Poll: Most Americans say, 'investigate the bastard'
Dubya flipped off the Constitution, too...
A new poll shows that Americans want at least for there to be an investigation of torture under the Bush regime.
Even as Americans struggle with two wars and an economy in tatters, a USA TODAY/Gallup Poll finds majorities in favor of investigating some of the thorniest unfinished business from the Bush administration: Whether its tactics in the "war on terror" broke the law.
Close to two-thirds of those surveyed said there should be investigations into allegations that the Bush team used torture to interrogate terrorism suspects and its program of wiretapping U.S. citizens without getting warrants. Almost four in 10 favor criminal investigations and about a quarter want investigations without criminal charges. One-third said they want nothing to be done.
The breakdown is as follows:
Regarding possible use of torture in terror interrogations:
Criminal investigation: 38%
Independent panel: 24%
Not sure: 2%
Meanwhile, when it comes to politicizing the Justice Department, even more of those polled want a probe:
Re possible attempts to use the Justice Department for political purposes:
Criminal investigation: 41%
Independent panel: 30%
And finally, regarding the "possible use of wiretaps without a warrant":
Criminal investigation: 438%
Independent panel: 25%
Read more of the Gallup poll here. Meanwhile, when it comes to torture prosecutions, civil libertarians like Jonathan Turley are not backing down:
Alberto Gonzales, who has kept a low profile since resigning as attorney general nearly 16 months ago, said he is writing a book to set the record straight about his controversial tenure as a senior official in the Bush administration.
Mr. Gonzales has been portrayed by critics both as unqualified for his position and instrumental in laying the groundwork for the administration's "war on terror." He was pilloried by Congress in a manner not usually directed toward cabinet officials.
"What is it that I did that is so fundamentally wrong, that deserves this kind of response to my service?" he said during an interview Tuesday, offering his most extensive comments since leaving government.
During a lunch meeting two blocks from the White House, where he served under his longtime friend, President George W. Bush, Mr. Gonzales said that "for some reason, I am portrayed as the one who is evil in formulating policies that people disagree with. I consider myself a casualty, one of the many casualties of the war on terror."
It shouldn't come as a surprise that the U.S. eavesdropped on American citizens. You know that by now, I'm sure. It might, however, be surprising to you that we spied on our own troops, in their most private moments, and then our troop supporting intelligence services stored the ill-gotten recordings on their computers like iTunes. Brian Ross reports:
Despite pledges by President George W. Bush and American intelligence officials to the contrary, hundreds of US citizens overseas have been eavesdropped on as they called friends and family back home, according to two former military intercept operators who worked at the giant National Security Agency (NSA) center in Fort Gordon, Georgia.
... "These were just really everyday, average, ordinary Americans who happened to be in the Middle East, in our area of intercept and happened to be making these phone calls on satellite phones," said Adrienne Kinne, a 31-year old US Army Reserves Arab linguist assigned to a special military program at the NSA's Back Hall at Fort Gordon from November 2001 to 2003.
Kinne described the contents of the calls as "personal, private things with Americans who are not in any way, shape or form associated with anything to do with terrorism."
She said US military officers, American journalists and American aid workers were routinely intercepted and "collected on" as they called their offices or homes in the United States.
Another intercept operator, former Navy Arab linguist, David Murfee Faulk, 39, said he and his fellow intercept operators listened into hundreds of Americans picked up using phones in Baghdad's Green Zone from late 2003 to November 2007.
"Calling home to the United States, talking to their spouses, sometimes their girlfriends, sometimes one phone call following another," said Faulk.
So ... what'd they hear?
Faulk says he and others in his section of the NSA facility at Fort Gordon routinely shared salacious or tantalizing phone calls that had been intercepted, alerting office mates to certain time codes of "cuts" that were available on each operator's computer.
"Hey, check this out," Faulk says he would be told, "there's good phone sex or there's some pillow talk, pull up this call, it's really funny, go check it out. It would be some colonel making pillow talk and we would say, 'Wow, this was crazy'," Faulk told ABC News.
