May 16, 2007

Department of Sickbed Visits


Describing the events as “the most difficult of my professional career,” Mr. Comey appeared before the Senate Judiciary Committee as part of its inquiry into the dismissal of federal prosecutors and the role of Attorney General Alberto R. Gonzales. Several lawmakers wanted to examine Mr. Gonzales’s actions in the N.S.A. matter, when he was White House counsel, and cited them to buttress their case that he should resign.

Mr. Comey, the former No. 2 official in the Justice Department, said the crisis began when he refused to sign a presidential order reauthorizing the program, which allowed monitoring of international telephone calls and e-mail of people inside the United States who were suspected of having terrorist ties. He said he made his decision after the department’s Office of Legal Counsel, based on an extensive review, concluded that the program did not comply with the law. At the time, Mr. Comey was acting attorney general because Mr. Ashcroft had been hospitalized for emergency gall bladder surgery.

Mr. Comey would not describe the rationale for his refusal to approve the eavesdropping program, citing its classified nature. The N.S.A. program, which began soon after the Sept. 11 attacks and did not require court approval to listen in on the communications of Americans and others, provoked an outcry in Congress when it was disclosed in December 2005.

Mr. Comey said that on the evening of March 10, 2004, Mr. Gonzales and Andrew H. Card Jr., then Mr. Bush’s chief of staff, tried to bypass him by secretly visiting Mr. Ashcroft. Mr. Ashcroft was extremely ill and disoriented, Mr. Comey said, and his wife had forbidden any visitors.

Mr. Comey said that when a top aide to Mr. Ashcroft alerted him about the pending visit, he ordered his driver to rush him to George Washington University Hospital with emergency lights flashing and a siren blaring, to intercept the pair. They were seeking his signature because authority for the program was to expire the next day.

Mr. Comey said he phoned Mr. Mueller, who agreed to meet him at the hospital. Once there, Mr. Comey said he “literally ran up the stairs.” At his request, Mr. Mueller ordered the F.B.I. agents on Mr. Ashcroft’s security detail not to evict Mr. Comey from the room if Mr. Gonzales and Mr. Card objected to his presence.

Mr. Comey said he arrived first in the darkened room, in time to brief Mr. Ashcroft, who he said seemed barely conscious. Before Mr. Ashcroft became ill, Mr. Comey said the two men had talked and agreed that the program should not be renewed.

When the White House officials appeared minutes later, Mr. Gonzales began to explain to Mr. Ashcroft why they were there. Mr. Comey said Mr. Ashcroft rose weakly from his hospital bed, but in strong and unequivocal terms, refused to approve the eavesdropping program.

“I was angry,” Mr. Comey told the committee. “ I had just witnessed an effort to take advantage of a very sick man, who did not have the powers of the attorney general because they had been transferred to me. I thought he had conducted himself in a way that demonstrated a strength I had never seen before, but still I thought it was improper.”

Mr. Gonzales and Mr. Card quickly departed, but Mr. Comey said he soon got an angry phone call from Mr. Card, demanding that he come to the White House. Mr. Comey said he replied: “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.” [emphasis added]

I've thought of late that I'd mostly lost any capacity for surprise--when it comes to varied Bush Administration incompetence and/or chicanery--but the sleaze-o-meter really went off the charts with this one. This said, the titular right over in Great Leader la-la land will doubtless cheer Andy Card and Alberto Gonzalez's bed-side visit, as a veritable paragon of courage and patriotism. After all, the nation was imperiled if the Acting Attorney General didn't cease and desist from carping on about nettlesome, inconsequential legalisms. It took balls and fortitude to try to get Ashcroft to do the right thing, even if he was "extremely ill and disoriented" and his wife had barred visitors so as to preserve his energy and aid recovery. Me? I'm disgusted, and somewhat surprised Andy Card would have stooped this low. Gonzalez, par with the course, of course. The only question is, will he or Wolfowitz end up having to step down first? Unlike some, I don't think Alberto has quite "weathered the storm" just yet...and this, shall we say, unsettling vignette isn't going to help much....

Posted by Gregory at May 16, 2007 05:41 AM

My reaction is this is Totally Unprintable

Our Beloved Attorney General should be subpeoned to testify in front of the Senate Judiciary Committee and asked the same question that an angry Joseph Welsh once asked of Senator Joseph McCarthy:
"Have you no decency Sir?!
At long last have you no decency at All?!"

Posted by: David All at May 16, 2007 03:59 PM | Permalink to this comment Permalink


I don't think we've seen the worst of it yet.

Remember one very important thing that has to this point been brushed underneath the rug, and that is torture. Bush and Gonzales broke the law (for which the penalty really is death), tried (with the Bybee Memo and future memos) to justify the legality of their actions, and when it was impossible, rammed the Military Commissions Act down Congress' throat with a provision that the MCA would be retroactive, so as to cover their asses for breaking the law. We still have yet to uncover the real story behind that.

