Bush: No Retreat on Spying

By Dan Froomkin
Special to washingtonpost.com
Friday, January 19, 2007; 1:08 PM

On Wednesday, Attorney General Alberto Gonzales wrote a letter to senators announcing that "any electronic surveillance that was occurring" as part of the administration's controversial warrantless eavesdropping program " will now be conducted subject to the approval of the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court."

Many observers jumped to the conclusion that the administration had been forced into a major retreat in its battle to expand executive power. (See yesterday's column.)

But over at the White House, President Bush, who was granting interviews to a handful of regional broadcasters, was telling another story altogether.

In a brief sit-down with Sabrina Fang of Tribune broadcasting, Bush had this to say:

"Actually the courts, yesterday, the FISA court, said I did have the authority. And that's important. And the reason it's important that they verify the legality of this program is it means it's going to extend, make it more likely to extend beyond my presidency. And this is a really important tool for future presidents to have. . . .

"I felt yesterday was a very important day for the Terrorist Surveillance Program. Nothing has changed in the program except for the court has said we analyzed it, it is a legitimate, it is a legitimate way to protect the country."

In other words, the only thing that's changed is that the Bush administration found one anonymous judge on the secret panel to say that what it was doing was legal all along.

That seems contrary to Bush's earlier insistence, at his January 26, 2006 press conference, for example, that the program could not be conducted under judicial supervision because existing law was too limiting.

Of course it's possible Bush has it wrong this time, or is oversimplifying things. Who knows for sure? Not us. The best we can do is try to triangulate the truth.

This Morning's Coverage

Richard B. Schmitt, Greg Miller and David G. Savage write in the Los Angeles Times: "President Bush and other administration officials indicated that little had changed in the electronic eavesdropping program, originally launched after the Sept. 11 attacks, other than the fact that a court had finally blessed it. . . .

"Bush said the approval vindicated his position that he was justified in launching the surveillance. . . .

"The officials also said the negotiations [with the judge] centered on securing an agreement that would allow the administration to seek warrants on groups of people in certain circumstances, rather than being required to obtain separate court orders for every individual under suspicion.


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