Sunday, January 01, 2006

Even Ashcroft Wouldn't Sign Off On The Bush/NSA Spying Plan

You know Bush/Cheney/Gonzalez/Card were up to something really evil when former Deputy Attorney General James Comey and even former Attorney General John Ashcroft wouldn't sign off on it. First the NY Times:

WASHINGTON, Dec. 31 - A top Justice Department official objected in 2004 to aspects of the National Security Agency's domestic surveillance program and refused to sign on to its continued use amid concerns about its legality and oversight, according to officials with knowledge of the tense internal debate. The concerns appear to have played a part in the temporary suspension of the secret program.

The concerns prompted two of President Bush's most senior aides - Andrew H. Card Jr., his chief of staff, and Alberto R. Gonzales, then White House counsel and now attorney general - to make an emergency visit to a Washington hospital in March 2004 to discuss the program's future and try to win the needed approval from Attorney General John Ashcroft, who was hospitalized for gallbladder surgery, the officials said.

The unusual meeting was prompted because Mr. Ashcroft's top deputy, James B. Comey, who was acting as attorney general in his absence, had indicated he was unwilling to give his approval to certifying central aspects of the program, as required under the White House procedures set up to oversee it.

With Mr. Comey unwilling to sign off on the program, the White House went to Mr. Ashcroft - who had been in the intensive care unit at George Washington University Hospital with pancreatitis and was housed under unusually tight security - because "they needed him for certification," according to an official briefed on the episode. The official, like others who discussed the issue, spoke on the condition of anonymity because of the classified nature of the program.

Mr. Comey declined to comment, and Mr. Gonzales could not be reached.

Accounts differed as to exactly what was said at the hospital meeting between Mr. Ashcroft and the White House advisers. But some officials said that Mr. Ashcroft, like his deputy, appeared reluctant to give Mr. Card and Mr. Gonzales his authorization to continue with aspects of the program in light of concerns among some senior government officials about whether the proper oversight was in place at the security agency and whether the president had the legal and constitutional authority to conduct such an operation.

It is unclear whether the White House ultimately persuaded Mr. Ashcroft to give his approval to the program after the meeting or moved ahead without it.

The White House and Mr. Ashcroft, through a spokeswoman, declined to comment Saturday on the hospital meeting. A White House spokeswoman, Jeannie Mamo, said she could not discuss any aspect of the meeting or the internal debate surrounding it, but said: "As the president has stated, the intelligence activities that have been under way to prevent future terrorist attacks have been approved at the highest levels of the Justice Department."

While the Times says it is unclear whether Ashcroft gave his approval for the spying program, Newsweek says Ashcroft denied it:

On one day in the spring of 2004, White House chief of staff Andy Card and the then White House Counsel Alberto Gonzales made a bedside visit to John Ashcroft, attorney general at the time, who was stricken with a rare and painful pancreatic disease, to try—without success—to get him to reverse his deputy, Acting Attorney General James Comey, who was balking at the warrantless eavesdropping. Miffed that Comey, a straitlaced, by-the-book former U.S. attorney from New York, was not a "team player" on this and other issues, President George W. Bush dubbed him with a derisive nickname, "Cuomo," after Mario Cuomo, the New York governor who vacillated over running for president in the 1980s. (The White House denies this; Comey declined to comment.)


At the Justice Department, it was a former prosecutor, James Comey, who forced the White House to back away from the so-called Torture Memo, which appeared to give intelligence agencies a license to use any interrogation method that did not cause the extreme pain associated with organ failure. Comey was the No. 2 man at the department at the time. Although the details are unclear, it appears that Comey's objections were also key to slowing the warrantless-eavesdropping program in 2004 for a time. According to several officials who would not be identified talking about still-classified matters, Comey (among other government lawyers) argued that the authority for the program—the 2001 "use of force" resolution—had grown stale. It was time to audit the program before proceeding in any case, Comey said.

But in March 2004, White House chief of staff Card and White House Counsel Gonzales visited Ashcroft, the seriously ill attorney general, to try to get him to overrule Comey, who was officially acting as A.G. while Ashcroft was incapacitated. Ashcroft refused, and a battle over what to do broke out in the Justice Department and at the White House. Finally, sometime in the summer of 2004, a compromise was reached, with Comey onboard: according to an account in The New York Times, Justice and the NSA refined a checklist to follow in deciding whether "probable cause" existed to start monitoring someone's conversations.

A couple of things to note here:

If Ashcroft denied his approval of the NSA warrantless spying program, you know there's something about this story we don't yet know. Ashcroft is no bleeding heart civil liberties guy, so whatever Bush/Cheney/Gonzalez/Card were asking for had to be pretty fucked up.

Second thing: Seeing how Bush and his cronies disdained the by-the-book deputy AG Comey tells you everything you need to know about Bush and his cronies ("Fuck the book, fuck the law, fuck the Constitution, fuck the people who believe in the book, the law and the Constitution - we want warrantless wiretapping and no oversight!!!")

If we get an honest investigation of this NSA spying story, we will see that Bush/Cheney/Gonzalez/Card wanted these warrantless wiretaps for reasons other than national security. Indeed, Walter Pincus reported in the Washington Post today that the NSA shared the information it learned from its warrantless data-mining surveillance operation with other government agencies.

Whatever really happened behind the scenes, the story Bush and his cronies are pushing (i.e., we were just warrentlessly wiretapping Al Qaeda terrorists) is a lie and the real truth, if it ever comes out, is going to open some eyes and cause some real political damage.

I heard Randi Rhodes talking about that this afternoon. I gotta say, even I find that shocking.
Seriously, if Ashcroft was against it, it's gotta be bad.

It's as if a president wanted to bomb some country and Henry Kissinger said, "No, Mr President, I cannot give my approval."
Post a Comment

<< Home

This page is powered by Blogger. Isn't yours?