Monday, January 23, 2006

Sen. John Kerry yesterday called the National Security Agency’s program to eavesdrop on terror suspects illegal, but he said he will continue to support its funding.

“It is a violation of law,” said the Massachusetts Democrat and former presidential contender, who also backed former Vice President Al Gore in calling for a special investigation.

“I agree that we ought to have a special counsel investigate. I agree that we ought to have an independent commission because this Congress has proven itself unwilling to do what’s necessary to perform its responsibilities,” Mr. Kerry said.

Appearing on ABC’s “This Week,” Mr. Kerry was asked by host George Stephanopoulos, “If you think this is a clear violation of the law, why not move to cut off funding for the program?”

“That’s premature,” Mr. Kerry responded.

Under the authority of the president, who consulted on the matter with congressional leaders, the National Security Agency engaged in electronic surveillance of al Qaeda suspects, including U.S.-bound phone calls and e-mails, without a warrant.

Sen. George Allen, Virginia Republican, told CNN that Mr. Bush has the authority to conduct wiretapping of terror suspects.

“An argument can be made that the president, by virtue of his office and his role and responsibility, is to prevent attacks on the United States. The more specific authority he has right now was the Congress authorized the use of military force. And, in that use of military force, it was to wage war against those who have declared war on us, specifically al Qaeda.”

“The point of the matter is that this is what you would expect,” Mr. Allen said. “Wouldn’t you want us to know what the enemies are plotting against us? This is focused. These intercepts are focused on calls from phones that are related to al Qaeda that may come into this country.”

Democrats and some Republicans question whether the eavesdropping is legal because the administration did not get consent from the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act court.

Sen. Arlen Specter, Pennsylvania Republican and chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee, will hold hearings on the matter and has said he does not think the wiretapping was legal.

Sen. John McCain, Arizona Republican, also said yesterday that he did not think the actions were legal.

“Let us have the hearings,” Mr. McCain said on “Fox News Sunday.” “Let us have the administration come to Congress. I think they will get that authority, whatever is reasonable and needed, and increased abilities to monitor communications are clearly in order.”

Sen. Charles E. Schumer, New York Democrat, told CNN that Mr. Bush needs to go after Osama bin Laden “through the system, rule of law, and checks and balances that we’ve had here.”

“Tomorrow, if the president were to decide that he felt that he had to search Americans’ homes without a warrant, to just go do it on his own and say, ‘I need that power,’” would not be acceptable, Mr. Schumer said.

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