Published January 13, 2015
"If Al Gore is the voice of the Democratic Party on national security issues, we welcome it," said White House spokesman Scott McClellan.
Click in the video box to the right to watch a report by FOX News' Jim Angle.
McClellan was responding to Gore's assault on the Bush administration, Congress, the judiciary, and even American society Monday in a broadside attack before a glowing audience of supporters.
His Washington speech targeted the NSA program, which Gore claims threatens "the very structure of our government" especially hard.
McClellan defended the program as "a critical tool in the War on Terror" and "it's designed to prevent attacks."
Gore did not mention former President Bill Clinton's authorization for the FBI to search and wiretap the home of Aldrich Ames, a spy suspect, without a warrant.
But McClellan brought it up in his remarks, saying the Clinton/Gore administration "engaged in warrantless physical searches," citing the search of Ames' home without a warrant.
Gore, who said Bush "repeatedly and persistently" broke the law when authorizing the program, called for a special counsel to be appointed by Attorney General Alberto Gonzales. Gonzales announced last week that he would testify at a Senate Judiciary Committee hearing on the legal grounds of the program.
"And it should be a political issue in any race, regardless of party, section of the country, house of Congress, or anyone who opposes the appointment of a special counsel under these dangerous circumstances when our Constitution is at risk," Gore said, speaking in Washington 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.
Bush has defended the program as an essential anti-terrorism tool. The president has also referenced a congressional resolution passed after the attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, that gave him authorization to use force.
Gore said he wants a special counsel to investigate Bush's authorization of NSA's program that eavesdrops on phone calls and e-mails of terrorists overseas. Though Gore acknowledges not knowing the details of the program, he referred to them as "wholesale invasions of privacy."
"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 insistently," Gore said.
Bush informed congressional leaders from both parties about the NSA program, some of whom raised questions but did nothing more.
Gore criticized those congressional leaders, saying, "Democrats as well as Republicans in the Congress must share the blame for not taking significant action to protest and seek to prevent what they consider a grossly unconstitutional program."
Experts on national security say eavesdropping can be legal unless it actually "targets" people in the United States, for which the administration contends it did seek warrants.
Ronald Kaufman, a Republican political strategist, said Gore is wrong.
"No one doubts [Bush] was doing the right things for the right reasons," Kaufman said. "And it's interesting, Al Gore was one of the folks leading the charge, saying after 9/11 that we hadn't done our job, that we hadn't listened carefully enough, that there were things we should have been doing more to make sure it didn't happen. You can't have it both ways."
Other Republicans also spoke out against Gore's comments.
"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," said Tracey Schmitt, a spokeswoman for the Republican National Committee.