Eavesdropping Without a Warrant

January 4, 2006

MSNBC's Tucker Carlson weighs in on the NSA spy scandal and Bush's assertion that he doesn't need anyone's permission to eavesdrop on American citizens.
I'm not entirely sold. I'm as against terrorism as anyone. And I think most of the criticism you hear from civil libertarians about the administration's handling of the war on terror is overblown. Bush may be a bad president, but this isn't a police state, not even close. (To claim otherwise is to insult the world's many genuine police states.) But I'm still bothered by the NSA story. Here's why:

Why didn't the Administration bother to get warrants for the wiretapping? Bush's aides claim there wasn't time; the terror threats were so pressing, bureaucratic niceties could have been dangerous. Sounds good, except that the 1978 law that governs federal eavesdropping allows the government to apply for a warrant after the wiretap has already been conducted. So that's not a serious excuse.

The real reason is that the White House decided it didn't have to ask permission to wiretap. Bush's lawyers concluded that as president of a country at war, he had the constitutional authority to take any steps necessary to protect the country, regardless of the law.

*****

[T]he principle is troubling. Do we really want to empower the president to ignore Congress, our most democratic institution? Bush's defenders aren't bothered by the idea because they trust Bush. But Bush won't be in office forever.
As have a number of Republicans commentators, Tucker wonders if Bush's supporters will feel the same way if a President Hillary Clinton were to have these expansive domestic spying powers that Bush states that the executive branch has. It's a valid point. Whether it's special prosecutors or expanded executive branch powers, these are the kind of things that can really come back to bite you when the other party is in power.















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