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Laura Bush backs domestic spying

White House view is 'wrong,' asserts GOP's Specter

ACCRA, Ghana -- Laura Bush said yesterday that the US government is right to eavesdrop on Americans with suspected ties to terrorists, but a top Senate Republican joined a chorus of lawmakers who think domestic spying is on shaky legal ground.

''I think the American people expect the United States government and the president to do what they can to make sure there's not an attack by foreign terrorists," Laura Bush said just before landing here to begin a four-day stay in West Africa.

President Bush is concerned that media disclosure of the program will cripple work to foil terrorists, she said.

''I think he was worried that it would undermine our efforts by alerting terrorists to what our efforts are," she said.

The president's secret order gave the National Security Agency permission to listen in on international phone calls and peek at e-mails between Americans and suspected terrorists.

Administration officials say a congressional resolution passed after the attacks of Sept. 11, 2001 -- a resolution that authorized the president to use force in the fight against terrorism -- gave him authority to order the program.

''I thought they were wrong," Senator Arlen Specter, Republican of Pennsylvania, said on ABC's ''This Week."

Specter is one of several Republicans and Democrats who are questioning the administration's authority to engage in domestic spying without court warrants. Attorney General Alberto Gonzales has agreed to testify at hearings next month before the Senate Judiciary Committee, which Specter chairs.

Committee members, including Republican Sam Brownback of Kansas, have expressed doubt about the president's legal argument for the program.

''We're not going to give him a blank check, and just because we're of the same party doesn't mean we're not going to look at this very closely," Specter said. ''And I moved immediately when the matter was disclosed to say that I would use my authority as chairman of the Judiciary Committee to have hearings, and we're going to pursue it."

Speaking on CBS's ''Face the Nation," Senator Dianne Feinstein, Democrat of California, said she too does not think the president had the legal authority to order the program.

Feinstein lamented the administration's decision to bypass checks and balances provided by the 1978 Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act, or FISA.

Under the act, the attorney general can authorize a warrantless wiretap for up to 72 hours. But he must give the presiding judge of an 11-member FISA court prior notice and justify the surveillance later.

''If you're going to wiretap Americans, if you may wiretap whomever an American might call, if you're going to put that information in a database -- and I said if, because we don't exactly know what happened -- follow the law, and do it legally," Feinstein said.

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