Faulk said he joined in to listen, and talk about it during breaks in Back Hall's "smoke pit," but ended up feeling badly about his actions.
"I feel that it was something that the people should not have done. Including me," he said.
While you were hunting wolf pups from an airplane ... Sarah Palin ... the Bush administration was seeking to recertify the "unitary executive"...
WASHINGTON — Tucked deep into a recent proposal from the Bush administration is a provision that has received almost no public attention, yet in many ways captures one of President Bush’s defining legacies: an affirmation that the United States is still at war with Al Qaeda.
Seven years after the Sept. 11 attacks, Mr. Bush’s advisers assert that many Americans may have forgotten that. So they want Congress to say so and “acknowledge again and explicitly that this nation remains engaged in an armed conflict with Al Qaeda, the Taliban, and associated organizations, who have already proclaimed themselves at war with us and who are dedicated to the slaughter of Americans.”
The language, part of a proposal for hearing legal appeals from detainees at the United States naval base at Guantánamo Bay, Cuba, goes beyond political symbolism. Echoing a measure that Congress passed just days after the Sept. 11 attacks, it carries significant legal and public policy implications for Mr. Bush, and potentially his successor, to claim the imprimatur of Congress to use the tools of war, including detention, interrogation and surveillance, against the enemy, legal and political analysts say.
Some lawmakers are concerned that the administration’s effort to declare anew a war footing is an 11th-hour maneuver to re-establish its broad interpretation of the president’s wartime powers, even in the face of challenges from the Supreme Court and Congress.
The proposal is also the latest step that the administration, in its waning months, has taken to make permanent important aspects of its “long war” against terrorism. From a new wiretapping law approved by Congress to a rewriting of intelligence procedures and F.B.I. investigative techniques, the administration is moving to institutionalize by law, regulation or order a wide variety of antiterrorism tactics.
“This seems like a final push by the administration before they go out the door,” said Suzanne Spaulding, a former lawyer for the Central Intelligence Agency and an expert on national security law. The cumulative effect of the actions, Ms. Spaulding said, is to “put the onus on the next administration” — particularly a Barack Obama administration — to justify undoing what Mr. Bush has done. ..
So what would the new language mean, precisely?
Mr. Mukasey laid out the administration’s thinking in a July 21 speech to a conservative Washington policy institute in response to yet another rebuke on presidential powers by the Supreme Court: its ruling that prisoners at Guantánamo Bay , were entitled to habeas corpus rights to contest their detentions in court.
The administration wants Congress to set out a narrow framework for those prisoner appeals. But the administration’s six-point proposal goes further. It includes not only the broad proclamation of a continued “armed conflict with Al Qaeda,” but also the desire for Congress to “reaffirm that for the duration of the conflict the United States may detain as enemy combatants those who have engaged in hostilities or purposefully supported Al Qaeda, the Taliban and associated organizations.”
That broad language hints at why Democrats, and some Republicans, worry about the consequences. It could, they say, provide the legal framework for Mr. Bush and his successor to assert once again the president’s broad interpretation of the commander in chief’s wartime powers, powers that Justice Department lawyers secretly used to justify the indefinite detention of terrorist suspects and the National Security Agency’s wiretapping of Americans without court orders. ...
Hopefully, even Nancy Pelosi and Harry Reid's accommodating Congress won't fall for it. Fool me once ...
And by the way, in case you missed this in the Times on June 8th:
WASHINGTON — A top adviser to Senator John McCain says Mr. McCain believes that President Bush’s program of wiretapping without warrants was lawful, a position that appears to bring him into closer alignment with the sweeping theories of executive authority pushed by the Bush administration legal team.
In a letter posted online by National Review this week, the adviser, Douglas Holtz-Eakin, said Mr. McCain believed that the Constitution gave Mr. Bush the power to authorize the National Security Agency to monitor Americans’ international phone calls and e-mail without warrants, despite a 1978 federal statute that required court oversight of surveillance.
Mr. McCain believes that “neither the administration nor the telecoms need apologize for actions that most people, except for the A.C.L.U. and trial lawyers, understand were constitutional and appropriate in the wake of the attacks on Sept. 11, 2001,” Mr. Holtz-Eakin wrote.
