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Aide says McCain backs Bush on wiretapping

Legal analysts cite contrast

Email|Print|Single Page| Text size + By Charlie Savage
New York Times News Service / June 6, 2008

WASHINGTON - A top adviser to Senator John McCain says McCain believes that President Bush's warrantless wiretapping program was lawful, a position that appears to bring him into closer alignment with the sweeping theories of executive authority pushed by the Bush administration legal team.

In a letter posted online by The National Review this week, the adviser, Douglas Holtz-Eakin, said McCain believes the Constitution gives Bush the power to authorize the National Security Agency to monitor Americans' international phone calls and e-mail messages without warrants, despite a 1978 federal statute that required court oversight of surveillance.

McCain believes that "neither the administration nor the telecoms need apologize for actions that most people, except for the ACLU and trial lawyers, understand were constitutional and appropriate in the wake of the attacks on Sept. 11, 2001," Holtz-Eakin wrote.

If McCain is elected president, Holtz-Eakin added, he will do everything he can to prevent terrorist attacks, "including asking the telecoms for appropriate assistance to collect intelligence against foreign threats to the United States as authorized by Article II of the Constitution."

Although a spokesman for McCain, the presumptive Republican presidential nominee, denied that the senator's views on surveillance and executive power had shifted, legal specialists said the letter contrasted with McCain's previously stated views about the limits of presidential power.

In an interview about the limits of executive power with The Boston Globe six months ago, McCain strongly suggested that if he became the next commander in chief, he would consider himself obligated to obey a statute restricting what he did in national security matters. "I don't think the president has the right to disobey any law," McCain said.

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