WASHINGTON — Capping a weeklong defense of his administration's controversial domestic surveillance program, President Bush on Thursday passionately rejected any notion that he is "circumventing" a federal law that requires a court order for monitoring private communication, and suggested he will resist attempts to change that law.

"There's no doubt in my mind it is legal," the president said of the program at a White House news conference. "I believe I've been hired by the people to do my job, and that's to protect the people. And that's what I'm going to do — mindful of my authorities within the Constitution, mindful of our need to make sure that we stay within the law and mindful of the need to protect the civil liberties of the people."

Still, as the Senate prepares to hold hearings next month on the National Security Agency's surveillance, Democratic critics and some legal experts maintain that Bush has violated the Federal Intelligence Surveillance Act, which requires warrants for domestic wiretaps. The law was enacted in 1978 in response to abuses of government surveillance.

As part of a campaign to bolster support for the program, Bush visited the highly secretive NSA headquarters this week and administration officials have publicly made the legal case for monitoring the calls and e-mails of people inside the United States who are communicating with suspected terrorists overseas.

On Thursday, Bush carried that bid for public support to his first news conference of the year.

He also offered a broad preview of the State of the Union address he will deliver on Tuesday. In that speech, Bush plans to tout the current economic expansion, call on Congress to make his tax cuts permanent and outline plans for making health care more affordable.

And on a day the militant Islamic faction Hamas won a majority of seats in Palestinian elections, Bush reiterated his administration's policy of not dealing with Hamas, which the U.S. considers a terrorist organization committed to the destruction of Israel. The president also confronted questions about his relationship with Republican lobbyist Jack Abramoff, who has pleaded guilty to illegal influence-peddling in dealings with members of Congress. Abramoff has listed the Executive Office of the President as one of the agencies he contacted as a lobbyist and has appeared in ceremonial photographs at official functions with Bush.

Insisting that he does not know the lobbyist, Bush called him "a person who admitted to wrongdoing and who needs to be prosecuted for that."

"It's part of the job of the president to shake hands . . . with people and smile. And I do," Bush said.

He said he would not authorize the release of photos of himself with Abramoff because Democrats would use them for political purposes.

But the president confronted especially contentious questions about the NSA surveillance, which Bush secretly authorized following the Sept. 11 attacks. The surveillance has continued since then, with repeated authorization by the president.

During the 45-minute news conference, Bush was asked why he felt a need to "circumvent" FISA, which requires the government to seek warrants from a special, closed-door court before it monitors domestic calls. In an emergency, the government can notify the court within 72 hours after beginning the wiretapping.

"Wait a minute," Bush said, objecting to the word "circumvent." "It's like saying, 'You know, you're breaking the law.' I'm not. See, that's what you've got to understand. I am upholding my duty and, at the same time, doing so under the law and with the Constitution behind me. That's just very important for you to understand.

"You know, circumventing is a loaded word," Bush said sternly. "And I refuse to accept it, because I believe what I'm doing is legally right."

But Democrats and some Republicans are dubious about that. Sen. Dick Durbin, D-Ill., the Senate's minority whip, said Thursday the president should propose revising the law if necessary, rather than ignoring it.

"If the president believes there are other areas that we need to move into to protect America, he will have a warm and positive response from members of Congress on both sides of the aisle," Durbin said. "But instead, what the president has said is, he is not bound by any law. He can say as often as he wants that what he's doing is legal or constitutional, but he can't point to a law that gives him that authority."

House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., arguing that hearings will be needed to understand what has occurred, said, "We just don't know" about the program's legality. "We don't want any president, Democrat or Republican, to have unfettered, above-the-law power to spy on the American people."

Bush, calling the surveillance program "so important and so sensitive," suggested that attempts to revise it might expose America's tactics to its enemies, presumably because it would mean either public congressional hearings or closed ones that would leak. "If the attempt to write law ... is likely to expose the nature of the program, I'll resist it," Bush said.

The administration maintains that Congress permitted Bush to approve the surveillance when it adopted a joint resolution after the Sept. 11 attacks authorizing the president to take any steps necessary to pursue individuals and groups responsible for the attacks. The administration also cites Bush's constitutional authority to wage war as commander in chief.

Bush told reporters that after the attacks, he asked the NSA and other agencies what more could be done to track terrorists. The NSA director at the time, Gen. Michael Hayden, "came forward with this program," the president said. "In other words, it wasn't designed in the White House, it was designed where you expect it to be designed, in the NSA."