Peeling the onion

New written testimony from James Comey, probably the most moral actor to have graced the pitiful hull that is the Bush Justice Department, sheds new light on the dark shadow that is Dick Cheney. From the National Journal:

… In written answers to questions from the Senate Judiciary Committee, former Deputy Attorney General James Comey spelled out the strongest case yet that pushback on the warrantless wiretapping program in 2004 came directly from Vice President Dick Cheney.

In testimony before the committee last month on the abrupt firing of eight U.S. attorneys, Comey revealed surprising new details about DOJ’s resistance to the controversial surveillance program implemented at the direction of the White House following the 9/11 attacks. Comey said that he and other top DOJ officials, including then-FBI Director Robert Mueller, had decided to resign if the White House didn’t agree to amend the program. Comey’s testimony also revealed for the first time that former Attorney General John Ashcroft, a favorite villain of civil libertarians, had deemed the program illegal as well.

In his new testimony [PDF], released by Judiciary Chairman Patrick Leahy yesterday, Comey said that he had personally informed Cheney that DOJ would not sign off on the program one day before then-White House officials Andy Card and Alberto Gonzales were dispatched to Ashcroft’s hospital bed.

Comey was acting attorney general at the time, but Card and Gonzales ignored him as they pressured an ailing Ashcroft to sign off on the program, according to the hearing testimony.

In the newly released statement, Comey wrote, “The vice president was aware of DOJ’s decision not to certify the program, because I had communicated this orally during a March 9 meeting.”

Gonzales, now in danger of receiving a no-confidence vote from Congress as attorney general, has not said who ordered him to make the dramatic trip to George Washington University Hospital the night of March 10, 2004. The dots connecting Cheney to the visit seem closer than they were previously.

Comey also confirmed long-circulating reports that Cheney blocked the promotion of a DOJ official over the surveillance program. Associate Deputy Attorney General Patrick Philbin, a terrorism-law specialist with solid conservative credentials, was being considered for the deputy solicitor general slot at the time he accompanied Comey to Ashcroft’s hospital room to fend off Card and Gonzales’ entreaties to Ashcroft.

Later, Comey said, he learned that Cheney intended to squash Philbin’s promotion. “I understood that someone at the White House communicated to Attorney General Gonzales that the vice president would oppose the appointment if the attorney general pursued the matter.”

It will not come as a surprise to his many critics that Gonzales dropped Philbin’s promotion. …

Also, tonight, Newsweek’s Howard Fineman told Keith Olbermann that investigators he’s talked to on the Hill say that the president and vice president played the dynamic duo when it came to the strong arming of John Ashcroft: Bush called Ashcroft’s wife to tell her that he was sending his little Torquemada and his chief of staff to the hospital bed, and Cheney pushing Torquemada’s minions around. Nice work if you can get it…

Update: There’s more Justice Department excitement, with new evidence of politically timed prosecutions designed to disenfranchise Democratic voters.

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