President Bush reiterated his defense of the Patriot Act and going to war in Iraq on Tuesday as his re-election campaign touted his “tremendous resiliency” after polls showed gains over Democratic opponent John Kerry.
Although Bush was criticized during the Sept. 11 commission hearings and his policies were questioned amid the renewed violence in Iraq, he led Kerry by slight margins in polls released Monday. He had been trailing Kerry in polls.
In a strategy memo headlined “President Bush Shows Tremendous Resiliency,” the Bush campaign contended that Americans are firm in their support of Bush.
“Despite pundit speculation that the president had been weakened over the course of the last month, the president’s ballot position has improved, he shows tremendous strength over Kerry on handling terrorism and Iraq and he has made significant gains on handling the other important issues of the day,” the memo stated.
The Bush campaign spent nearly $50 million in March, a record for presidential campaign spending. It raised $26.2 million last month and about $52.9 million for the quarter, setting a presidential campaign record for a three-month period, a finance report showed.
Bush spent a second straight day promoting the Patriot Act, warning that getting rid of any of its wide-ranging law enforcement tools to investigate terrorism would endanger the country. He paired the pitch with an afternoon fund raiser in New York City, where he was headlining a Republican Party get-out-the-vote event.
'Reflect the reality'
“We’ve got to make sure the laws reflect the reality” of a post-Sept. 11 world, Bush told several hundred political supporters, along with firefighters, police and other rescue workers. About 100 anti-war protesters demonstrated outside Buffalo’s Kleinhans Music Hall as Bush spoke.
Bush also used the occasion to justify the war in Iraq, saying that Saddam Hussein’s regime had harbored terrorists.
“He was paying for terrorists to kill” and in a post-Sept. 11 world, the United States decided to “take actions to defend our country,” the president said. “We are fighting the enemy there so we won’t have to them here.”
Buffalo was chosen for the president’s speech because federal prosecutors here tied their successful prosecution of a group of six Yemeni-Americans to the Patriot Act. The defendants pleaded guilty to supporting terrorism by briefly attending al-Qaida training camps in Afghanistan.
The case against the Lackawanna Six succeeded because of the Patriot Act’s provisions, said U.S. Attorney Mike Battle of the western district of New York, who appeared with Bush. Battle said the law broke down the walls that had barred FBI agents investigating criminal matters and intelligence matters from sharing information.
Before the Patriot Act, FBI agents “could talk about Buffalo Bills football, but they couldn’t talk about protecting the homeland,” Bush said.
'One arm tied behind our back'
“We were fighting with one arm tied behind our back,” said Pete Ahearn, the FBI agent in charge of the Buffalo field office, also appearing with Bush.
Major elements of the post-Sept. 11, 2001, law are to expire at the end of next year. Several conservative Republicans have joined liberal Democrats in saying that at least two provisions are too intrusive on Americans’ lives.
One provision allows sneak-and-peek searches to permit law enforcement agencies to surreptitiously enter a premises for evidence and inform terrorism suspects later. Another gives law enforcement agencies the ability to obtain library records on demand for terrorism investigations.
A defense attorney for the Lackawanna Six, James Harrington, contends the federal government has exaggerated the importance of the Lackawanna case and the danger posed by those involved. Harrington has asked for a meeting with Bush to let the president hear an alternate view of prosecutions of people accused of participating in terrorism.
Defense lawyers for the Lackawanna Six have said the men were victims of high-pressure recruiters who appealed to their sense of religious duty in persuading them to seek military-style training.