President Bush slammed the suggestion that he has acted like a rogue dictator by ordering spies to pry in the U.S. after 9/11. “To say ‘unchecked power’ basically is ascribing some kind of dictatorial position to the President, which I strongly reject,” he said during the most contentious moment of a nearly hour-long press conference.
Bush insisted some members of Congress were briefed “a dozen times” on the program that allowed the National Security Agency to engage in domestic spying – a taboo for the nation’s most supersecret snoops who, under federal law, are only supposed to tap into communications overseas.
“There is oversight. We’re talking to Congress all the time,” Bush barked.
Democrats familiar with the briefings griped that Bush’s claim fell short, saying they were not told of the extent of the domestic spy activity.
Attorney General Alberto Gonzales contended constitutional power and a congressional resolution passed after 9/11 gave the President the authority to allow the National Security Agency to spy on Americans.
“This is not about wiretapping everyone. This is a very concentrated, very limited program focused at gaining information about our enemy,” Gonzales said.
Bush’s news conference was a capper to an all-out campaign the past two weeks to try to turn public opinion in favor of the Iraq war. The strategy appears to have halted a tailspin that saw Bush hit the lowest job approval ratings of his presidency.
A new ABC News/Washington Post poll showed Bush’s job approval rating climbed 8 percentage points since last month, to 47%. However, a new CNN/USA Today survey put Bush’s job approval rating at 41%, a 1-point drop from a week ago. Both polls indicated a majority of Americans still disapprove of the way Bush has handled his job.
Bush also took aim at senators who, for now, have stalled renewal of the Patriot Act, urging Democrats to end a filibuster and extend the legislation beyond its Dec. 31 expiration. Bush ignored the fact that four GOP senators joined in blocking the anti-terrorism law, instead singling out a group of Democrats including New Yorkers Chuck Schumer and Hillary Clinton.
“I want senators from New York or Los Angeles or Las Vegas to go home and explain why these cities are safer,” Bush said. “If President Bush is truly concerned about New York, he should stop letting his Republican congressional colleagues use these funds for pork-barrel projects, and instead allocate them on the basis of real threat and risk,” Clinton said.