And I'm sure there is more. I would wager that Bush and Cheney's relations with the Saud Royal family is as treasonous if not more so than Thomas Jefferson's relations with the French when he was Vice President, undermining John Adams. Remember last November when Cheney was summoned, yes SUMMONED, by the Saud king? What kind of person has the power to summon the Vice President of the United States, and not just any vice president, but this one who has so much disdain for anyone that is not named Dick Cheney?

Future Americans will truly be very embarrassed about this particular point in their history. They will be glad they did not live through these days.

Posted by: Dan at May 16, 2007 04:20 PM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

"The only question is, will he or Wolfowitz end up having to step down first?"

Wolfowitz. Because the president is not the 'decider.'

Posted by: mt at May 16, 2007 07:39 PM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

You can take the dildo outta my ass anytime, Dick.

Posted by: dick dastardly at May 16, 2007 07:39 PM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

To tell you truth, by last night, all I could do was sit, stunned, in front of the TV. And I thought, like you, I had lost the capacity to be stunned by this government. But hearing the Ashcroft story, and then watching, the smirking, sickening, present AG before the press club, as he laid the blame on his number two, pushed me over the edge. Its banana republic.

Posted by: jonst at May 16, 2007 10:10 PM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

one measure of just how mindnumbingly outrageous the Gonzales/Card visit was is the simple fact that Greg (who almost never posts about domestic controversies, or this kind of "gossippy" news stories) felt compelled to comment on it.

If Greg thinks its this bad, its even worse than I thought.

Posted by: p.lukasiak at May 16, 2007 10:33 PM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

This is a tired rehash of very old news. The New York Times and various lefty blogs tried to make hay out of this nonstory last year. They got no traction with the American people, who very sensibly found no problem with the NSA eavesdropping on al-Qaeda and their minions within the US. Comey is obviously axe grinding based on some personal animus against Alberto Gonzales. It is clear to any unbiased observer that Comey's story makes no sense and leads one to be thankful that our AG is the honest plain-spoken Gonzales and not a conniving schemer like Comey. Fortunately no one outside the liberal blogosphere and lefty rags in the Northeast and San Francisco are paying attention to these histrionics.

Posted by: nabalzbbfr at May 16, 2007 10:35 PM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

Greg, according to CBS News this evening it looks like Wolfowitz is negotiating terms of his resignation with the World Bank. See story at for details.
As for Gonzalez, if, after this latest story, he does not resign or if the Decider will not fire him, the House Judiciary Committee should begin Impeachment Proccedings against the Attorney General. It may be the first of several Impeachment Investigations that are needed to bring this government back to sanity.

Posted by: David All at May 16, 2007 10:55 PM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

Funny that this subject did not come up two years ago when Gonzales was going through his confirmation hearings before the Senate Judiciary Committee.

Comey didn't testify then. He wasn't asked, not officially by the committee or off-camera by committee staff. The hearing transcript shows some fairly tepid questions to Gonzales about his understanding of the difference between being the President's lawyer and the head of the Justice Department, and much rhetoric about Gonzales' inspiring personal story -- that is, the story of the first Hispanic Attorney General.

If Gonzales had been known as a strong pro-lifer or a promoter of tort reform he might have gotten a tougher reception from committee Democrats. He wasn't; he was just a friend of the President's from Texas. Issues known to be in his background -- like the detainee abuse question -- but not of significant concern to the organized interests that dominate the Democratic Party were not thought worth investigating in any depth.

It goes without saying that Republicans then in the majority did not subject Gonzales to much scrutiny either. That reflects no credit on them but is no excuse for committee Democrats. Congressional Democrats have been prone to do a lot of complaining that the majority Republicans prevented them from doing anything in legislation or oversight during the last six years or so, but while it is possible in the House for the majority to keep the minority under its thumb, Senators have a lot more room to maneuver. It's built into the institution; all that's required is Senators prepared to use their offices to do their job. The fact that Comey's extraordinary story is only being told now, three years after the events described and over two since Gonzales was nominated to head the Justice Department, is damning testimony that the Senate doesn't have them.

Posted by: Zathras at May 16, 2007 11:25 PM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

Nabalzbbfr, someone with the very same name is spamming other comment threads with your exact same comment ... perhaps without your clearly ironic intent.

Posted by: Anderson at May 16, 2007 11:33 PM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

Greenwald points out that the involvement of the FBI and their director in this story may imply that the program under discussion here is not the NSA surveillance program, but a yet-to-be-disclosed domestic eavesdropping program...

