Emperor Bush says that anything he does is legal.


Bush: Eavesdropping legal Sen. Clinton calls for acting within law's parameters

Jim VandeHei Washington Post Jan. 26, 2006 12:00 AM

WASHINGTON - During a pep talk Wednesday to intelligence experts at the National Security Agency, President Bush defended eavesdropping on overseas communications to and from U.S. residents as legal and imperative to stopping terrorists.

In the latest sign of how the issue is escalating in the political arena, Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton, D-N.Y., called Bush's rationale a "strange" and dangerous legal stretch.

The conflicting views of the NSA spying program highlighted by the Bush and Clinton exchange reflect a widening divide over warrantless eavesdropping and how leaders in both major parties are trying to shape the debate for upcoming congressional hearings and this year's elections.

Bush, whose aides said they consider the issue a clear political winner, is resurrecting tactics from the past campaign to make the NSA spying program a referendum on which party will keep the United States safe from terrorists. He has dispatched top White House officials to defend the program on a nearly daily basis and through surrogates has sent a clear message to party activists that he considers fighting terrorism with tools such as NSA eavesdropping the defining issue of the November elections.

The White House is even waging a war on the semantics being used in the debate, lashing out at reporters who call the program "domestic" spying because the monitored calls involve a person overseas.

Speaking to reporters, Clinton took aim at what she called a lawless assertion of power: "My question is: Why can't we do what we want to do within the rule of law?"

Her comments came after an appearance at the winter meeting of the U.S. Conference of Mayors. Clinton, one of the leading contenders for the 2008 Democratic nomination, rejected Bush's argument that the president had power to order surveillance after the nation went on a war footing after the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks.

Speaking to the code-breakers, analysts and linguistic experts who help sift through the information obtained with the warrantless searches of overseas phone calls and e-mails involving at least one person in the United States, Bush called the program a "vital" tool.

"This information has helped prevent attacks and save American lives," he said.

The issue is different, but the message is similar to the one many political analysts credit for Bush's 2004 victory: He can be trusted to protect U.S. citizens and Democrats cannot.

When news of the NSA program broke, Bush was put on the defensive, but he and strategists quickly decided this fight could be an asset at a time when the president is struggling to regain his balance, advisers said.

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