Like A Scene out of the Godfather

May 16, 2007 at 11:09 am | Posted in American politics, Bush Administration, Congress, conservatives, corruption, George W Bush, neo-conservatives, NSA Warrantless Tapping, Republicans, secret combinations | 3 Comments

Wow, I don’t know who’s jaws did not drop at Comey’s testimony yesterday in front of the Senate. It is a must read, and must view. In fact, here is the video:

And here is the transcript. As Marty Lederman writes:

Comey testified as follows:

(i) that he, OLC and the AG concluded that the NSA program was not legally defensible, i.e., that it violated FISA and that the Article II argument OLC had previously approved was not an adequate justification (a conclusion prompted by the New AAG, Jack Goldsmith, having undertaken a systematic review of OLC’s previous legal opinions regarding the Commander in Chief’s powers);

(ii) that the White House nevertheless continued with the program anyway, despite DOJ’s judgment that it was unlawful;

(iii) that Comey, Ashcroft, the head of the FBI (Robert Mueller) and several other DOJ officials therefore threatened to resign;

(iv) that the White House accordingly — one day later — asked DOJ to figure out a way the program could be changed to bring it into compliance with the law (presumably on the AUMF authorizaton theory); and

(v) that OLC thereafter did develop proposed amendments to the program over the subsequent two or three weeks, which were eventually implemented.

The program continued in the interim, even after DOJ concluded that it was unlawful.

Note that Comey homself was the Acting AG at the time, with Ashcroft being in the hospital for surgery. As the New York Times previously reported, and as Comey recounted today in remarkably dramatic detail — set out below — the White House (Andy Card and Judge Gonzales) actually attempted to have Ashcroft overrule Comey even though Ashcroft was ailing and not wielding the powers of the AG at the time. According to Comey today: “I was angry. I thought I had just witnessed an effort to take advantage of a very sick man who did not have the powers of the attorney general.”

Most importantly: Can anyone think of any historical examples where the Department of Justice told the White House that a course of conduct would be unlawful (in this case, a felony), and the President went ahead and did it anyway, without overruling DOJ’s legal conclusion?

The testimony that he gave is a must read. Here is Comey on the incident at the hospital:

COMEY: In the early part of 2004, the Department of Justice was
engaged — the Office of Legal Counsel, under my supervision — in a
reevaluation both factually and legally of a particular classified
program. And it was a program that was renewed on a regular basis,
and required signature by the attorney general certifying to its
legality.

And the — and I remember the precise date. The program had to
be renewed by March the 11th, which was a Thursday, of 2004. And we
were engaged in a very intensive reevaluation of the matter.

And a week before that March 11th deadline, I had a private
meeting with the attorney general for an hour, just the two of us, and
I laid out for him what we had learned and what our analysis was in
this particular matter.

And at the end of that hour-long private session, he and I agreed
on a course of action. And within hours he was stricken and taken
very, very ill…

SCHUMER: (inaudible) You thought something was wrong with how it
was being operated or administered or overseen.

COMEY: We had — yes. We had concerns as to our ability to
certify its legality
, which was our obligation for the program to be
renewed.

The attorney general was taken that very afternoon to George
Washington Hospital, where he went into intensive care and remained
there for over a week. And I became the acting attorney general.

And over the next week — particularly the following week, on
Tuesday — we communicated to the relevant parties at the White House
and elsewhere our decision that as acting attorney general I would not
certify the program as to its legality and explained our reasoning in
detail,
which I will not go into here. Nor am I confirming it’s any
particular program.

That was Tuesday that we communicated that.

COMEY: The next day was Wednesday, March the 10th, the night of
the hospital incident. And I was headed home at about 8 o’clock that
evening, my security detail was driving me. And I remember exactly
where I was — on Constitution Avenue — and got a call from Attorney
General Ashcroft’s chief of staff telling me that he had gotten a
call…

SCHUMER: What’s his name?

COMEY: David Ayers.

That he had gotten a call from Mrs. Ashcroft from the hospital.
She had banned all visitors and all phone calls. So I hadn’t seen him
or talked to him because he was very ill.

And Mrs. Ashcroft reported that a call had come through, and that
as a result of that call Mr. Card and Mr. Gonzales were on their way
to the hospital to see Mr. Ashcroft.

