President George W. Bush spoke out on the National Security Agency surveillance program he launched for the first time since it became a massive scandal for President Barack Obama.
“I put the program in place to protect the country and one of the certainties was that civil liberties were guaranteed,” he said in an interview with CNN published Monday.
News of the NSA surveillance program was leaked by Edward Snowden to The Guardian, which revealed that the government tracks and monitors Americans’ phone data, as well as overseas online activity.
“I think there needs to be a balance, and as the president explained, there is a proper balance,” Bush said.
The former president criticized NSA leaker Snowden, saying he “damaged the security of the country,” before concluding “the Obama administration will deal with it.”
Bush pushed back against prompts to criticize the president’s actions.
“I don’t think it does any good,” he said. “It’s a hard job. He’s got plenty on his agenda. It’s difficult. A former president doesn’t need to make it any harder. Other presidents have taken different decisions; that’s mine.”
Bush has recently shot up in the public’s esteem, with his popularity rating rising to a net approval for the first time since 2005. The former president said he doesn’t care: “The only time I really cared was on Election Day.”
He walked back his comments, returning with, “You know, I guess it’s nice. I mean, let me rephrase that: Thank you for bringing it up.”
He concluded that history will judge his presidency, not polls.
“History will judge the decisions I made. I won’t be around, because it will take a while for the objective historians to show up,” he said. “So I’m pretty comfortable with it, I did what I did; I know the spirit in which I did it.”