And if Mr. McCain is elected president, Mr. Holtz-Eakin added, he would do everything he could to prevent terrorist attacks, “including asking the telecoms for appropriate assistance to collect intelligence against foreign threats to the United States as authorized by Article II of the Constitution.”
Although a spokesman for Mr. McCain, the presumptive Republican presidential nominee, denied that the senator’s views on surveillance and executive power had shifted, legal specialists said the letter contrasted with statements Mr. McCain previously made about the limits of presidential power. ...
A question that should be put to McCain in the debates: do you believe the president of the United States has the authority to supersede the law and wiretap Americans on U.S. soil? I'd love to hear his answer to that.
Once again, Congress blinked and succumbed to the president’s fear-mongering. With today’s vote, the government has been given a green light to expand its power to spy on Americans and run roughshod over the Constitution,” said Anthony D. Romero, Executive Director of the American Civil Liberties Union. “This legislation will give the government unfettered and unchecked access to innocent Americans’ international communications without a warrant. This is not only unconstitutional, but absolutely un-American.”
The FISA Amendments Act nearly eviscerates oversight of government surveillance by allowing the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court (FISC) to review only general procedures for spying rather than individual warrants. The FISC will not be told any specifics about who will actually be wiretapped, thereby undercutting any meaningful role for the court and violating the Fourth Amendment’s protection against unreasonable search and seizure.
The bill further trivializes court review by authorizing the government to continue a surveillance program even after the government’s general spying procedures are found insufficient or unconstitutional by the FISC. The government has the authority to wiretap through the entire appeals process, and then keep and use whatever information was gathered in the meantime. A provision touted as a major “concession” by proponents of the bill calls for investigations by the inspectors general of four agencies overseeing spying activities. But members of Congress who do not sit on the Judiciary or Intelligence committees will not be guaranteed access to the agencies’ reports.
The bill essentially grants absolute retroactive immunity to telecommunication companies that facilitated the president’s warrantless wiretapping program over the last seven years by ensuring the dismissal of court cases pending against those companies. The test for the companies’ right to immunity is not whether the government certifications they acted on were actually legal – only whether they were issued. Because it is public knowledge that certifications were issued, all of the pending cases will be summarily dismissed. This means Americans may never learn the truth about what the companies and the government did with our private communications.
“With one vote, Congress has strengthened the executive branch, weakened the judiciary and rendered itself irrelevant,” said Caroline Fredrickson, Director of the ACLU Washington Legislative Office. “This bill – soon to be law – is a constitutional nightmare. Americans should know that if this legislation is enacted and upheld, what they say on international phone calls or emails is no longer private. The government can listen in without having a specific reason to do so. Our rights as Americans have been curtailed and our privacy can no longer be assumed.”
And the ACLU says it plans to do something about it:
“This fight is not over. We intend to challenge this bill as soon as President Bush signs it into law,” said Jameel Jaffer, Director of the ACLU National Security Project. “
The bill signing is scheduled for today.
If you're still not concerned about this bill, you'll want to read the statement from Senator Russ Feingold yesterday. Feingold tried in vain, with Chris Dodd, to stop the bill, and in his statement on the floor he hits the Congress and White House square in the face on the illegality of the program in which the White House claimed for itself, the right to wiretap Americans without a warrant:
Here is the part of the story that some seem to have forgotten. In January 2005, eleven months before the New York Times broke the story of the illegal wiretapping program, I asked then-White House Counsel Alberto Gonzales at his confirmation hearing to be Attorney General whether the President had the power to authorize warrantless wiretaps in violation of the criminal law. Neither I nor the vast majority of my colleagues knew it then, but the President had authorized the NSA program three years before, and Mr. Gonzales was directly involved in that issue as White House Counsel. At his confirmation hearing, he first tried to dismiss my question as “hypothetical.” He then testified that “it’s not the policy or the agenda of this President to authorize actions that would be in contravention of our criminal statutes.”
