At today’s press briefing, White House spokesman Trent Duffy was asked about a story in today’s New York Times, which reported that Bush’s warrantless domestic spying program could undermine key terrorism prosecutions:
Q The New York Times reports today that there are several legal challenges based on the NSA wiretaps. Are you concerned that these challenges could jeopardize the cases against people you guys have already described as very bad people?
MR. DUFFY: …[W]e decline to comment on any pending cases, but I don’t think it should serve as any surprise that defense attorneys are looking at ways to represent their clients; that’s what defense attorneys do.
Duffy’s right, criminal defense lawyers are looking for ways that their clients can avoid conviction. And Bush’s actions have given them an easy way to do it. The program violated federal criminal law — the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act. As a result, any information collected by the program is inadmissible in court. (This principle is called the exclusionary rule.) If that information is critical to the government’s case, a guilty terrorist might be found not guilty.
What’s worse, if what the administration says is true, none of this was necessary. If all of the surveillance targeted people associated with al Qaeda, as the administration claims, it would have been easily approved by the FISA court. That process would not have delayed the surveillance since a warrant can be obtained up to 72 hours after the surveillance starts.
The Bush administration says the program is justified because it made us safer. The opposite appears to be true. The program has made us less safe by needlessly complicating the prosecution of terrorist suspects.