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It's legal because I say so.

During his January 26 White House press conference, President Bush dealt with several questions about the administration's use of warrantless wiretaps.

"Your explanation on the monitoring program seems to say that when the nation is at war, the President, by definition, can order measures that might not be acceptable or even, perhaps, legal in peacetime," observed one reporter. "And this seems to sound like something President Nixon once said, which was, 'when the President does it, then that means it is not illegal' in the areas involving national security. So how do the two differ?"

Rather than objecting to this comparison, Mr. Bush actually embraced the astonishing claim made by the disgraced ex-president Nixon.

"Well, I said yesterday that other Presidents have used the same authority. I've had to use technology to protect the American people," he stated. "Other Presidents--most Presidents believe that during a time of war, that we can use our authorities under the Constitution to make decisions necessary to protect us."

Of course, the controversy doesn't deal with the use of "technology," or the use of presidential authority, but rather the claim made by Mr. Bush that he can authorize electronic surveillance without seeking a warrant--even though existing statutes would permit the administration to seek a warrant after the tact. The "other presidents" alluded to by Mr. Bush include Nixon, who would likely have been impeached had he not resigned--and among the impeachable offenses listed by Congress was his use of warrant-less wiretaps, supposedly for "national security" purposes.

Rather than citing the specific grant of constitutional authority he claims justifies his actions, Mr. Bush--hewing to a sophistical legal strategy developed by his Justice Department--claims that Congress, by deferring to the exercise of extra-constitutional presidential power, has sanctified it.

"There is an act passed by Congress in 2001 which said that I must have the power to conduct this war using the incidents of war," stated the president, without clarifying his peculiar use of the term "incidents." "And I'm intending to use that power--Congress says, go ahead and conduct the war, we're not going to tell you how to do it. ... There will be a legal debate about whether or not I have the authority to do this; I'm absolutely convinced I do. Our Attorney General has been out describing why. And I'm going to continue using my authority. That's what the American people expect."

Mr. Bush's tortured and poorly parsed statement conveyed exactly the same meaning that Richard Nixon packed in one elegantly arrogant phrase: "When the president does it, then that means it's not illegal."
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Title Annotation:George W. Bush speaks about legality of wiretapping for terrorism prevention
Publication:The New American
Geographic Code:1USA
Date:Feb 20, 2006
Words:429
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