SCHUMER: Do you have any idea who that call was from?

COMEY: I have some recollection that the call was from the
president himself, but I don’t know that for sure. It came from the
White House. And it came through and the call was taken in the
hospital.

So I hung up the phone, immediately called my chief of staff,
told him to get as many of my people as possible to the hospital
immediately
. I hung up, called Director Mueller and — with whom I’d
been discussing this particular matter and had been a great help to me
over that week — and told him what was happening. He said, “I’ll
meet you at the hospital right now.”

Told my security detail that I needed to get to George Washington
Hospital immediately. They turned on the emergency equipment and
drove very quickly to the hospital.

I got out of the car and ran up — literally ran up the stairs
with my security detail.

SCHUMER: What was your concern? You were in obviously a huge
hurry.

COMEY: I was concerned that, given how ill I knew the attorney
general was, that there might be an effort to ask him to overrule me
when he was in no condition to do that.

SCHUMER: Right, OK.

COMEY: I was worried about him, frankly.

And so I raced to the hospital room, entered. And Mrs. Ashcroft
was standing by the hospital bed, Mr. Ashcroft was lying down in the
bed, the room was darkened. And I immediately began speaking to him,
trying to orient him as to time and place, and try to see if he could
focus on what was happening, and it wasn’t clear to me that he could.
He seemed pretty bad off.

SCHUMER: At that point it was you, Mrs. Ashcroft and the
attorney general and maybe medical personnel in the room. No other
Justice Department or government officials.

COMEY: Just the three of us at that point.

I tried to see if I could help him get oriented. As I said, it
wasn’t clear that I had succeeded.

I went out in the hallway. Spoke to Director Mueller by phone.
He was on his way. I handed the phone to the head of the security
detail and Director Mueller instructed the FBI agents present not to
allow me to be removed from the room under any circumstances.
And I
went back in the room.

I was shortly joined by the head of the Office of Legal Counsel
assistant attorney general, Jack Goldsmith, and a senior staffer of
mine who had worked on this matter, an associate deputy attorney
general.

So the three of us Justice Department people went in the room. I
sat down…

SCHUMER: Just give us the names of the two other people.

COMEY: Jack Goldsmith, who was the assistant attorney general,
and Patrick Philbin, who was associate deputy attorney general.

I sat down in an armchair by the head of the attorney general’s
bed. The two other Justice Department people stood behind me. And
Mrs. Ashcroft stood by the bed holding her husband’s arm. And we
waited.

And it was only a matter of minutes that the door opened and in
walked Mr. Gonzales, carrying an envelope,
and Mr. Card. They came
over and stood by the bed. They greeted the attorney general very
briefly. And then Mr. Gonzales began to discuss why they were there
— to seek his approval for a matter, and explained what the matter
was — which I will not do.

And Attorney General Ashcroft then stunned me. He lifted his
head off the pillow and in very strong terms expressed his view of the
matter, rich in both substance and fact, which stunned me — drawn
from the hour-long meeting we’d had a week earlier — and in very
strong terms expressed himself, and then laid his head back down on
the pillow, seemed spent, and said to them, “But that doesn’t matter,
because I’m not the attorney general.”

SCHUMER: But he expressed his reluctance or he would not sign
the statement that they — give the authorization that they had asked,
is that right?

COMEY: Yes.

And as he laid back down, he said, “But that doesn’t matter,
because I’m not the attorney general. There is the attorney general,”
and he pointed to me, and I was just to his left.

The two men did not acknowledge me. They turned and walked from
the room.
And within just a few moments after that, Director Mueller
arrived. I told him quickly what had happened. He had a brief — a
memorable brief exchange with the attorney general and then we went
outside in the hallway.

SCHUMER: OK.

Now, just a few more points on that meeting.

First, am I correct that it was Mr. Gonzales who did just about
all of the talking, Mr. Card said very little?

COMEY: Yes, sir.

SCHUMER: OK.

And they made it clear that there was in this envelope an
authorization that they hoped Mr. Ashcroft — Attorney General
Ashcroft would sign.

COMEY: In substance. I don’t know exactly the words, but it was
clear that’s what the envelope was.

