Spygate: And No Special Counsel, Either


WASHINGTON, D.C.–If recent statements its players are any guide, the Bush administration is digging in his heels on the president’s domestic spying program, publicly insisting it can override all wiretap laws.

On Monday night, Attorney General Alberto Gonzales went on T.V. to explain the rationale for the National Security Agency’s spying to Larry King:

“Larry, whenever you involve another branch of government in an activity regarding electronic surveillance, inherently it’s going to result in some cases in delay. Perhaps in straightforward cases we can get authority relatively quickly but not all of these cases are straightforward and it’s very, very important that the president has the agility and the speed to gather up electronic surveillance of individuals that may be in contact with the enemy.”

In other words, the Attorney General Gonzales is saying President Bush not only had authority to spy on Americans without a warrant, but that in the interest of avoiding “delay” he can–on his own authority–bypass any of the myriad intelligence agencies. This statement puts the leading law enforcement
officer of the U.S. on public record as saying that if speed is a requirement, the president can contravene any wiretap law. Gonzales apparently does not believe in the powers of an elected Congress.

Nor does he believe in a truly independent probe of Bush’s wiretapping. Gonzales will testify before the Senate Judiciary Committee on the matter, but he’s no fan of asking for a special counsel to investigate, as Al Gore suggested.

The Bush administration also has insisted that before undertaking the spying, Bush told congressional leaders what he was about to do. On the same program, here is what California senator Dianne Feinstein had to say about that domestic spy program:

“They’ve connected it to the authorization to use military force, which was a brief resolution passed seven days after 9-11, which gave the president the ability to use military force against organizations or groups outside of the country.

“Shortly before the vote, it is my understanding that the White House or the attorney general called Senator Lott and, I believe, Senator Daschle and said they wanted to add a section that was inside the United States. I know Senator Daschle said no. And there was no proposal to add a section.”

So, according to Feinstein, not only did the Bush administration not brief all congressional leaders, but in the case of the Democratic Party, Senator Tom Daschle said no.

Feinstein cited the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act, or FISA as being in play here:

“The FISA law is a criminal statute,” she continued. “It encompasses all electronic surveillance in domestic America of Americans. And I can’t understand why the administration didn’t use one of the escape hatches–there are two in FISA. One is 15 days after a declaration of war. The second is the attorney general has the right to move ahead with a tap for 72 hours and then go before the FISA Court.”