Wednesday, May 16, 2007

The Narrowly Avoided Midnight Massacre at the Justice Department!

Yesterday, former Deputy Attorney General John Comey provided absolutely riveting testimony regarding an unbelievable showdown involving him and his boss (John Ashcroft) in one corner, and White House counsel Alberto Gonzales and chief of staff Andy Card in the other. Everyone in the world is blogging about this, but here's what I hope is a helpful summary of events:

Around March 4, 2004

Comey meets with Ashcroft to discuss the legality of the NSA "warrantless wiretaps" program. According to Comey, and after "intensive reevaluation," he and Ashcroft agree that the Justice Department will no longer "certify" their legality.

Over the next week, the Justice Department communicates its momentous decision to the White House.

March 10, 2004

The Administration's controversial NSA secret wiretap program is now set to expire within 24 hours. That same afternoon, Ashcroft is taking to the hospital and put in intensive care. Comey at that point becomes acting Attorney General and de facto head of Justice.

That evening, around 8 p.m., Comey receives a call from Ashcroft's Chief of Staff, informing him that Mrs. Ashcroft -- sitting at her husband's hospital bed -- had received word that Alberto Gonzales and Andy Card were being dispatched to see Ashcroft. It's Comey's general impression that the call to Ashcroft's wife came straight from President Bush.

Comey then calls his staff and FBI Director Robert Mueller and tells them to hightail it to the hospital. Why? Simple: "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 that."

Comey and his staff are the first to find Ashcroft, and the FBI sends agents over and Mueller instructs them to not allow Comey to be removed from Ashcroft's room for any reason.

Now, enter Gonzales and Card, stage left:

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.

So Ashcroft and Comey refuse to authorize the program -- the jig must be up, right? Not with this Administration. Instead, Comey then fields an angry phone call from Andy Card demanding that Comey come to the White House immediately. Comey, no fool he, refuses to do so unless there a witness present, and specifically, the U.S. Solicitor General, Ted Olson. Card agrees to the condition.

Late that evening, Comey meet with Olson and other senior Justice staff members to discuss their strategy (Comey refuses to testify as to the details of this). Then, at 11pm, they schlep over to the White House to meet with Card and Gonzales. This meeting is less hostile, and although Comey is a bit vague on the details, it sounds like the White House is beginning to realize that they may face a massive wave of resignations from the Justice Department over this issue.

But fuck it! They decide to continue with the program anyway! Which brings us to...

March 11, 2004

The program has now been reauthorized -- presumably by Bush -- without Justice's certification. Comey prepares a letter of resignation. Comey also testifies that it's his impression that Ashcroft, FBI Director Mueller, Associate Attorney General (Robert MacCallum), and all of their chiefs of staff are prepared to resign along with Comey. Shades of the Midnight Massacre that occured under Nixon? You bet.

Meanwhile, trains in Madrid are bombed by terrorists. Things get a tad hectic.

March 12, 2004

Comey and Mueller meet with Bush for their daily counterterrorism briefing. After each of them speak privately with Bush regarding their concerns with the wiretap program, they receive "the president’s direction to do what we believed, what the Justice Department believed was necessary to put this matter on a footing where we could certify to its legality. And so we then set out to do that. And we did that."

Some quick thoughts about Comey's testimong:

-- It's stunning to think how low the White House was willing to stoop to keep this program going; not only did they try to weasel a deathbed signature from John Ashcroft, they continued the program despite the Justice Department's refusal to sign off on the program! No wonder Bush refuses to sacrifice Alberto the Mindless Minion.
-- Not in my wildest dreams did I ever think John Ascroft would be a civil liberties hero
-- Bush didn't back down on the wiretaps until Ashcroft, Mueller, Comey, and virtually the entire senior staff of the Justice Department were ready to resign. The raw nerve, the sheer hubris, is difficult to fathom. No wonder we can't get Guantanamo shut down, or torture abated, or the War in Iraq stopped. This President simply does not care.


Anonymous Nicki said...

Send it to your parents in an email! I'm so happy and I love you so much.

Nic xxxx

10:04 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Now this is cryptic....

10:24 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Excellent summary of a truly disturbing story. Copying and sending to some folks.

It ain't practical and it ain't gonna happen, but Bush is certainly "worthy" of impeachment....

-- Big Daddy

1:29 PM  

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