SCHUMER: And the attorney general was — what was his condition?
I mean, he had — as I understand it, he had pancreatitis. He was
very, very ill; in critical condition, in fact.

COMEY: He was very ill. I don’t know how the doctors graded his
condition. This was — this would have been his sixth day in
intensive care. And as I said, I was shocked when I walked in the
room and very concerned as I tried to get him to focus.

SCHUMER: Right.

OK. Let’s continue.

What happened after Mr. Gonzales and Card left? Did you have any
contact with them in the next little while?

COMEY: While I was talking to Director Mueller, an agent came up
to us and said that I had an urgent call in the command center, which
was right next door. They had Attorney General Ashcroft in a hallway
by himself and there was an empty room next door that was the command
center.

And he said it was Mr. Card wanting to speak to me.

COMEY: I took the call. And Mr. Card was very upset and
demanded that I come to the White House immediately
.

I responded that, after the conduct I had just witnessed, I would
not meet with him without a witness present.

He replied, “What conduct? We were just there to wish him well.”

And I said again, “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.”

SCHUMER: That would be Mr. Olson.

COMEY: Yes, sir. Ted Olson.

“Until I can connect with Mr. Olson, I’m not going to meet with
you.”

He asked whether I was refusing to come to the White House. I
said, “No, sir, I’m not. I’ll be there. I need to go back to the
Department of Justice first.”

Wow. Now, there are so many questions raised by this incident that need to be revealed. First of all, why would the Bush administration not go to the Acting Attorney General to get the signature they desired? Why go to a sickened and drugged Ashcroft? Were they hoping that in his drug-induced state he would sign off to whatever they desired? What would have happened if Comey hadn’t made it to the hospital? Would Gonzales and Card forced a signature out of Ashcroft?

looseheadprop of Firedoglake has a number of other great questions.

Couple interesting points right there:

We know there was a “command center” set up in the room next door to Ashcroft’s so if someone needed to get some info to him on the up and up, they could have called and left a message for him there and not run the risk of interrupting his sleep or a medical exam. But if Bush was trying to pressure Ashcroft without anybody knowing about it, he couldn’t afford to leave messages with FBI agents (a/k/a witnesses who just happen to have chosen law enforcement as their life’s work) and would have had to have called Ashcroft directly. With only the two of them in the conversation, no fingerprints.

Secondly, why did Mrs. Ashcroft blow the whistle to Ashcroft’s chief of staff, who in turn blew the whistle to Comey? Did Ashcroft tell her to? Did all these folks anticipate that something like this might happen and already have some idea of what their response would be if it did happen? Cause not for nuthin’ folks, but Comey seemed to have a pretty well developed rapid response ready to go on only seconds of notice.

Why did Director Muller immediately understand why he was being pulled out of a dinner party and not hesitate to get on the road at once? Why did he feel the need to telephone the FBI agents that were in Comey’s security detail and order them “not to allow [Comey] to be removed from the room”? Hells bells! What were they expecting to do, have a shootout in a hospital corridor? OK, maybe the feebies were just supposed to be like bouncers at a bar?

Also, before Comey even leaves the hospital Card already knows about possible wholesale resignations at DOJ? Again, it sounds like there were events that led up to this that were sufficient for people to have time to make those kinds of life altering decisions and for word to get around. There has to be more here.

I mean, who here is not reminded of the scene out of the Godfather where Michael Corleone protects his wounded father at the hospital? Here’s the transcript of that scene:

INT NITE: DON’S ROOM 4A

Slowly he pushes the door open, almost afraid at what he
will find. He looks. Lit by the moonlight through the
window, he can see a FIGURE in the hospital bed alone in the
room, and under a transparent oxygen tent. All that can be
heard is the steady though strained breathing. Slowly
MICHAEL walks up to it, and is relieved to see his FATHER,
securely asleep. Tubes hang from a steel gallows beside the
bed, and run to his nose and mouth.

VOICE (O.S.)
What are you doing here?

This startles MICHAEL; who almost jumps around. It is a
NURSE lit from the light behind her in the hallway.

NURSE
You’re not supposed to be here now.

MICHAEL calms himself, and moves to her.

MICHAEL
I’m Michael Corleone–this is my
father. What happened to the
detectives who were guarding him?

