"If Al Gore is going to be the voice of the Democrats on national security matters, we welcome it," White House press secretary Scott McClellan said in a swipe at the Democrat, who lost the 2000 election to Mr. Bush only after the Supreme Court intervened.
Gore, in a speech Monday, called for an independent investigation of the National Security Agency program that he says broke the law by listening in — without warrants — on Americans suspected of talking with terrorists abroad.
Gore called the program, authorized by President Bush, "a threat to the very structure of our government" and charged that the administration acted without congressional authority and made a "direct assault" on a federal court set up to authorize requests to eavesdrop on Americans.
McClellan said the Clinton-Gore administration had engaged in warrantless physical searches, and he cited an FBI search of the home of CIA turncoat Aldrich Ames without permission from a judge. He said Clinton's deputy attorney general, Jamie Gorelick, had testified before Congress that the president had the inherent authority to engage in physical searches without warrants.
"I think his hypocrisy knows no bounds," McClellan said of Gore.
Meanwhile, two civil liberties groups – the American Civil Liberties Union and the Center for Constitutional Rights – Tuesday seeking to block the administration's eavesdropping program, which they called unconstitutional electronic surveillance of American citizens.
In a related development, The New York Times reported Tuesday that the NSA sent the FBI thousands of tips about alleged terrorists in the months after the Sept. 11 attacks.
But nearly all the tips, according to current and former officials, failed to pan out or lead to innocent Americans, the Times said.
Gore said Attorney General Alberto Gonzales should name a special counsel to investigate the program, saying Gonzales had an "obvious conflict of interest" as a member of the Bush Cabinet as well as the nation's top law enforcement officer.