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Arlen Specter (R-Pa.) "reiterated his reservations" on Sunday, January 15, 2006, "about President Bush's legal authority to order domestic spying, saying that Congress had not given Bush a 'blank check' to order warrantless eavesdropping. ... Specter also said that if planned congressional hearings determined that the president broke the law, one possible remedy could be impeachment, though he quickly added that such talk was theoretical — and premature," CNN's Ed Henry wrote January 16, 2006.

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Congress's NSA Hearing

"In the first congressional hearing [conducted February 6, 2005,] to examine the eavesdropping-without-warrant program secretly approved by President Bush after" the September 11, 2001, attacks, "senators jousted with Gonzales over the administration's legal rationale." [1]

Circumventing the Courts

Scope of Eavesdropping

  • John Aravosis of AMERICAblog summed it up January 9, 2006: "1) Bush is spying on American-American phone calls IN THE US; 2) Known Al Qaeda agents are running free inside US; 3) Spy program useless."

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