Saturday, January 07, 2006

Report Rebuts Bush on Spying

I think I spoke too soon--it has gotten worst for the Bush White House. This is from The Washington Post:

A report by Congress's research arm concluded yesterday that the administration's justification for the warrantless eavesdropping authorized by President Bush conflicts with existing law and hinges on weak legal arguments.

The Congressional Research Service's report rebuts 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.

The findings, the first nonpartisan assessment of the program's legality to date, prompted Democratic lawmakers and civil liberties advocates to repeat calls yesterday for Congress to conduct hearings on the monitoring program and attempt to halt it.

The 44-page report said that Bush probably cannot claim the broad presidential powers he has relied upon as authority to order the secret monitoring of calls made by U.S. citizens since the fall of 2001. Congress expressly intended for the government to seek warrants from a special Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court before engaging in such surveillance when it passed legislation creating the court in 1978, the CRS report said.

The report also concluded that Bush's assertion that Congress authorized such eavesdropping to detect and fight terrorists does not appear to be supported by the special resolution that Congress approved after the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks, which focused on authorizing the president to use military force.

"It appears unlikely that a court would hold that Congress has expressly or impliedly authorized the NSA electronic surveillance operations here," the authors of the CRS report wrote. The administration's legal justification "does not seem to be . . . well-grounded," they said.

This is like trying to put out a campfire with gasoline. Here we have a non-partisan congressional research arm issuing a report claiming that the Bush administration was wrong in ordering the illegal NSA wiretaps, and in claiming they received Congressional approval for such wiretaps. Not that the Bush administration would take this report seriously--they'll probably ignore it as they've just about ignored everything else coming from Congress. But this report adds more political fuel to not only the Democrat's calls for congressional hearings, but also to the upcoming congressional midterm elections. The Democrats can use this report against the Republican congressional leadership as another example of "coddling" to the Bush White House. And with the president's poll numbers remaining at around 40 percent, congressional Republicans will want to distance themselves away from the White House problems and scandals. And at the same time, the Republicans do not want to start a serious congressional investigation into this matter, to their own party-controlled White House, with any type of subpoena powers, for fears that such an investigation would bring up more damaging scandals during this midterm election season.

So the Republicans are ending up between a rock and a hard place now.

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