The President fully supports the Department of Justice's citing of the state secrets privilege to brush aside lawsuits targeting officials who oversaw warrantless wiretapping, spokesman Robert Gibbs said on Thursday.
"Absolutely, absolutely he does," Gibbs said, when asked if the president deemed the DOJ's legal reasoning fair. "Obviously these are programs that have been debated and discussed but the president does support that viewpoint... Obviously we are dealing with some suits and the Department of Justice will make determinations based on protecting our national security."
The DOJ has insisted that lawsuits against government officials involved in the warrantless wiretapping program be dismissed when a trial could reveal sensitive national security information. During the campaign trail, Obama had criticized the practice of evoking the state secrets privilege as used by the Bush administration. Asked if the president continued to find his predecessor's use offensive in light of his own use, Gibbs replied, "Yes."
The distinction between how Obama and Bush were handling the issue, a White House official told the Huffington Post, would come to light once the Attorney General continued to review the cases involving the use of the state secrets privilege.
UPDATE: Per the White House official, here is the DOJ's statement on the matter as it pertains to one of those state secret cases: Jewel v. NSA.
The administration recognizes that invoking the states secret privilege is a significant step that should be taken only when absolutely necessary. After careful consideration by senior intelligence and Department of Justice officials, it was clear that pursuing this case could unavoidably put at risk the disclosure of sensitive information that would harm national security.
An examination by the Director of National Intelligence and an internal review team established by the Attorney General determined that attempting to address the allegations in this case could require the disclosure of intelligence sources and methods that are used in a lawful manner to protect national security. The administration cannot risk the disclosure of information that could cause such exceptional harm to national security.
While the assertion of states secrets privilege is necessary to protect national security, the intelligence community's surveillance activities are designed and executed to comply fully with the laws protecting the privacy and civil liberties of Americans. There is a robust oversight system to ensure this compliance.
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