Speaking on Martin Luther King Jr.'s national holiday, the man who lost the 2000 presidential election to Mr. Bush only after a ruling by the Supreme Court on a recount in Florida, called Mr. Bush's warrantless surveillance program "a threat to the very structure of our government." Gore charged that the program has ignored the checks and balances of the courts and Congress.
Gore said that Mr. Bush's actions — which the president has defended as indispensable in the war against terrorism — represented a "direct assault" on the special federal court that considers, and decides whether to authorize, administration requests to eavesdrop on Americans.
Tracey Schmitt, a spokeswoman for the Republican National Committee, shot back: "Al Gore's incessant need to insert himself in the headline of the day is almost as glaring as his lack of understanding of the threats facing America. While the president works to protect Americans from terrorists, Democrats deliver no solutions of their own, only diatribes laden with inaccuracies and anger. "
Gore said the concerns are especially important on King's birthday because the slain civil rights leader was among thousands of Americans whose private communications were intercepted by the U.S. government.
King, as a foremost civil rights activist in the 1950s and 60s, had his telephone conversations wiretapped by the FBI, which kept a file on him.
Gore said that there is still much to learn about the National Security Agency's domestic surveillance program: "What we do know about this pervasive wiretapping virtually compels the conclusion that the president of the United States has been breaking the law repeatedly and persistently," he maintained.
Mr. Bush has pointed to a congressional resolution passed after the attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, that authorized him to use force in the fight against terrorism as allowing him to order the program. The program authorized eavesdropping of international phone calls and e-mails of people deemed a terror risk.
Gore was repeatedly interrupted by applause Monday as he spoke to the American Constitution Society for Law and Policy and the Liberty Coalition, two organizations that expressed concern with the legality of the surveillance program.
Gore, also a former member of the Senate from Tennessee, proposed that a special counsel be appointed by Attorney General Alberto Gonzales to investigate whether there have been violations of the law.
Referring to reports that private telecommunications companies have provided the Bush administration with access to private information on Americans, Gore said any company that did so should immediately end its complicity in the program.
By Larry Margasak