WASHINGTON—Former Vice President Al Gore charged Monday that President Bush had broken the law repeatedly by authorizing domestic eavesdropping without court approval and warned that Bush's aggressive assertion of power puts "America's Constitution in grave danger."
Gore called for lawmakers to demand the appointment of a special counsel to investigate the National Security Agency's wiretapping of American citizens and criticized Republicans and Democrats in Congress for failing to stand up to the White House.
In a speech sponsored by two civil liberties groups, the American Constitution Society for Law and Policy and The Liberty Coalition, Gore frequently drew applause and standing ovations at DAR Constitution Hall by denouncing what he saw as abuses of power by the man he narrowly lost the presidency to in 2000.
"A president who breaks the law is a threat to the very structure of our government," Gore said. "Our Founding Fathers were adamant that they had established a government of laws and not men."
Gore's speech came one day after the chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee, Sen. Arlen Specter, R-Pa., vowed anew to conduct in-depth hearings on the administration's domestic-surveillance program. Specter also introduced the word "impeachment" into the conversation when asked what remedy would be fitting if Bush broke the law.
"I'm not suggesting remotely that there's any basis, but ... impeachment is a remedy," Specter said Sunday on ABC.
Gore criticized Bush as well for citing the threat of terrorism to claim other unprecedented powers, including the imprisonment of American citizens without warrants and the torture and kidnapping of individuals in foreign countries.
Republican Party officials accused Gore of grandstanding.
"Al Gore's incessant need to insert himself in the headline of the day is almost as glaring as his lack of understanding of the threats facing America," said Tracey Schmitt, the press secretary for the Republican National Committee.
Gore remarked on the Martin Luther King Jr. national holiday to underscore his point, noting that federal agents had illegally monitored the famed civil rights leader's conversations. Revelations about that helped inspire Congress to restrict wiretap authority, Gore said.
The former vice president hasn't ruled out another run for the presidency, and his condemnation of Bush's actions was so harsh that it may signal a renewed interest in political life.
Gore noted that the Bush administration had wanted Congress to authorize him to use military measures domestically when it passed the post-Sept. 11 resolutions sanctioning the use of force abroad. But Congress didn't give Bush permission to use such tactics domestically.
"When President Bush failed to convince Congress to give him all the power he wanted ... he secretly assumed that power anyway, as if congressional authorization was a useless bother," Gore said.
"If the president has the inherent authority to eavesdrop on Americans without a warrant, imprison citizens on his own declaration, kidnap and torture them, what can't he do?" the former Democratic vice president asked rhetorically.
(c) 2006, Knight Ridder/Tribune Information Services.
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