In an impassioned speech about President Bush's warrantless domestic wiretapping program, former Vice President Al Gore said in Washington, D.C., on Monday that "the president of the United States has been breaking the law repeatedly and persistently."
Citing the Bush administration's policies on torture, rendition and detentions, the winner of the 2000 popular vote said the president's "unlawful" eavesdropping program was part of a "larger pattern" of "seeming indifference to the Constitution."
Asked by ABC News after his speech whether President Bush's domestic spying program constituted an impeachable offense, Gore said it might and pointed to one of the three Articles of Impeachment that the House Judiciary Committee approved against President Nixon on July 27, 1974.
"That's a legal determination for Congress to make," Gore told ABC News. "But Article II of the impeachment charges against President Nixon was warrantless wiretapping, which the president said was 'necessary' for national security."
It can be an impeachable offense, Gore added.
The domestic eavesdropping program authorized by President Bush following the attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, bypasses a special federal court whose approval is required under the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act. Ever since the New York Times revealed the secret program last month, the Bush administration has claimed that the circumvention of the FISA court was justified by arguing, in part, that Congress implicitly authorized the surveillance with the post-9/11 authorization to use military force.
Gore's speech drew fire from the president's party on Monday. Tracey Schmitt, a spokeswoman for the Republican National Committee, issued a statement criticizing the former vice president, stating Gore has an "incessant need to insert himself in the headline of the day" and has a "lack of understanding of the threats facing America."
White House Press Secretary Scott McClellan added to the criticism at his press briefing on Tuesday afternoon. "Al Gore's hypocrisy knows no bounds. If he is going to be the voice of the Democratic Party on national security matters, we welcome it," said McClellan.
The former vice president refused to back down and reiterated his call for a special counsel to independently review the administration's actions surrounding the National Security Agency's domestic warrantless wiretapping program.
"It is clearly wrong and disrespectful to the American people to allow a close political associate of the president to be in charge of reviewing serious charges against him," said Gore.
But Gore is not the only one arguing that the warrantless eavesdropping authorized by President Bush conflicts with existing law and hinges on weak legal arguments. The nonpartisan Congressional Research Service reached a similar conclusion earlier this month in a 41-page legal analysis.
While appearing on "This Week with George Stephanopoulos" on Sunday, Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Arlen Specter, R-Penn., said he, too, did not agree with the White House view that Congress effectively authorized the surveillance with its post-9/11 resolution.