Wednesday, May 16, 2007

A Disturbing Saga

The story that came out of James Comey’s testimony to the Senate Judiciary Committee yesterday is, if nothing else, disturbing.

To summarize a long story, Comey was acting Attorney General in early 2004 after John Ashcroft was hospitalized. Long story short, Comey was hesitant to reauthorize the NSA domestic spying program. Then-White House COS Andy Card and then-White House Counsel Alberto Gonzales literally went to Ashcroft’s hospital room, shortly after he had had surgery, in order to get him to approve the program and override Comey’s decision.

Ashcroft, naturally groggy after surgery, balked… and led the White House to approve its own domestic surveillance program despite DOJ objections.

The scene unfolded like a movie:

Comey learned, Ashcroft's wife who was at his bedside, that Gonzales and Card were on their way to the hospital. He immediately ordered his driver to turn around and head to the hospital with sirens blazing. He calls the head of the FBI, Robert Mueller, who promised to meet him at the scene. Comey gets out of the car and literally runs up the stairs to Ashcroft's room. The head of the FBI orders the agents outside Ashcroft's door to not allow Comey to be removed from the room under any circumstances. Comey tries to explain the situation to a clearly groggy and disoriented Ashcroft, but mnutes later, Gonzales and Card arrive entering the room with papers in hand, without acknowledging Comey's presence. After hearing Gonzales' spiel, Ashcroft finds the strength and temporary focus to sit up and coherently explain to Gonzales why the program is illegal. He then says that it doesn't matter what he thinks anyway because he, at the time, was not the Attorney General and he points to Comey and said; “he's the Attorney General.” Card and Gonzales storm out of the room and soon thereafter Comey gets a call from an irate Card who demands that he come to the White House. Comey tells him: “After what I just witnessed, I will not meet with you without a witness, and I intend that witness to be the solicitor general of the United States," with which Card replied; “What conduct? We were merely there to wish him well.”
You can read the whole transcript HERE.

But the story didn’t end there as the “sickbed visit” was only the beginning of a tense and dramatic showdown between the White House and the Justice Department. According to Comey, the issue was only resolved after Bush overruled Gonzales and Card, and that didn’t happen until Ashcroft, Comey, Mueller and their aides prepared a mass resignation.

Which also suggests that the NSA’s domestic spying program went of for several weeks without DOJ approval.

That’s disturbing and stressing enough, but also consider how John Ashcroft was eventually replaced by one of the men that tried to convince him to sign an important legal document that contradicted the reasoned legal opinion of the Justice Department and whom had neither the official authority nor the legal capacity, due to his heavily-medicated state, to sign.

Think about that for a second. This man essentially took advantage of a man who had just had surgery… and that “man” is now our Attorney General.

What an absolute fucking disgrace…

So what can we take from this example of a pathetic and desperate man?

For starters, that Alberto Gonzales acted in a manner that is, at the very least, ethically questionable. Not only was Gonzales trying to circumvent James Comey's lawful authority as the acting AG, but he was also looking to have a person who had just had major surgery the day before and was heavily-medicated, execute a legal document… a very important legal document at that. Sounds to me that that is something that can get attorney disbarred.

Another? The implication that Robert Mueller didn’t trust Card nor Gonzales as he gave instruction to the agents outside Ashcroft's room to not allow Comey to be removed, implying that he was worried about what could happen in the room if there weren’t ant witnesses. Good to know that someone who didn’t have the trust of the FBI director would become the U.S. Attorney General, which I think speaks volumes about Gonzales and the way he does things and the person he is.

And finally, that the White House was willing to authorize a program that the Justice Department, including the Attorney General, the Deputy Attorney General, the head of the OLC, and the FBI Director, had determined to be illegal.

But as startling as it was to hear this story, there’s something else we shouldn't forget…

We shouldn’t forget that we, the American people, should have known about this story a long, long time ago…

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