By the editors of The New Republic:
Faced with the most serious legal scandal of his administration, President Bush’s impulse has been to stonewall. He has denied misleading the public when he insisted last year that any government wiretaps were conducted under court order, and his Justice Department has defended the legality of his domestic spying program in unequivocal terms. But the administration’s legal defense is unconvincing–based on a willful misreading of Supreme Court precedents and congressional intentions. It should not excuse Bush’s actions. And Congress must make sure that it does not.
Many legal questions have subjective and uncertain answers. But the legality of Bush’s domestic surveillance program is not one of them. The program almost certainly violates the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA), which prohibits “electronic surveillance” of “any wire or radio communication sent by or intended to be received by a particular, known United States person who is in the United States,” except as authorized by law. Since the administration has admitted that it intercepted telephone calls to and from American citizens in the United States without getting a court order, it clearly broke the law.