Here’s my nominee for worst performance on Meet the Press for the year 2005.
SEC’Y RICE: The president is acting under his constitutional authority, under statutory authority. I’m not a lawyer, but the president has gone to great lengths to make certain that he is both living under his obligations to protect Americans from another attack but also to protect their civil liberties. And that’s why this program is very carefully controlled.
MR. RUSSERT: The law is very clear that a person is guilty of an offense unless they get a court order before seeking to wiretap an American citizen. Why did the president not get a court order?
SEC’Y RICE: The FISA is indeed an important source of that authority, and in fact, the administration actively uses FISA. But FISA, in 1970…
MR. RUSSERT: The Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act.
SEC’Y RICE: The Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act, exactly. FISA, which came out of 1978 at a time when the principal concern was, frankly, the activities of people on behalf of foreign governments, rather stable targets, very different from the kind of urgency of detection and thereby protection of a country that is needed today. And so the president has drawn on additional authorities that he has under the Constitution and under other statutes.
MR. RUSSERT: What are the other authorities?
SEC’Y RICE: Tim, again, I’m not a lawyer, but the president has constitutional authority and he has statutory authorities.
MR. RUSSERT: But no one’s explained that. No one has said what is–in fact, in 1972…
SEC’Y RICE: Tim…
MR. RUSSERT: …President Nixon tried to wiretap American citizens and the Supreme Court ruled he violated the Fourth Amendment rights of Americans.
SEC’Y RICE: Tim, let’s remember that we are talking about the ability to collect information on the geographic territory that is the United States. Some people are American citizens; others are not. What the president wants to prevent is the use of American territory as a safe haven for communications between terrorist operating here or people with terrorist links operating here and people operating outside of the country.
MR. RUSSERT: You were the national security adviser when the president made this decision. Were you aware of it?
SEC’Y RICE: Yes.
MR. RUSSERT: Will you go before Congress to testify if called?
SEC’Y RICE: Tim, I was aware of it, and I’m not going to talk about my role as national security adviser, which, of course, is not a constitutionally confirmed role, and I’m sure that there will be issues there.
MR. RUSSERT: Senator Feingold, the Democrat from Wisconsin said, “I think [President Bush] probably did [break the law], and I think almost every senator of both parties thinks he probably did … The President doesn’t get to decide to make up the laws and to start wiretapping people just because he thinks it’s a good idea. …I think he may have broken the law.”
And what Democrats and Republicans in Congress are asking, Madame Secretary, is what is the authority that you keep citing? What law, what statute? Where in the Constitution does it say the president can eavesdrop, wiretap American citizens without a court order?
SEC’Y RICE: Tim, the president has authorities under FISA, which we are using and using actively. He also has constitutional authorities that derive from his role as commander in chief and his need to protect the country. He has acted within his constitutional authority and within statutory authority.
Now, I am not a lawyer. And I am certain that the attorney general will address a lot of these questions but the fact is that the president has an obligation.
SEC’Y RICE: This is a program that is very thoroughly controlled and reviewed and it has been reviewed not just by the White House counsel but by the lawyers of the Justice Department and by the lawyers of the N.S.A., the National Security Agency, and by the inspector general of the National Security Agency, and it has to be reauthorized every 45 days. And the Congress, the congressional leaders, including…
MR. RUSSERT: But those are administration lawyers.
SEC’Y RICE: …including of the…
MR. RUSSERT: Why not go to an objective court?
SEC’Y RICE: The Congress, including congressional leaders, including leaders of the relevant oversight intelligence committees, have been briefed on this.
MR. RUSSERT: The Democratic leader Nancy Pelosi said that she expressed reservations.
SEC’Y RICE: I am not going to comment on specific conversations with congressional leaders but I will say that the president went out of his way to make certain that there–that people were–that these leaders were briefed on the program and the activities that were being undertaken–that were being taken under this program.