NSA spying and the law

Top-level administration officials four years ago told President George W. Bush he as “breaking the law” by ordering the National Security Agency to spy on Americans and warned the President that his actions could bring his administration down.

Former Secretary of State Colin Powell, former Central Intelligence Agency director George Tenet and others begged Bush to reconsider his executive order giving the NSA authority to wiretap phone calls and monitor emails of American citizens but their pleas fell on deaf ears.

“Mr. President, I fear you are heading down a course that could doom your administration,” Powell told Bush in a meeting in early 2002. “I urge you to reconsider.” Powell also argued against Bush’s plans to turn Pentagon spies loose on American antiwar groups, saying “such actions don’t belong in America.”

Powell wasn’t the only one worried about the legality of wiretaps. Then deputy attorney general James D. Comey, acting as attorney general while John Ashcroft was hospitalized, refused to sign off on Bush’s executive order, prompting then White House Counsel, and now attorney general, Alberto Gonzales, to visit Ashcroft at his hospital bed in a failed attempt to get the AG to overturn his deputy.

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