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Making the Big Time

Gabe Rottman,
Legislative Counsel,
ACLU Washington Legislative Office
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January 5, 2006

The ACLU’s Nixon/Bush ad made it to center stage this week when reporter Les Kinsolving asked White House Press Secretary Scott McLellan to comment on the key facts in the ad:

KINSOLVING: In a full-page ad in The New York Times, the ACLU quotes the President on April the 20th of 2004 as saying, “When we’re talking about chasing down terrorists, we’re talking about getting a court order before we do so.” And my question: Did the President say that, on that date? And what is your reaction to the ACLU charging that the President, “lied to the American people and broke the law?”

McCLELLAN: A couple of things. I addressed this question previously. The President addressed this question again just the other day. That speech was on the Patriot Act, and the President was talking about roving wire taps in the context of the Patriot Act, so we’ve already addressed that. … The ACLU — this is one of the special interest groups that Democrats in the Senate are trying to appease because they want to weaken and undermine the Patriot Act. The Patriot Act is vital to saving lives, and the President is going to hear about how the Patriot Act has helped save lives. It has also met an important commitment to protect people’s civil liberties.


MR. McCLELLAN: And that’s why it’s important that it be re-authorized. And Democrats need to set aside politics — they’re putting politics above our nation’s security and they need to move forward in the Senate and let it be re-authorized.

KINSOLVING: Doesn’t he think the ACLU is very irresponsible?

MR. McCLELLAN: Well, I think some of the statements that they make — that they are making sure are.

(Full transcript of the Tuesday press conference.)

The ACLU weren’t the only ones plumbing the Nixon comparison this week. Watergate figure John Dean, former counsel to President Nixon, wrote that “Bush may have outdone Nixon” with the scope of his spying. “Nixon’s illegal surveillance was limited,” Dean said in a Findlaw article, continuing:

… Bush’s, it is developing, may be extraordinarily broad in scope. First reports indicated that NSA was only monitoring foreign calls, originating either in the USA or abroad, and that no more than 500 calls were being covered at any given time. But later reports have suggested that NSA is “data mining” literally millions of calls – and has been given access by the telecommunications companies to “switching” stations through which foreign communications traffic flows.

Dean also links to a lengthy book review by Georgetown law Professor David Cole, which neatly ties the NSA scandal into its rebuttal of Berkeley Professor John Yoo and his book’s argument for virtually unlimited presidential authority in war and foreign relations.

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