SAN FRANCISCO -- President Obama is adamant about maintaining the secrecy of a wiretapping program authorized by George W. Bush, an administration lawyer told a federal judge in San Francisco on Wednesday.
Obama "does not intend to use the state-secrets privilege to cover up illegal activities," said Justice Department attorney Anthony Coppolino. But in exceptional circumstances, he said, the president will invoke secrecy to protect "the sources and methods of detecting terrorist attacks ... the crown jewel of the United States national security administration."
Coppolino said the administration will cite national security in seeking dismissal of a lawsuit by telephone customers accusing the government of illegally intercepting phone calls and obtaining phone company records.
This is the part I really love:
The judge said in a 2006 ruling that AT&T had helped the government in surveillance, citing statements by federal officials and a former AT&T employee. On Wednesday, he asked Coppolino whether anything had changed that would justify dismissing the latest lawsuit.
The Justice Department lawyer replied that the plaintiffs will have to air classified information in court about "the nature and scope of the government's surveillance program" to prove their case, and the government will have to do the same to defend itself. That "would risk exceptional harm to the national security," Coppolino said.
Notice that they stopped just short of saying they would refuse to abide by the judge's ruling, but left themselves plenty of room to do so.