It's a dangerous thing to parse the words of this President, because paying too close attention to them is seldom repaid by insight. Nonetheless (and thanks to Holden):
BUSH: Well, I said yesterday that other presidents have used the same authority I've had to use technology to protect the American people.I'm not sure what he thinks a "legal debate" is, but it's not a matter discussed by like-minded persons in the club room with the cigars and port. It is a question of legality, of constitutionality, of whether or not we have a government of laws, or of men.
Other presidents, most presidents most presidents believe that during their -- during a time of war that we can use our authorities under the Constitution to make decisions necessary to protect us.
Secondly, in this case, there is an act passed by Congress in 2001 which said that I must have the power to conduct this war using the incidents of war. In other words, we believe there's a constitutional power granted to presidents as well as, this case, a statutory power. And I'm intending to use that power.
Congress says, "Go ahead and conduct the war. We're not going to tell you how to do it."
And part of winning this war on terror is to understand the nature of the enemy and to find out where they are so we can protect the American people.
There'll be a legal debate about whether or not that I have the authority to do this. I'm absolutely convinced I do. Our attorney general's been out describing why.
And I'm going to continue using my authority. And that's what the American people expect.
The fact that he simply doesn't seem to understand is perhaps the scariest thing about this. At least Nixon understood the consquences of his actions.
There's also the simple matter of: "I told you so." The authorization of force passed by Congress after 9/11 was criticized precisely because it gave the President carte blanche to do whatever he wanted to do. What else can we do now except say: "I told you so"? But at what cost to our nation, and to the trust in governmental entities which our system of government requires?
And none of that even touches on the issue of "using technology to protect the American people," which clearly assumes there is this thing called "technology" which, like a magic wand, automatically protects the nation and never, ever, has any unwanted consequences attached to its use. Consequences like, say, being grossly illegal.
Speaking of which, somebody hand the President a dictionary so he can join this "legal debate":
QUESTION: Mr. President, though -- this is a direct follow-up to that -- the FISA law was implemented in 1978 in part because of revelations that the National Security Agency was spying domestically."Circumvent" means exactly what the reporter meant: it's a euphemism for "breaking the law," but not a synonym. Circumvent, in fact, is precisely what he has done to both the law and the Constitution, and circumlocution precisely the term to describe his attorney general's explanations for why the President's actions are not illegal or unconstitutional.
What is wrong with that law that you feel you have to circumvent it and, as you just admitted, expand presidential powers?
BUSH: You said that I have to "circumvent" it. Wait a minute, that's a -- it's like saying, "You know, you're breaking the law." I'm not.
See, that's what you got to understand: I am upholding my duty and at the same time doing so under the law and with the Constitution behind me. That's just very important for you to understand.
Secondly, the FISA law was written in 1978. We're having the discussion in 2006. It's a different world. And FISA's still an important tool. It's an important tool, and we still use that tool.
But, also -- and I looked. I said, "Look, is it possible to conduct this program under the old law?" And people said, "It doesn't work in order to be able do the job we expect to us do." And so, that's why I made the decision I made.
And, you know, "circumventing" is a loaded word. And I refuse to accept it, because I believe what I'm doing is legally right.
But perhaps his reputation for being a buffoon will continue to protect him from too close a scrutiny of what he says.