Yahoo News interview: Rand Paul says NSA phone records seizure saps Obama’s ‘moral authority’

Republican Sen. Rand Paul of Kentucky told Yahoo News Thursday that the National Security Agency’s secret seizure of U.S. telephone records violates the Bill of Rights and that he's "appalled" by the practice.

Speaking one day before President Barack Obama meets Chinese President Xi Jinping in California, Paul said the NSA program, the controversy around IRS treatment of conservative groups, and other recent government actions sap America's "moral authority" to urge Beijing to embrace democratic reforms and openness.

"I’m appalled," Paul told Yahoo at the start of a wide-ranging exclusive interview in a conference room down the hall from his office.

"I’m not opposed to them going to a judge and getting an order for an individual who you have probable cause to believe that they’ve been involved with a crime," he said. "It’s not that I don’t want to go after terrorists – or rapists or murderers or any kind of terrible criminal. It’s that I want to go after them, not the rest of the law-abiding citizens that are out there."

"It's a great invasion of our privacy," Paul said, calling the NSA activities a violation of the Bill of Rights and insisting that the officials involved need "remedial eduction" in Constitutional protections.

Paul said the disclosure of the NSA program by Britain's The Guardian newspaper showed the important role that national security leaks can play in holding government accountable.

"People are always complaining about leaks, but I think the idea that somehow the news media can get this and talk about it -- it’s the only way we ever hear about it, cause they’re not going to let us know otherwise," the senator said.

Paul, who seized national headlines in March with a filibuster to protest secrecy about Obama's drone program said lawmakers would keep asking the executive branch for information.

But, he said, "It’s hard. Once the three letters N-S-A come up, they’re going to say most stuff is classified."

Asked whether issues like the Obama Administration's surveillance of reporters, the NSA program, and the IRS controversy made it harder for Obama to press the Chinese leader on civil liberties, Paul replied: "There are great ironies."

"It is hard, it takes away from his moral authority to lead the nation," Paul said.