Gonzales: Bush Can Eavesdrop on Domestic Calls
In testimony before the House Judiciary Committee yesterday, AG Alberto Gonzales suggested (for the first time publicly) that the Administration believes there may be legal justification to eavesdrop on communications occurring solely within the United States (the program already revealed covers only calls in which one party is outside the US).
As the NYT and WaPo report this morning, Gonzales was asked by Rep. Adam Schiff if such domestic eavesdropping could occur; the AG replied "I'm not going to rule it out." He continued by suggesting that such authority would be based on precedent, suggesting that Woodrow Wilson's interception of cables during WWI was "based upon the Constitution and his inherent role as commander in chief." He would not say, the Times article notes, whether any such interceptions had occurred or are occurring.
Schiff responded to Gonzales somewhat incredulously, saying that his stated position "represents a wholly unprecedented assertion of executive power. No one in Congress would deny the need to tap certain calls under court order. But if the administration believes it can tap purely domestic phone calls between Americans without court approval, there is no limit to executive power. This is contrary to settled law and the most basic constitutional principles of the separation of powers."
The papers note that a Justice Department spokesperson said later "The attorney general's comments today should not be interpreted to suggest the existence or nonexistence of a domestic program or whether any such program would be lawful under the existing legal analysis." But it notably does not say that such a program would be illegal.
How far does this go? It's time to find out. No more stonewalling. Our laws exist for a reason, and we have separate powers for a reason. Congress had better get off its butt and start acting in a serious way to find out just how far outside the rule of law this Administration has gone and probably continues to go, and rein them in. Executive power cannot go unchecked.