Another Chapter in the Criminal History of the Bush Administration
May 17, 2007 – Imagine this.
It's winter in 2004 and Condi Rice, former oil company executive – now President Bush’s national security advisor – decides to re-implement a national eavesdropping program that smacks of Soviet Russia under Stalin.
This program was so criminal that Attorney General Ashcroft and Robert Mueller of the FBI threatened to resign over it. They and other senior Justice Department officials refused to approve it – period.
The President of the United States – George W. Bush – later allowed the eavesdropping program to go on, but then with Justice Department approval, choosing, under severe pressure not to flaunt the Constitution and the Law. Yet until the following story occurred the President was quite prepared to continue the program despite Justice Department warnings that it, as it stood, was illegal.
To me, this story makes Richard Nixon appear to have been a saint.
In a detailed exchange with the Senate Judiciary Committee yesterday, James Comey, former deputy attorney general and the number two man at Justice threw further light or more on point – darkness – on a wiretap situation that should make every American’s hair stand on end. Remember, at the time, Alberto Gonzales was White House Counsel. Mr. Comey refused White House overtures to sign a presidential order reauthorizing the wiretap program for several reasons including that it permitted secret monitoring of telephone calls and email of people in the United States who were “suspected” of having terrorist “ties”. These programs did not comply with the law.
The National Security Agency eavesdropping scheme also did not require a court order or any judicial supervision. In short, it allowed law enforcement to simply decide to read your email and listen to your telephone conversations on a whim despite protestations from the White House which claimed the program would not be abused.
Now add the fact that as this time Attorney General Ashcroft was in the hospital for major surgery. On the night of March 10th, 2004, soon to be Attorney General Alberto Gonzales and White House Chief of Staff Andrew Card snuck out in the night and into Mr. Ashcroft’s hospital room despite the fact that Mrs. Ashcroft had forbidden any visitors as Mr. Ashcroft was very ill and “not all there” because of medication and pain. Mr. Comey was contacted by a concerned Ashcroft staffer who alerted him about the imminent hospital Gonzales-Card “break-in” and then phoned Director Mueller of the FBI.
Like something out of a Harrison Ford movie, Acting Attorney General Comey jumped in his limo and rushed to George Washington Univeristy Hospital – lights and sirens on. His purpose – to intercept Gonzales and Card before they reached Ashcroft and obtained his signature authorizing the illegal wiretaps because the program – already in place – would terminate the next day under law. FBI chief Mueller agreed to meet Comey at the hospital and according to him he ran up the stairs while Mueller ordered FBI agents protecting Ashcroft not to remove Comey from the room if Gonzales and Card objected to his being there.
Fortunately Comey arrived before not-so-speedy Gonzales and Andy Card.
Mr. Ashcroft was only just conscious, but Comey, rushing to his aid, knew that even Ashcroft agreed that the wiretap program should never be renewed but was worried that Gonzales and Card would somehow hijack a signature out of him. Only minutes later Gonzales and Card arrived. The tension in Mr. Ashcroft’s hospital room must have been nuclear. Gonzales began his whiny explanation of why he and Card were there – pleading to get Ashcroft’s signature on what the Justice Department believed was an illegal act. Ashcroft, although very weak, rose from his bed and refused!
Kudos to him, a man I have in the past criticized harshly for his role in obtaining Senate approval for Justice Thomas’ appointment to the Supreme Court.
The key point here is that both Gonzales and Card were brainless enough to think that Ashcroft’s signature would be adequate. Remember: Ashcroft, because of his impending surgery, had given up his power as Attorney General to Mr. Comey; thus, even if Ashcroft had signed it, it would not have changed the patent illegality of continuing the wiretap program in Condi Rice’s music shoppe of horrors.
So here we had the man who is now Attorney General of the United States and the President’s Chief of Staff in a sick man’s hospital room trying to tempt him to sign a document of which he did not approve of and which he felt would allow illegal acts to occur. This time Gonzales was “speedy” and he and Card left the room only to telephone Acting Attorney Comey shortly and “demand” that he come to the White House. Comey wisely refused and told the weasel Card that he would not appear after what he just witnessed in Ashcroft’s hospital room unless the Solicitor General of the United States – laughably, Ted Olson – was present to observe what transpired. With that he phoned Olson, who was at a dinner party. Olson responded straight away and rushed to the White where Comey, Gonzales and Card were waiting. The four men argued the issues and Comey knew he was under severe pressure because none other than the slippery Vice President, Dick Cheney – who held some mystical power over the President – wanted the eavesdropping program to continue as drafted. Comey had already prepared a letter of resignation and told the White House rats that Attorney Ashcroft would join him in resigning as well as would Director Mueller.
Thus, the top three men in the Justice Department would quit if the White House continued to insist on the illegal continuation of these wiretaps.
The next morning President Bush himself dragged Comey from another meeting at the White House into a “private meeting” which Comey described as a “full exchange.” Comey suggested that the President meet with FBI Director Mueller and the President did so. During that meeting something occurred which moved President Bush to accept the changes that Comey and other Justice Department staff insisted on. This allowed Justice to certify the legality of the program, but for several weeks illegal wiretapping by your government – ostensibly for your own good – continued.
Now think hard.
Here we have two creepy but highly paid White House staff weaseling their way into the Attorney General’s sick room in order to get him to sign a document he didn’t want to sign without informing the Acting Attorney General, the FBI or anyone else.
Had they had the chance they would have described their “action” as aboveboard.
Now ask yourself: can Attorney General Gonzales be trusted – in any way – or he is merely a half-witted tool of the White House used in order to circumvent the Constitution of the United States?
Someone should ask Mr. Comey, who resigned later because even after this debacle, from whom he continued to feel ever-increasing interference from the White House on the Justice Department. Can you say Karl Rove?
One would think we were living in 1934 Germany, not 2007 America.