NURSE
Oh your father just had too many
visitors. It interfered with the
hospital service. The police came
and made them all leave just ten
minutes ago.
(comfortingly)
But don’t worry. I look in on him.

MICHAEL
You just stand here one minute…

Quickly he moves to the telephone, dials a number.

MICHAEL
Sonny…Sonny–Jesus Christ, I’m
down at the hospital. I came down
late. There’s no one here. None
of Tessio’s people–no detectives,
no one. The old man is completely
unprotected.

SONNY (O.S.)
All right, get him in a different
room; lock the door from the inside.
I’ll have some men there inside of
fifteen minutes. Sit tight, and
don’t panic.

MICHAEL
(furiously, but kept inside)
I won’t panic.

He hangs up; returns to the NURSE…

NURSE
You cannot stay here…I’m sorry.

MICHAEL
(coldly)
You and I are going to move my
father right now…to another room
on another floor…Can you
disconnect those tubes so we can
wheel the bed out?

NURSE
Absolutely not! We have to get
permission from the Doctor.

MICHAEL
You’ve read about my father in the
papers. You’ve seen that no one’s
here to guard him. Now I’ve just
gotten word that men are coming to
this hospital to kill him. Believe
me and help me.

NURSE
(frightened)
We don’t have to disconnect them,
we can wheel the stand with the bed.

She does so…and they perform the very difficult task of
moving the bed and the apparatus, out of the room.

INT NITE: 4TH FLOOR HOSPITAL (WINTER 1945)

They roll the bed, the stand, and all the tubes silently
down the corridor. We hear FOOTSTEPS coming up the stairs.
MICHAEL hears them, stops.

MICHAEL
Hurry, into there.

They push it into the first available room. MICHAEL peeks
out from the door. The footsteps are louder; then they
emerge. It is ENZO, NAZORINE’s helper, carrying a bouquet
of flowers.

MICHAEL
(stepping out)
Who is it?

ENZO
Michael…do you remember me, Enzo,
the baker’s helper to Nazorine, now
his son-in-law.

MICHAEL
Enzo, get out of here. There’s
going to be trouble.

A look of fear sweeps through ENZO’s face.

ENZO
If there…will be trouble…I stay
with you, to help. I owe it to the
Godfather.

MICHAEL thinks, realizes he needs all the help he can get.

MICHAEL
Go outside; stand in front…I’ll
be out in a minute.

INT NITE: DON’S SECOND HOSPITAL ROOM (WINTER 1945)

They part. MICHAEL moves into the hospital room where they
put his FATHER.

NURSE
(frightened)
He’s awake.

MICHAEL looks at the OLD MAN, his eyes are open, though he
cannot speak. MICHAEL touches his face tenderly.

MICHAEL
Pop…Pop, it’s me Michael. Shhhh,
don’t try to speak. There are men
who are coming to try to kill you.
But I’m with you…I’m with you
now…

The OLD MAN tries to speak…but cannot. MICHAEL tenderly
puts his finger to his FATHER’s lips.

EXT NITE: DON’S HOSPITAL STREET (WINTER 1945)

Outside the hospital is empty save for a nervous ENZO,
pacing back and forth brandishly the flowers as his only
weapon. MICHAEL exits the hospital and moves to him. They
both stand under a lamppost in the cold December night.
They are both frightened; MICHAEL gives ENZO a cigarette,
lights it. ENZO’s hands are trembling, MICHAEL’s are not.

MICHAEL
Get rid of those and look like
you’ve got a gun in your pocket.

The windows of the hospital twinkle with Christmas
decorations.

MICHAEL
Listen…

We HEAR the sound of a single automobile coming. MICHAEL
and ENZO look with fear in their eyes. Then MICHAEL takes
the bouquet of flowers and stuffs them under his jacket.
They stand, hands in their pockets.

A long low black car turns the corner and cruises by them.
MICHAEL’s and ENZO’s faces are tough, impassive. The car
seems as though it will stop; and then quickly accelerates.
MICHAEL and ENZO are relieved. MICHAEL looks down; the
BAKER’s hands are shaking. He looks at his own, and they
are not.

Another moment goes by and we can hear the distant sound of
police sirens. They are clearly coming toward the hospital,
getting louder and louder. MICHAEL heaves a sigh of relief.

