"If somebody from Al Qaeda is calling you, we'd like to know why," he said. "We're at war with a bunch of coldblooded killers."
Bush said Sunday that the program, which the New York Times revealed last month, had been repeatedly vetted by Justice Department officials and members of Congress.
"This program has been reviewed, constantly reviewed, by people throughout my administration. And it still is reviewed," he said.
He also clarified remarks he had made in April 2004, in which he said that all wiretaps required a court order and that "when we're talking about chasing down terrorists, we're talking about getting a court order before we do so."
Asked about those statements Sunday, Bush said: "I was talking about roving wiretaps, I believe, involved in the Patriot Act. This is different from the NSA program. The NSA program is a necessary program."
The president's comments came after he was asked about a newspaper report that a top Justice Department official had questioned the legality of certain aspects of the surveillance, resulting in its temporary suspension. He avoided answering directly and instead raised a spirited defense of the program.
"We're at war, and as commander in chief, I've got to use the resources at my disposal, within the law, to protect the American people," he said.
Rep. Conyers expressed bafflement with the president's statements:
The president tried to assert that the NSA only wiretaps incoming calls without warrants, but the evidence is all to the contrary and Bush's own staff had to explain that he didn't really mean that. This comes on top of yesterday's blockbuster in the Times that the stand up James Comey (who appointed Fitzgerald) had refused to ok the warrantless wiretaps and even AG Ashcroft in the hospital refused to buckle to pressure, for some reason.And Bob Barr (R-Georgia, 1995-2003) wrote an editorial for Time arguing that the president's NSA program is illegal:
Let's focus briefly on what the President has done here. Exactly like Nixon before him, Bush has ordered the National Security Agency (NSA) to conduct electronic snooping on communications of various people, including U.S. citizens. That action is unequivocally contrary to the express and implied requirements of federal law that such surveillance of U.S. persons inside the U.S. (regardless of whether their communications are going abroad) must be preceded by a court order. General Michael Hayden, a former director of the NSA and now second in command at the new Directorate of National Intelligence, testified to precisely that point at a congressional hearing in April 2000. In response, the President and his defenders have fallen back on the same rationale used by Nixon, saying essentially, "I am the Commander in Chief; I am responsible for the security of this country; the people expect me to do this; and I am going to do it." But the Supreme Court slapped Nixon's hands when he made the same point in 1972. And it slapped Bush's hands when, after 9/11, he asserted authority to indefinitely detain those he unilaterally deemed "enemy combatants"--without any court access.And the NSA story has even motivated Pharyngula to get back into political blogging; he links to supposition that the Bush administration is covering up something much bigger than just wiretapping a few calls from suspected Al Qaeda members.
Bush's advocates also argue that the congressional resolution authorizing military force in Afghanistan and elsewhere--to bring to justice those responsible for the 9/11 attacks--authorized those no-warrant wiretaps. But there is absolutely nothing in the clear language of that resolution or in its legislative history suggesting that it was intended to override specific federal laws governing electronic surveillance. If Bush succeeds in establishing this as a precedent, he will have accomplished a breathtaking expansion of unilateral Executive power that could be easily applied to virtually any other area of domestic activity as long as a link to national security is asserted.