By now, every political junikie in the country has read the Drudge Report post that Presidents Carter and Clinton both conducted warrantless searches.
Some people have held these case up as permission or even "precedent" for the current round of warrantless eavesdropping on Americans.
But the Drudge Report provided only partial information and failed to provide a timeline.
Clearing up the Confusion
Presidents Carter and Clinton did carry out warrantless searches.
But Congress reigned them in each time.
Congress passed the FISA (Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act) in 1978. It outlawed electronic eavesdropping without a warrant.
President Carter did issue an executive order — as Drudge reported — allowing warrantless wiretaps. But they had to comply with the rules under FISA. FISA allows warrantless searches for 72 hours before seeking a warrant:
1-101. Pursuant to Section 102(a)(1) of the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act of 1978 (50 U.S.C. 1802(a)), the Attorney General is authorized to approve electronic surveillance to acquire foreign intelligence information without a court order, but only if the Attorney General makes the certifications required by that Section. — Executive Order 12139, May 23, 1979
Clinton and Warrantless Searches
President Clinton ordered a warrantless "physical" search — which was allowed at the time (early 1990s) because of a loophole in the FISA.
Deputy Attorney General Jamie Gorelick (right) is quoted in the Drudge Report:
"[The President] has inherent authority to conduct warrantless searches for foreign intelligence purposes." — Jamie Gorelick, July 14, 1994
What Drudge fails to mention is that the statement came in testimony to Congress. She was not talking about electronic eavesdropping, but about maintaining the warrantless "physical" search loophole.