Former Vice President Al Gore and the White House traded accusations over national security yesterday in a dispute that also pulled in President Bush’s other presidential-election rival, Sen. John Kerry.
At issue was the National Security Agency’s (NSA) surveillance program, which Mr. Gore denounced in a speech Monday as illegal and a threat to the U.S. system of government.
White House spokesman Scott McClellan shot back at Mr. Gore in a style reminiscent of campaigns past, calling the Democrat, who lost to Mr. Bush in 2000, a hypocrite and accusing him of grandstanding for media coverage.
“If Al Gore is going to be the voice of the Democrats on national-security matters, we welcome it,” Mr. McClellan said.
He said Mr. Gore does not understand the threat facing the United States from terrorists overseas.
Mr. Gore charged that Mr. Bush broke the law by allowing the NSA to monitor e-mails and phone calls involving U.S. residents and al Qaeda suspects without approval from a special federal court.
The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) and the Center for Constitutional Rights filed federal lawsuits yesterday seeking to block the program.
Mr. McClellan said the Clinton-Gore administration had engaged in warrantless physical searches, and he cited an FBI search of the home of CIA turncoat Aldrich Ames without permission from a judge. He said Mr. Clinton’s deputy attorney general, Jamie Gorelick, had testified before Congress that the president had the inherent authority to engage in physical searches without warrants.
“I think his hypocrisy knows no bounds,” Mr. McClellan said of the former vice president.
Current Attorney General Alberto R. Gonzales made the same arguments as Mr. McClellan during interviews Monday on CNN’s “Larry King Live” and Fox News Channel’s “Hannity & Colmes.”
Mr. Gore said Mr. Gonzales made a “political defense” of the president, showing why the attorney general should not be in charge of reviewing charges against Mr. Bush and should, instead, name a special counsel.
“His charges are factually wrong,” Mr. Gore said in a written statement yesterday. “Both before and after the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act was amended in 1995” to require court approval for physical searches as well as electronic ones, “the Clinton-Gore administration complied fully and completely with the terms of the law.”
Mr. Kerry said yesterday that he agrees with Mr. Gore that Mr. Bush has “definitely” broken the law. He said it’s difficult to get recourse with the Republican-controlled Congress.
“I hope the administration will — of its own admission and its own steps — reverse course, admit the mistake and try to guarantee that the protections put in place are adhered to,” the Massachusetts Democrat said on CNN’s “The Situation Room.”