Posted by: AP at May 17, 2007 04:49 AM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

Gotta say, I'm not all that surprised. Well, OK, I'm surprised about one thing: that they went to the effort to get Ashcroft to sign anything. Bush is the Decider, after all, he don't need no stinkin' signature.

Posted by: slash at May 17, 2007 06:13 AM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

Posted by: nabalzbbfr:

This is a tired rehash

various lefty blogs tried to make hay

who very sensibly found no problem

is obviously axe grinding based on some personal animus

It is clear to any unbiased observer

leads one to be thankful that our AG is the honest plain-spoken ...

Fortunately no one outside the liberal blogosphere and lefty rags

This is parody right?

Posted by: toofunny at May 17, 2007 08:11 AM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

"...and leads one to be thankful that our AG is the honest plain-spoken Gonzales and not a conniving schemer like Comey."

toofunny: and THIS line wasn't the giveaway..... ?? ;)

Oh, and Greg: better get your sleaze-o-meter into the shop for recalibration before your next round of posting (soon, we hope!). Your comment:

"After all, the nation was imperiled if the Acting Attorney General didn't cease and desist from carping on about nettlesome, inconsequential legalisms."

may have been made as snark, but I think that there's a better-than-even chance that this precise excuse for the Bush Administration's cavalier disregard for the nation's laws is going to offered up, in public, and by some elected official of more influence than just any blogger. My guess is a Republican Senator, and probably one on (or formerly on) the Judiciary Committee, at that!

Posted by: Jay C at May 17, 2007 01:58 PM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

I can't say what I ordered done that Ashcroft wouldn't sign off on, even though he stopped it, because I don't want the terrorists to be tipped off to it.

Posted by: GWB at May 18, 2007 11:54 AM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

GWB's comment is so syntactically challenged it might well be from the Source himself.

Despicable. But Mr. Ashcroft deserves credit, does he not?

Posted by: odradek at May 18, 2007 01:46 PM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

March 10, 2004; I'm trying to remember why that day of all days, Att. Gen. Gonzalez, would be rushing to reauthorize the surveilance, You know Greg, if I told you about July 6, 2005, you'd
remember what happened the next day, right. I bet the riders at
the Atocha train station in Madrid, would have cared to know, what
last minute information was going between Jamal Zougam, his
associates, Mustafa Setmarian, and Abdul Al Iraqi. This little commentary on the musings of the "man who slew Martha Stewart'
yes that James comey, has gotten really old, really fast

Posted by: narciso at May 20, 2007 05:30 AM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

Thought I'd tiptoe through the tulips here. Comey set up Gonzales by double crossing the White House. Had he let them know he wasn't going to authorize further, sooner, as he could have, these last minute shenanigans wouldn't have been necessary.

Note that last year Schumer hammered Gonzales hard about this matter, trying to get him to say there had been no controversy over the NSA matter. Instead, Gonzales said there was no controversy over the final resolution of it. How did Schumer know to hammer? Comey told him. Gonzales didn't fall into that perjury trap, and this phony melodrama is what you get instead. Did you see yesterday how Goodling detailed McNulty's perjury in February? Where is Schumer's outrage about that?

Simple. Schumer expected first Comey to become AG and then McNulty. What you are witnessing in the the last two months is the Bush Administration exerting executive control over the Department of Justice. Until now, it has been Schumer's.

Posted by: kim at May 24, 2007 01:17 PM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

G, I read your stuff avidly in the distant past; It was good. This is junk you have now. What happened?

Posted by: kim at May 24, 2007 01:21 PM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

narcisco, do you think Comey actually inhibited surveillance in the Spanish bombing? Is this 'like you would like' as in yesterday's comment by Bush that if there were wrongdoing in the DoJ, it would be taken care of 'like you would like', in response to a reporter's question. Bush said that there was an internal investigation going on for the last couple of months in to wrongdoing. If Comey did mess with that Spanish bombing, there is hell to pay.

You know that 45 day review is self-imposed administration discipline. It is not law or regulation. Read Kmiec in the Washington Post last week.

Posted by: kim at May 25, 2007 05:00 PM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

My understanding is that there was no interruption of surveillance, just an attempt to do so by Comey, an attempt only stymied by the midnight run of much derision. These guys are good at judo. It only flies because they are covered so well by innnocents in the press. But why did the Post publish Kmiec one day, and Eugene Robinson the next, with diametrically opposed interpretations of the scenario at the hospital?

What utter chutzpah to promote this fraud, knowing that it happened just before the bombing. The truth in the episode is devastating to Comey and Schumer.

"Like you would like". Mark those words.

Posted by: kim at May 25, 2007 05:05 PM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

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Gregory Djerejian comments intermittently on global politics, finance & diplomacy at this site. The views expressed herein are solely his own and do not represent those of any organization.

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