Bush administration tactics skirting questions about its warrantless eavesdropping program are as cynical as the plan is secret. Even more unconscionable is the Republican-led Congress' abdication of responsibility to probe its legality.
Domestic spying operations by the National Security Agency encompassed hundreds of thousands of Americans -- nearly all of them innocent of any wrongdoing, let alone terrorism.
The hypocrisy of the GOP is noteworthy, though, given its cheerful eagerness to impeach President Bill Clinton during the Monica Lewinsky scandal. And yet, most say little on the issue of unconstitutional or illegal wiretapping. This is not to say that the eavesdropping is either of those things, but it is surely worth Congressional hearings to find out. So far, the Bush administration is working to stymie those efforts by rejecting Congress' request to have former attorney general John D. Ashcroft and other officials testify about the program's legality. This is in keeping with foot dragging of the first order by Sen. C. Patrick Roberts, the Kansas Republican and chairman of the Senate Intelligence commmittee. He's still sitting on an investigation into faulty intelligence applications in the run-up to the Iraq war three years ago.
What is even more puzzling is that there is already a secret court in place to handle wiretapping. The Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act, instituted in 1978, authorized it. That should be sufficient to protect this nation, as well as keep in place civil liberties.
Meanwhile, there is a Republican push to overhaul FISA by Mike DeWine, R.-Ohio, running for re-election, who is drafting legislation that would exempt the National Security Agency program. That's not quite the overhaul civil liberties groups are requesting, nor the one Americans deserve.
Democrats need to ask the president, as the John F. Kennedy School of Government's Elaine Kamarck wrote, basic questions: Why was the existing law (FISA) not sufficient? And if the answer involves new technology, why didn't Bush try to update laws so that they are in keeping with technology?
Sen. Charles E. Schumer makes a good point when he discussed security and the rule of law. The New York Democrat believes in security and that the first job of government is to protect its people. But another important job of government is to enforce the law. The Bush administration fails to do so.