Dec. 18, 2005 — -- Sen. Russ Feingold, D-Wis., believes President Bush is acting more like a sovereign monarch than an elected leader by authorizing the National Security Agency to listen in on Americans' phone calls.
"We have a system of law," Feingold said. "He just can't make up the law … It would turn George Bush not into President George Bush, but King George Bush."
The issue lies in the interpretation of the Afghanistan resolution passed by Congress following the World Trade Center attacks on 9/11.
The eavesdropping issue came to the forefront when The New York Times reported Friday that the NSA has been listening to domestic phone calls to foreign countries since 2002.
In a televised radio address Saturday, Bush said he has reauthorized the NSA's new powers over 30 times since 9/11, and "intend(s) to do so for as long as our nation faces a continuing threat from al Qaeda and related groups." The president, and members of his staff including Attorney General Alberto Gonzalez and White House counsel Harriet Miers, re-evaluate the spying every 45 days.
Bush said the surveillance helps catch terrorists and is within the scope of his constitutional powers.
Since the Watergate scandal during the Nixon administration, the executive branch's power has been significantly restrained, Bush administration officials say. It has been the mission of White House officials such as Vice President Dick Cheney to reassert executive power.
Bush claims the eavesdropping was done with Congress' blessing.
"Leaders in Congress have been briefed more than a dozen times on this authorization and the activities conducted under it," he said in Saturday's address.
Nonetheless, ABC News chief Washington correspondent George Stephanopoulos sees the controversy shaping up as a "full-scale political war."
Democratic leaders like Representative Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., and Sen. Jay Rockefeller, D-W.Va., have sent letters to the president to protest the eavesdropping revelation, Stephanopoulos said.
Bush will give another speech tonight in which Stephanopoulos expects him to address the criticisms and reassert his position on the war in Iraq.
Experts say that a weekend featuring two live addresses from President Bush is unprecedented. The speech from the Oval Office tonight at 9 p.m. will be carried live by ABC News, and tops off a two-week, four-speech media blitz.
Feingold, who is believed to be considering a run for president in 2008, said the president has legal options to listen to American's conversations as stipulated by the Federal Intelligence Surveillance Act. For example, Feingold said that in the event of an emergency, the president is allowed to eavesdrop for 72 hours.
Feingold, the only senator who initially opposed the Patriot Act, which was designed to protect Americans from terrorism, said that the spying is indicative of a "pattern of abuse" including torture and secret prisons. The president, Feingold said is "grabbing too much power."
Feingold said aspects of the Patriot Act, like those that allow the government to access things like medical and library records, are ineffective because they "target innocent people."