US Democrat wants Bush censured on eavesdropping

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WASHINGTON, Mar 13 (Reuters) Congress should censure President George W Bush for ordering domestic eavesdropping on US citizens without a warrant, a Democratic senator said.

Sen Russ Feingold of Wisconsin told ABC's ''This Week'' that he intends to push for a resolution that would censure the president for what he considers an unlawful wiretapping program authorized by the White House after the September 11 attacks.

''It's an unusual step,'' Feingold said of the measure he plans to introduce in the Senate today. ''It's a big step.

But what the president did by consciously and intentionally violating the Constitution and laws of this country with this illegal wiretapping, has to be answered.'' His proposal is unlikely to go far in the Republican-controlled Congress. Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist of Tennessee told the same program that Feingold ''is just wrong. He is flat wrong. He is dead wrong.'' Frist said censuring the president would give US enemies the impression that Bush doesn't have the nation's full support.

''The signal that it sends, that there is in any way a lack of support for our commander-in-chief who is leading us with a bold vision in a way that we know is making our homeland safer, is wrong,'' said Frist.

Rights groups, Democrats and some Republicans have fiercely criticized the Bush administration for the surveillance program.

It allows the National Security Agency to eavesdrop without a warrant on Americans' international phone and e-mail communications in an effort to track down al Qaeda operations.

Critics say the NSA program could violate constitutional protections against unreasonable searches, as well as the 1978 Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act, which requires the government to seek wiretap warrants from a secret court even during times of war.

US Attorney General Alberto Gonzales has said the president has inherent constitutional powers to conduct warrantless surveillance to detect or prevent an attack.

He also has argued that a resolution passed by Congress after Sept. 11 authorizing the use of military force gave Bush the right to approve the eavesdropping.

Democrats have urged a broad inquiry into the program. But Republicans have blocked that move, agreeing only to expand congressional oversight.

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