25 January 2006

Conservatives rap Bush for spying on Americans

Contrary to what some right-wing pundits might tell you, Bush's domestic spying is not a partisan issue. Some key conservatives are speaking out against it.

From McClatchy Newspapers via Capitol Hill Blue:
When Al Gore accused President Bush of breaking the law by authorizing domestic wiretapping, Bush's defenders had a ready response.

"Al Gore's hypocrisy knows no bounds," said White House press secretary Scott McClellan. "If he is going to be the voice of the Democratic Party on national security matters, we welcome it."

Bush's aides, though, might have more difficulty countering the rising tide of criticism from some senior Republicans and influential conservative leaders who are also troubled by the electronic eavesdropping he authorized soon after the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks.

Sen. Arlen Specter, chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee, branded the wiretapping "clearly and categorically wrong" and set a Feb. 6 hearing on "wartime executive power."

Beyond Capitol Hill, prominent conservative groups formed alliances with established liberal organizations to present an unusual united front against the eavesdropping.

For his Martin Luther King Day address at historic Constitution Hall in Washington, Gore was introduced by Bob Barr, a former Georgia congressman who earned a reputation as a right-wing pit bull for his fierce attacks on President Clinton and his relentless championing of conservative causes.

Barr and other leading conservatives have formed a group, Patriots to Restore Checks and Balances, to press for "substantive oversight hearings" in Congress on Bush's directive - which was revealed last month - authorizing warrantless monitoring of phone calls and emails by the National Security Agency.

"When the Patriot Act was passed shortly after 9/11, the federal government was granted expanded access to Americans' private information," Barr said. "However, federal law still clearly states that intelligence agents must have a court order to conduct electronic surveillance of Americans on these shores. Yet the federal government overstepped the protections of the Constitution and the plain language of FISA (the 1978 Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act) to eavesdrop on Americans' private communication without any judicial checks and without proof that they are involved in terrorism."

"This is not a partisan issue," said David Keene, chairman of the American Conservative Union. "It is an issue of safeguarding the fundamental freedoms of all Americans so that future administrations do not interpret our laws in ways that pose constitutional concerns."

Among other members of the new group are Paul Weyrich, head of the Free Congress Foundation and the man who coined the phrase "moral majority," and Grover Norquist, president of Americans for Tax Reform.

Since the controversy over the wiretapping erupted a month ago, some Bush supporters have tried to frame it as just one in a long string of partisan political fights.

In a column headlined "The Paranoid Style in American Liberalism," influential neoconservative William Kristol ridiculed Democratic Rep. John Conyers of Michigan and Democratic Sens. Barbara Boxer of California and Joe Biden of Delaware for criticizing Bush.

And indeed there has been plenty of partisan outcry. In addition to Gore's speech, scores of Democrats have excoriated Bush, while two liberal organizations - the American Civil Liberties Union and the Center for Constitutional Rights - filed lawsuits in federal court Tuesday in a bid to end the eavesdropping.

But a host of well-known Republican politicians and conservative commentators have also criticized the president, from Sens. Specter, Lindsey Graham of South Carolina and Dick Lugar of Indiana to columnists George Will and William Safire.

"The president's decision to authorize the NSA's surveillance without the complicity of a court or Congress was a mistake," Will wrote.
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