By Adam Edelman
As European leaders fumed amid reports that the National Security Agency had been spying on German Chancellor Angela Merkel for more than a decade, at least one prominent Republican lawmaker defended the controversial tactic Sunday, claiming that it keeps citizens of the U.S., as well as Europe, safe.
"We're not doing this for the fun of it," Long Island Republican Rep. Pete King said Sunday, responding to a report from Germany's Der Spiegel magazine that the NSA began tapping Merkel's cellphone in 2002. "This is to gather valuable intelligence, which helps not just us, but also helps the Europeans."
"We're not doing this to hurt Germany," King told NBC's "Meet the Press."
According to Der Spiegel, Merkel's cellphone had appeared on an NSA-assembled list of spying targets in 2002 and continued to be under watch as recently as the weeks preceding Obama's June visit to Berlin.
An allegedly furious Merkel called President Obama earlier this week, after reports first emerged that the German chancellor was among 35 global leaders whose phones had been monitored by the NSA, to seek an explanation for the phone-tapping.
Obama apologized for the spying, Der Spiegel reported, and said he would have taken action to stop it, if he had known about it.
'We're not doing this for the fun of it,' Rep. Peter King (R-L.I.) said Sunday on NBC's 'Meet the Press' about the U.S. allegedly spying on its European allies.
The purported apology, however, irritated U.S. Republicans, who claim the spying actions help combat terrorism worldwide.
"I think the President should stop apologizing and stop being defensive. The reality is the NSA has saved thousands of lives not just in the United States but also in France, Germany and throughout Europe," said King, a former House Homeland Security Committee chairman on Sunday.
"The NSA has done so much for our country and so much to help this president, he should be out there, he should stand with NSA," King added. "If he can find the time to go to Junior's with Bill de Blasio" -- a reference to the President's Friday appearance at the famed Brooklyn cheesecake establishment with the mayoral front-runner -- "then he can find time to go to Fort Meade."
On Wednesday, after the initial reports emerged, the White House would not deny that the NSA snooped on Merkel's cellphone in the past, but claimed that it had put an end to the practice.
"The United States is not monitoring and will not monitor the communications of the chancellor," White House Press Secretary Jay Carney said.
But the half-denial wasn't nearly enough for Merkel, who blasted the purported action as a "serious breach of trust."
"Such practices must be stopped immediately," she said.
Outrage among her fellow politicians prompted Germany's foreign minister on Thursday to summon the U.S. ambassador, John B. Emerson, to discuss the issue -- a highly unusual move between long-time allies. And on Saturday, German intelligence officials announced plans to visit Washington to seek further answers.
The stiff reaction isn't without precedent.
France summoned its U.S. ambassador last Monday after Le Monde newspaper reported that the NSA had been spying on French citizens.
The alleged surveillance has also ruffled feathers in Brazil and Mexico in recent weeks.