In a second, a patrol car makes a screaming turn in front of
the hospital; then two more squad cars follow with uniformed
POLICE and DETECTIVES. He smiles his relief and starts
toward them. TWO huge, burly POLICEMEN suddenly grab his
arms while ANOTHER frisks him. A massive POLICE CAPTAIN,
spattered with gold braid and scrambled eggs on his hat,
with beefy red face and white hair seems furious. This is
McCLUSKEY.

MCCLUSKEY
I thought I got all you guinea
hoods locked up. Who the hell are
you and what are you doing here?

ANOTHER COP standing nearby:

COP
He’s clean, Captain.

MICHAEL studies McCLUSKEY closely.

MICHAEL
(quietly)
What happened to the detectives who
were supposed to be guarding my
father?

MCCLUSKEY
(furious)
You punk-hood. Who the hell are
you to tell me my business. I
pulled them off. I don’t care how
many Dago gangsters kill each other.
I wouldn’t lift a finger to keep
your old man from getting knocked
off. Now get the hell out of here;
get off this street you punk, and
stay away from this hospital.

MICHAEL stands quiet.

MICHAEL
I’ll stay until you put guards
around my father’s room.

MCCLUSKEY
Phil, lock this punk up.

A DETECTIVE
The Kid’s clean, Captain…He’s a
war hero, and he’s never been mixed
up in the rackets…

MCCLUSKEY
(furious)
Goddam it, I said lock him up. Put
the cuffs on him.

MICHAEL
(deliberately, right
to McCLUSKEY’s face,
as he’s being handcuffed)
How much is the Turk paying you to
set my father up, Captain?

Without any warning, McCLUSKEY leans back and hits MICHAEL
squarely on the jaw with all his weight and strength.
MICHAEL groans, and lifts his hand to his jaw. He looks at
McCLUSKEY; we are his VIEW and everything goes spinning, and
he falls to the ground, just as we see HAGEN and CLEMENZA’S
MEN arrive.

Marty Lederman writes, tongue in cheek on just who would play the parts of this modern day Godfather scene:

Here’s the scene: Ashcroft has fallen ill with a severe case of gallstone pancreatitis. He has handed over the reins of the Department to Comey — Comey’s the Acting AG. On March 9th, the same day that Ashcroft has his gall bladder removed, Comey and Goldsmith tell the White House that the NSA program is unlawful and that they won’t sign off on it. The President himself, of course, could overrule DOJ on the legal question — but apparently is unwilling to do so, both because the subsequent resignation of the AG, DAG, and FBI Director would tip off the public that the President trusted David Addington’s jurisprudence more than he trusted the folks at DOJ, and because perhaps the NSA and the phone companies would not look too kindly on the idea of acting in accord with the President’s views when even John Ashcroft did not agree.

So the next evening, the White House — probably the President himself, by Comey’s account — calls Mrs. Ashcroft, and implores her to allow Alberto Gonzales and Andy Card to come to GW Hospital to persuade John Ashcroft, in his weakened and drug-induced post-operative state, to sign off on the program, i.e., to overrule Comey even though Comey is the Acting AG. Comey gets wind of the impending meeting at the hospital, and he rushes to a waiitng vehicle to get to the hospital — using emergency equipment! — before the White House Chief of Staff and Counsel get there. Comey (literally) runs up the hospital stairs to Ashcroft’s room. While Comey is waiting for the two high-ranking White House officials to arrive, he calls the Director of the FBI for support, and then the FBI Director speaks to the AG’s security detail and — this is the best part — “instructed the FBI agents present not to allow me [Comey] to be removed from the room under any circumstances”!

Yes, if you think this sounds familiar, it is — it eerily resembles the scene in which Michael Corrleone “protects” his father at the hospital in The Godfather. With Jack Goldsmith as Enzo the Baker, and Alberto Gonzales as McCluskey the crooked cop. (The President, of course, is Sollozzo. Comey would be Michael, except that he’s a good 14 inches taller than Al Pacino . . . . Oh, and then there’s the bit about how Comey refuses to meet with Andy Card — the President’s Chief of Staff! — at the White House without an unbiased third party witness (SG Ted Olson — a/k/a Tom Hagen).)

And this is how the law is settled these days in the Executive branch of the greatest democracy in the world . . . .

