Bush stung at Patriot Act blockage and wiretap exposé

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President George W. Bush is incensed that a group of senators is blocking renewal of the USA Patriot Act. In his weekly radio address from the White House, Bush declared: “The American people expect me to do everything in my power under our laws and Constitution to protect them. That is exactly what I will continue to do.”

AP reported that the president charged senators blocking the renewal of the Act are being irresponsible and obstructing the administration from protecting the country against terrorist attack.

Democrats were also strongly critical of the secret NSA wiretaps employed outside the Patriot Act, terming them unlawful. Wisconsin Sen. Russ Feingold, a leading critic of the Patriot Act and the only one in Congress to vote against it, responded to the president’s address.

“We have a president, not a king, and that’s the way he’s talking,” Feingold said. He told CNN: “What he’s doing, I believe, is illegal. And it’s really quite a shocking moment in the history of our country.” Some say the practice is an impeachable offense.

After The New York Times came out with the story on the NSA wiretaps, which the paper sat on for a year, supposedly due to administration pressure, Sen. Arlen Specter, R-Pa., said he intends to investigate use of the wiretaps. Specter, who chairs the Senate Judiciary Committee, termed the wiretaps “clearly and categorically wrong.”

“In the war on terror, we cannot afford to be without this law for a single moment,” Bush said. He said he has reauthorized the program more than 30 times. It requires review every 45 days.

The fact that Bush secretly authorized wiretaps against a number of U.S. citizens without first getting court approval has created an uproar in Washington and across the country. The Times said thousands of Americans may have had their international phone calls and e-mails monitored.

The president said the program has undergone scrutiny by the Justice Department, where his political appointees have often overruled the staff attorneys in these and other cases, and that top congressional leaders have been repeatedly briefed about the wiretaps. He added that he has the authority to clear the program and that it was improperly revealed to the media.

Renewal of the Patriot Act was blocked for the moment when the resolution fell seven votes short of cutting off debate. If a favorable vote does not occur, the act will expire Dec. 31, but only for new investigations of people whose criminal activity begins after that date.

The Patriot Act was passed soon after Sept. 11, but there was no debate, and most in Congress did not get the chance to read it first.

Critics say it heavily infringes on Americans’ civil rights by giving the federal law enforcement machinery too much leeway and too little oversight. Some legislators say they want time to add protections to the law.

Sen. Patrick Leahy, D-Vt., ranking minority member of the Senate Judiciary Committee, said: “Our government must follow the laws and respect the Constitution while it protects Americans’ security and liberty. The Bush administration seems to believe it is above the law. It is not.”

From the Dec. 21-27, 2005, issue

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