Dear First Tenor,
The current group calling for Bush's impeachment is missing a huge issue: Clinton broke the law. He committed perjury. He lied to a GRAND JURY... doesn't anyone remember that? THAT felony is what got him impeached. His sex life didn't matter as much as his inability to tell the truth.
But, that all-important fact has not kept people from comparing the two ideas. I really don't think Bush has intentionally tried to decieve the people of the United States. Of course, the President has to withold information from the general public. That is called "clearance." He is allowed to know some things that we are not allowed to know. It's just the way things work.
The recent spy scandal has, once again, grown out of a non-issue. You can tell that is political because nobody in Congress is calling for the program to end or to cut funding for the NSA.
President Bush explained it in his 1/31 State of the Union Address:
It is said that prior to the attacks of September the 11th, our government failed to connect the dots of the conspiracy. We now know that two of the hijackers in the United States placed telephone calls to al Qaeda operatives overseas. But we did not know about their plans until it was too late. So to prevent another attack -- based on authority given to me by the Constitution and by statute -- I have authorized a terrorist surveillance program to aggressively pursue the international communications of suspected al Qaeda operatives and affiliates to and from America. Previous Presidents have used the same constitutional authority I have, and federal courts have approved the use of that authority. Appropriate members of Congress have been kept informed. The terrorist surveillance program has helped prevent terrorist attacks. It remains essential to the security of America. If there are people inside our country who are talking with al Qaeda, we want to know about it, because we will not sit back and wait to be hit again.
Bush is using his constitutional authority as Commander in Chief to protect the country. Now, the government has always had the right to perform secret wire taps of specific individuals. That power was granted under the FISA Act of 1979 and expanded by the USA PATRIOT Act of 2001. Generally federal investigators are allowed to use secret or classified information to obtain search permission from the FISA Court.
The President is claiming that he has used his authority to take surveillance to the next step. He authorized a limited program to intercept international calls by known Al-Qaeda operatives. The program does NOT allow the NSA to monitor domestic calls. They are only allowed to intercept international calls. If they happen to intercept a call between two US Citizens, they are required by law to delete the information (which they do). If he has violated the law, it is up to the Department of Justice and the US Congress to check the President. In this case, both groups have been kept informed.
To answer your last question, I do believe that the Senate Resolution gave him the authority to conduct wire taps. He did not initiate or renew the program without consulting the Attorney General. He also consulted regularly with members of Congress who needed to know. He has never specified which members were informed, but they obviously approved his initiative.
Ok... now that I have that out, has the President committed an impeachable offense? Heavens no! The constitution calls for impeachment only in cases of "treason, bribery, or other high crimes and misdemeanors." The customary interpretation of that has limited presidential impeachment to very serious crimes. And, so far, nobody has effectively proven that President Bush committed a crime.
I hate to break it to you, but incidental spying on American Citizens is somewhat inevitable. In an information society, much of what you send on the internet can be intercepted. People must be careful about what information they transmit, because there ARE people monitoring our communications... even more than the government. There are rules, however, on how the government can use that information.
There is still a valid argument that we are at war with terrorism. Some rights of some people get suspended in times of war. I am a strong advocate of governmental responsibility. But, I am also willing to trade some convenience for security (I do emphasise some
). If some surveillance of international calls is protecting cities from terrorist attacks, I'm willing to accept the argument and trust the government on this one. Why? Because I think the Bush Administration is run by honorable and honest people. Of course, there should be oversight (which there is) and a proper amount of program review (which, according to the President, there is also).
But, I do NOT expect the government to tell me every detail about the fight against terrorism. Any covert actions should be approved by proper authorities and such decisions should be made believing that someday the American People will find out about the action. I don't think President Bush has made a decision that he would someday regret.
And, in the end, I don't see many people in government calling for an end to this program. People are getting on CNN and talking about how horrible this is, but nobody with any authority or responsibility is asking that the program cease. This is a political battle being fought by the media. Bush is right to stand his ground until somebody tells him it is illegal through the proper channels.
Overall, I think Bush is right on this one. I don't think his actions have been illegal. They are certainly not an impeachable offense. So, until that happens, anyone calling for impeachment is thinking more about the 2006 Midterm Elections than they are about justice.
That is all.