Tuesday, May 15, 2007

James Comey's action-packed testimony about the Bush DOJ

What drama! In 2004, the White House sent Alberto Gonzales and chief of staff Andy Card to Attorney General John Ashcroft's hospital bed to try to pressure Ashcroft into signing off on an illegal surveillance program.

The deputy AG, James Comey, raced to the hospital to head off the visit by Gonzales and Card, arriving minutes before they did. He found Ashcroft groggy and ill. Gonzales, then White House counsel, tried to get Ashcroft to sign, but Ashcroft wouldn't. Gonzales and Card, not acknowledging Comey's presence in the room, stomped out, and then Card called Comey for an immediate meeting at the White House.

Who does this? It was Ashcroft's judgment that the program was illegal, and as attorney general it was his call to make. Comey was acting AG while Ashcroft was in the hospital, so Comey was a.) correctly articulating his boss's policy, and b.) acting lawfully under his own authority. President Bush's response was to send his people around to John Ashcroft's hospital bed, hoping they can pressure/trick him into changing his mind? This seems a lot closer to Tony Soprano's management style than a president's.

It's a great story, or as Dahlia Lithwick said a "whomping good yarn." I linked to NPR above because I think it helps to hear bits of Comey's testimony. Other good accounts here and here and in many other places no doubt; YouTube clip here.

We already know the White House believes that the "unitary executive theory" exempts the president from the rule of law. But the other take-home lesson of Comey's testimony is that the administration doesn't have a plan. The administration just says the president has unlimited authority, and uses intimidation and dissembling to get to anyone who says otherwise.


Katherine said...

Wait a minute, this was a program that even Ashcroft was against? That's got to be bad...

Rob said...

Yeah, exactly! What kind of White House turns John Ashcroft into a (sort of) civil libertarian.