Former Vice President Al Gore yesterday accused President Bush of “repeatedly and insistently” breaking the law by using warrantless electronic surveillance methods to intercept phone calls to and from suspected terrorists abroad.
In a sharp attack on the presidentially approved secret spy program operated by the National Security Agency, Mr. Gore said the use of warrantless global satellite intercepts represented “a truly breathtaking expansion of power” that threatens “the very structure of our government.”
The 2000 Democratic presidential nominee called on the Bush administration to appoint a special independent counsel to investigate the surveillance activities that the NSA has undertaken since Mr. Bush signed the authorization after the September 11 terrorist attacks.
Mr. Gore’s harsh criticism of Mr. Bush, who defeated him in the disputed 2000 election, was the latest in an escalating offensive by Democratic leaders against the use of anti-terrorist electronic surveillance — although polls show nearly two-thirds of Americans support such spying on terrorists.
Mr. Gore made his remarks in a speech to the American Constitution Society for Law and Policy, a liberal group whose supporters include the American Civil Liberties Union and People for the American Way. Mr. Gore said there were still many questions that needed answering about the NSA’s program.
“What we do know about this pervasive wiretapping virtually compels the conclusion that the president of the United States has been breaking the law repeatedly and insistently. A president who breaks the law is a threat to the very structure of our government,” he said.
“The American values we hold most dear have been placed at serious risk by the unprecedented claims of the administration to a truly breathtaking expansion of power,” he said.
The Republican National Committee immediately responded with a sharp rebuke of its own. “Al Gore’s incessant need to insert himself in the headline of the day is almost as glaring as his lack of understanding of the threats facing America,” said RNC spokesman Tracey Schmitt.
“While the president works to protect Americans from terrorists, Democrats deliver no solutions of their own, only diatribes laden with inaccuracies and anger,” she said.
The RNC also put out a paper yesterday that showed the Clinton-Gore administration supported warrantless searches in the 1990s, claiming the same powers that Mr. Bush does today in arguing for the NSA intercepts.
“The Department of Justice believes, and the case law supports, that the president has inherent authority to conduct warrantless physical searches for foreign intelligence purposes and that the president may, as has been done, delegate this authority to the attorney general,” Deputy Attorney General Jamie S. Gorelick, told the House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence on July 14, 1994.