FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
WASHINGTON - As Attorney General Alberto Gonzales appeared before the House Judiciary Committee for an oversight hearing, the American Civil Liberties Union today urged the Bush administration to stop stonewalling efforts by lawmakers to fully investigate the warrantless surveillance of Americans by the National Security Agency, as authorized by President Bush.
"The attorney general took an oath to uphold the Constitution and serve the American public - not to push the White House’s agenda," said Caroline Fredrickson, Director of the ACLU Washington Legislative Office. "In America, no one is above the law, not even the president. The attorney general has an obligation to investigate this gross violation of the law, and at the bare minimum, should be providing answers to Congress. Effective oversight cannot occur without the full facts."
While the purpose of the committee’s oversight hearing was not specifically review of the NSA warrantless eavesdropping program, the ACLU urged the panel to question the attorney general on the illegal program and called upon the Gonzales to provide meaningful answers. The White House and its surrogates have so far been unwilling to provide any substantive information despite repeated inquiries from members of Congress on the program.
The ACLU especially urged lawmakers to question the attorney general to determine: What laws the White House is referring to when the president has said the program is "legally right"; Does the attorney general believe that the president, and not the Supreme Court, has the job of interpreting the law; How many Americans have had their conversations or e-mails monitored by the warrantless program; How much money has been wasted on inquiries into the private lives of innocent Americans; and if there are any limits to the broad powers that the president has claimed.
Numerous legal experts and constitutional scholars have already agreed that the illegal NSA spying program violates the letter and spirit of the law, and the non-partisan Congressional Research Service concluded the president has overstepped his authority and that he failed to properly brief Congress, as required by law.
The ACLU also urged Gonzales to reconsider his position and appoint a special prosecutor, independent from political pressure, to investigate the warrantless spying program. Both the Justice Department and the White House have rejected that call.
"Congress must assert its proper role in our government and through its oversight powers, seek the truth," said Lisa Graves, ACLU Senior Counsel for Legislative Strategy. "The system of checks and balances must be restored. The administration’s illegal actions fail the American people and our Constitution."
For more on the ACLU’s concerns with the warrantless NSA eavesdropping program, go to: www.aclu.org/nsaspying