Bush Defends Surveillance, Affirms Hamas Policy

President Bush

President Bush holds a press conference in Washington Thursday. Reuters hide caption

itoggle caption Reuters

WASHINGTON (AP) - President Bush defended anew his program of warrantless surveillance Thursday, saying "there's no doubt in my mind it is legal." He suggested that he might resist congressional efforts to change it.

"The program's legal, it's designed to protect civil liberties, and it's necessary," Bush told a White House news conference.

Democrats have accused the president of breaking the law in allowing eavesdropping on overseas communications to and from U.S. residents, and even some members of his own party have questioned the practice.

Asked if he would support efforts in Congress to give him express authority to continue the program, Bush cited what he said was the extreme delicacy of the operation.

"It's so sensitive that if information gets out about how the program works, it will help the enemy," Bush said. "Why tell the enemy what we're doing?"

"We'll listen to ideas. If the attempt to write law is likely to expose the nature of the program, I'll resist it," the president said.

On the Middle East, Bush expressed concern that Palestinian elections had given a majority to the radical party Hamas, which has called for the elimination of Israel, although he noted that democratic elections sometimes produce unwelcome results.

He made it clear that any organization that has an armed wing and which advocates violence against Israel "is a party with which we will not deal."

Bush called the election results a "wake-up call" to the old guard Palestinian leadership, many of whom are holdovers from the days of the late PLO chairman Yasser Arafat.

Questioned about a controversy swirling about disgraced lobbyist Jack Abramoff, Bush said he would cooperate with federal prosecutors investigating Abramoff and his alleged influence peddling activities, if necessary. Otherwise, the president said he saw no reason to release pictures that he acknowledged were taken of him and Abramoff.

"There is a serious investigation going on by federal prosecutors — that's their job," the president said. "If they believe something was done inappropriately in the White House, they'll come and look and they're welcome to do so."

Otherwise, Bush said, "I've had my picture taken with a lot of people. Having my picture taken with someone doesn't mean I'm a friend with them or know them very well."

"I've had my picture taken with you," Bush said to the reporter who asked the question.

Bush also said that his nominee for Supreme Court, Samuel Alito, deserves to be confirmed in the Senate, where he clearly has the votes but where minority-party Democrats were speaking out against him at length.

"The Senate needs to give him an up or down vote as soon as possible," Bush said in opening remarks that also previewed the themes of his State of the Union address next Tuesday.

Bush shrugged off a recent Pentagon-contracted report which concluded the Army was overextended and the United States cannot sustain the pace of troop deployments to Iraq long enough to break the back of the insurgency there.

The president predicted victory in Iraq and said, "Our commanders will have the troops necessary to do that."

He said the military was focused on transforming itself to ensure the armed forces could meet its goals in the 21st century.

"After five years of war, there is a need to make sure troops are balanced properly, threats are met with capabilities. That's why we're transforming the military," Bush said.

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