Thursday, May 17, 2007

Watch the White House stonewall!

Yesterday, President Bush's Press Secretary and Fox adjunct talking head, Tony Snow, deflected every question asked of him regarding Deputy Attorney General Comey's testimony. Here's the exchange reprinted in full, with my comments interjected throughout:

Q Tony, following on that. Whenever the President has received criticism about the terrorist surveillance program, he has said, look, top Justice Department officials are monitoring this for abuses. Okay, very dramatic testimony on Capitol Hill today -- James Comey, who in 2004 was the Acting Attorney general, testified that when he raised objections to the terrorist surveillance program, that Alberto Gonzales, as White House Counsel, and the White House Chief of Staff, Andy Card, took this extraordinary measure -- they went to the hospital room of John Ashcroft to try to get him to override what Jim Comey was saying, about how this needs proper legal footing. So wasn't that an end run by the White House to try to get John Ashcroft to overrule James Comey?

MR. SNOW: Well, number one, you've got a representation of internal White House deliberations, and we simply don't talk about that and are not going to.

Q But he's testified on Capitol Hill. I mean, he --

MR. SNOW: I understand that, but --

Q All that "you have to tell the truth to the American people" -- he's testified about this now, it's public.

MR. SNOW: Let me give you a couple of things. Also, what had always been noted is the terrorist surveillance program was, in fact, something that was constantly reviewed by the Department of Justice at either 45- or 90-day periods, and furthermore was reviewed by the Inspectors General at the Department of Justice and at the National Security Agency. In addition, there was review by the FISA Court. The terrorist surveillance program saved lives, period.

Note the incoherency of this response. The Department of Justice had reviewed the program, and was refusing to certify its legality -- yet this review is cited by Snow as one of the procedural safeguards that should alleviate any civil liberties concerns. The program is doubleplus good because it saved lives (a "fact" neither relevant nor established.)

Number two, those who had questions about the FISA Court sat down and worked with the administration last year, and we worked out legislation that I think has met any questions that anybody had. But the fact is, you've got reforms, and I'm not going to talk about old conversations.

Yes, reforms were worked out . . . after Comey, Ashcroft, the Director of the FBI and various other senior Justice staffers were on the verge of resigning! So answer the damn question: why did the White House try to make an end run around the Justice Department?

Q But you had the Acting Attorney General at the time saying, in regards to what Inspectors General -- the acting -- chief law enforcement officer in the country is saying in 2004, I've got problems with this, and then you've got the Chief of Staff and the Counsel, Alberto Gonzales at the time, going -- and according to James Comey, they were trying to take advantage of a sick man who was in intensive care.

MR. SNOW: Trying to take advantage of a sick man -- because he had an appendectomy, his brain didn't work?

Seriously? This is the White House position? Ashcroft's brain was functioning ergo it was perfectly permissible to make a late-night hospital raid in an effort to avoid the acting Attorney General?

Q Yes, "I was very upset, I was angry." He was in intensive care at GW. "I thought I had just witnessed an effort" --
MR. SNOW: I --
Q -- let me just tell you -- "I thought I had just witnessed an effort to take advantage of a very sick man." Okay? Did any White House officials come and try to take advantage of you -- I mean, that's really not applicable in terms of this.
MR. SNOW: You know what, Ed --
Q They were trying to take advantage of him, according to James Comey.
MR. SNOW: Ed, I'm just telling you, I don't know anything about the conversations. I've also told you the relevant thing, which is, you wanted to ask from a substantive point of view, were there protections in terms of the terrorist surveillance program -- the answer is yes. It had multiple layers of review, both within the Department of Justice and the National Security Agency. Jim Comey can talk about whatever reservations he may have had, but the fact is that there were strong protections in there. This is a program that saved lives, that is vital for national security, and furthermore has been reformed in a bipartisan way that is in keeping with everybody. And you can go -- frankly, ask him.

Once again, those "layers of review," conducted by Comey and relayed to Ashcroft, resulted in the conclusion that the program was not legal. So, once fucking more, why did the White House try to escape the conclusions of Justice?


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