P.S. It’s probably safe to say this is the first time in history that anyone has ever drawn a parallel between John Ashcroft and Marlon Brando.

As JB also of Balkinization writes, Nixon’s ghost is revived once again. He shows the testimony of Mr. Nixon stating that sometimes the president is above the law:

Mr. David Frost: So what in a sense you’re saying is that there are certain situations . . . where the President can decide that it’s in the best interests of the nation or something, and do something illegal.

Mr. Nixon: Well, when the President does it, that means that it is not illegal.

Mr. Frost: By definition.

Mr. Nixon: Exactly. If the President, for example, approves something, approves an action because of national security, or, in this case, because of a threat to internal peace and order, of significant magnitude, then the President’s decision in that instance is one that enables those who carry it out to carry it out without violating a law. Otherwise they’re in an impossible position.

As Carpetbagger states:

I never thought I’d say it, but Gonzales has managed to make Ashcroft look like a man of integrity and principle.

There are a great number of bloggers who have written about this highly important testimony. Here are a few I found of worth:

Pulling the plug” by Dahlia Lithwick

Specter does get Comey to admit that the president ultimately did the right thing by modifying the program. Also that nobody overtly threatened Comey. Or maimed him. But Comey gets one more chance to launch his main zinger: “They went ahead and reauthorized the program without my signature.” And that’s about all he needs to say. The White House went ahead and reauthorized a controversial, presidential-power-grabbing program deemed illegal by the Justice Department, after trying to extract permission from a critically sick John Ashcroft who didn’t quite know what day it was.

Today’s revelations shouldn’t be much of a surprise. Gonzales had nothing but contempt for the Justice Department back when he worked for the president, and he has nothing but contempt for the Justice Department now that he, well, still works for the president. Nevertheless, if this whole sordid U.S. attorney scandal wanted for a metaphor, it need search no longer. Here’s the Rule of Law lying in critical condition in its hospital bed, while the man now charged with its stewardship runs roughshod over it, all in the name of expanding presidential power.

takeaways from the Ashcroft hospital bed story, by Anonymous Liberal

It’s probably also worth expanding on a few other lessons from this story.

First, it appears that the White House was willing (and in fact did, for a time) 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. And if all of these people had not threatened to simultaneously resign, it is very likely that the White House would simply have continued renewing this program without the Justice Department’s blessing.

That’s a rather stunning fact, and one that I wish at least a few mainstream journalists would attempt to grasp the significance of. The White House authorized a program that everyone of significance in the Justice Department had determined to be lacking any legal basis. They willfully violated the law.

Second, Alberto Gonzales acted in a manner that is, at the very least, ethically questionable. Not only was he attempting to circumvent James Comey’s lawful authority as the acting Attorney General, but he was seeking to have someone who’d had major surgery the day before and who was heavily-medicated, execute an important legal document. That’s an incredibly shady thing to do, the kind of thing that can get an attorney sanctioned or disbarred.

Third, implicit in the behavior of both Comey and Robert Mueller is a complete distrust of both Card and Gonzales. Mueller gave his instruction to the agents outside Ashcroft’s room because he was worried what might happen in there if there were no witnesses. That doesn’t speak very highly of Gonzales’ reputation or perceived integrity.

Fourth, as Glenn pointed out earlier today, the Bush Administration has clearly been trying to keep this story from coming out for a long time, and has often resorted to lying about it. I can see why.

Comey’s testimony, by Glenn Greenwald

What more glaring and clear evidence do we need that the President of the United States deliberately committed felonies, knowing that his conduct lacked any legal authority? And what justifies simply walking away from these serial acts of deliberate criminality? At this point, how can anyone justify the lack of criminal investigations or the appointment of a Special Counsel? The President engaged in extremely serious conduct that the law expressly criminalizes and which his own DOJ made clear was illegal.

Glenn Greenwald continues:

Comey repeatedly stated that it appeared that Ashcroft was not even oriented to his surroundings. Compare that to Tony Snow’s disgustingly dismissive defense yesterday of the behavior of Andy Card and Alberto Gonzales: “Trying to take advantage of a sick man — because he had an appendectomy, his brain didn’t work?”

But more revealingly, just consider what it says about this administration. Not only did Comey think that he had to rush to the hospital room to protect Ashcroft from having a conniving Card and Gonzales manipulate his severe illness and confusion by coercing his signature on a document — behavior that is seen only in the worst cases of deceitful, conniving relatives coercing a sick and confused person to sign a new will — but the administration’s own FBI Director thought it was necessary to instruct his FBI agents not to allow Comey to be removed from the room.

Comey and Mueller were clearly both operating on the premise that Card and Gonzales were basically thugs. Indeed, Comey said that when Card ordred him to the White House, Comey refused to meet with Card without a witness being present, and that Card refused to allow Comey’s summoned witness (Solicitor General Ted Olson) even to enter Card’s office. These are the most trusted intimates of the White House — the ones who are politically sympathetic to them and know them best — and they prepared for, defended themselves against, the most extreme acts of corruption and thuggery from the President’s Chief of Staff and his then-legal counsel (and current Attorney General of the United States).

Does this sound in any way like the behavior of a government operating under the rule of law, which believes that it had legal authority to spy on Americans without the warrants required for three decades by law? How can we possibly permit our government to engage in this behavior, to spy on us in deliberate violation of the laws which we enacted democratically precisely in order to limit how they can spy on us, and to literally commit felonies at will, knowing that they are breaking the law?

How is this not a major scandal on the level of the greatest presidential corruption and lawbreaking scandals in our country’s history? Why is this only a one-day story that will focus on the hospital drama but not on what it reveals about the bulging and unparalleled corruption of this administration and the complete erosion of the rule of law in our country? And, as I’ve asked many times before, if we passively allow the President to simply break the law with impunity in how the government spies on our conversations, what don’t we allow?

If we had a functioning political press, these are the questions that would be dominating our political discourse and which would have been resolved long ago.

What Comey’s revelations mean for Gonzales, by Carpetbagger Report

Swire sees one of two possibilities.

1) Comey’s objections apply to the NSA warrantless wiretapping program that Gonzales was discussing. If so, then Gonzales quite likely made serious mis-statements under oath. And Gonzales was deeply and personally involved in the meeting at Ashcroft’s hospital bed, so he won’t be able to claim “I forgot.”

2) Perhaps Comey’s objections applied to a different domestic spying program. That has a big advantage for Gonzales — he wasn’t lying under oath. But then we would have senior Justice officials confirming that other “programs” exist for domestic spying, something the Administration has never previously stated.

So, Attorney General Gonzales, which is it? I’m betting on Door #1. Given Gonzales’ track record, it seems like the obvious choice.

(Update)

Marty Lederman has another analysis of just what is really hidden. I think when everything is revealed in the light, even the hardest of hard-core conservative might have qualms about what the Bush administration has done and what it really stands for.

3 Comments »

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  1. Holy crap.

    Even Tom Clancy in a drunken stupor would never ask us to believe a scenario like this. Planes crashing into buildings he was able to predict, and the President and his chief flunkies in “Clear and Present Danger” were portrayed as operating outside the law, but this boggles the mind.

    Impeachment proceeding should have started yesterday, at the latest.

  2. Mark,

    We’re just beginning to peel back the layers. Watch for more nasty cockroaches to come out of the shadows.

  3. A TPMmuckraker contributor has an excellent analysis of the situation and the timeline. His main point:

    Simply this. The warantless wiretap surveillance program stank. For two and a half years, Ashcroft signed off on the program every forty-five days without any real knowledge of what it entailed. In his defense, the advisors who were supposed to review such things on his behalf were denied access; to his everlasting shame, he did not press hard enough to have that corrected.

    When Comey came on board, he insisted on being granted access, and had Goldsmith review the program. What they found was so repugnant to any notion of constitutional liberties that even Ashcroft, once briefed, was willing to resign rather than sign off again.

    So what were they fighting over? Who knows. But there’s certainly evidence to suggest that the underlying issue was was whether constitutional or statutory protections of civil liberties ought to be binding on the president in a time of war. The entire fight, in other words, was driven by the expansive notion of executive power embraced by Cheney and Addington. And here’s the kicker – it certainly sounds as if the program was fairly easily adjusted to comply with the law. It wasn’t illegal because it had to be; it was illegal because the White House believed itself above the law.


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