Well, Mr. President, the President’s wiretapping program was in direct contravention of our criminal statutes. Mr. Gonzales knew that, but he wanted the Senate and the American people to think that the President had not acted on the extreme legal theory that the President has the power as Commander in Chief to disobey the criminal laws of this country.
The President, too, misled Congress and the American public. In 2004 and 2005, when Congress was considering the reauthorization of the USA Patriot Act, the President went out of his way to assure us that his administration was getting court orders for wiretaps, all the while knowing full well that his warrantless wiretapping program was ongoing.
Here’s what the President said on April 20, 2004: “Now, by the way, any time you hear the United States government talking about wiretap, it requires – a wiretap requires a court order. Nothing has changed, by the way. When we’re talking about chasing down terrorists, we’re talking about getting a court order before we do so.”
And again, on July 14, 2004: “The government can’t move on wiretaps or roving wiretaps without getting a court order.”
And listen to what the President said on June 9, 2005: “Law enforcement officers need a federal judge’s permission to wiretap a foreign terrorist’s phone, a federal judge’s permission to track his calls, or a federal judge’s permission to search his property. Officers must meet strict standards to use any of these tools. And these standards are fully consistent with the Constitution of the U.S.”
So please, let’s not pretend that the highly classified notification to the Gang of Eight, delivered while the President himself was repeatedly presenting a completely different picture to the public, suggests that Congress somehow acquiesced to this program. As the members of this body well know, several members of the Gang of Eight at the time raised concerns when they were told about this, and several have since said they were not told the full story. And of course all of them were instructed not to share what they had learned with a single other person.
Feingold points out that no court, even the most right wing courts in the country, have ever affirmed a presidential right to violate the Fourth Amendment by wiretapping Americans, under color of "commander in chief" authority or any other provision. He then outlines a number of problems with the bill that's about to become law:
First, the FISA Amendments Act would authorize the government to collect all communications between the U.S. and the rest of the world. That could mean millions upon millions of communications between innocent Americans and their friends, families, or business associates overseas could legally be collected. Parents calling their kids studying abroad, emails to friends serving in Iraq – all of these communications could be collected, with absolutely no suspicion of any wrongdoing, under this legislation.
Second, like the earlier Senate version, this bill fails to effectively prohibit the practice of reverse targeting – namely, wiretapping a person overseas when what the government is really interested in is listening to an American here at home with whom the foreigner is communicating. The bill does have a provision that purports to address this issue. It prohibits intentionally targeting a person outside the U.S. without an individualized court order if, quote, “the purpose” is to target someone reasonably believed to be in the U.S. At best, this prevents the government from targeting a person overseas as a complete pretext for getting information on someone in the U.S. But this language would permit intentional and possibly unconstitutional warrantless surveillance of an American so long as the government has any interest, no matter how small, in the person overseas with whom the American is communicating. The bill does not include language that had the support of the House and the vast majority of the Senate’s Democratic caucus, to require the government to obtain a court order whenever a significant purpose of the surveillance is to acquire the communications of an American in the U.S. The administration’s refusal to accept that reasonable restriction on its power is telling.
Third, the bill before us imposes no meaningful consequences if the government initiates surveillance using procedures that have not been approved by the FISA Court, and the FISA Court later finds that those procedures were unlawful. Say, for example, the FISA Court determines that the procedures were not even reasonably designed to wiretap foreigners outside the U.S., rather than Americans here at home. Under the bill, all that illegally obtained information on Americans can be retained and used. Once again, there are no consequences for illegal behavior.
... Fourth, this bill doesn’t protect the privacy of Americans whose communications will be collected in vast new quantities. The Administration’s mantra has been: “don’t worry, we have minimization procedures.” But, Mr. President, minimization procedures are nothing more than unchecked executive branch decisions about what information on Americans constitutes “foreign intelligence.” That is why on the Senate floor, I joined with Senator Webb and Senator Tester earlier this year to offer an amendment to provide real protections for the privacy of Americans, while also giving the government the flexibility it needs to wiretap terrorists overseas. This bill relies solely on inadequate minimization procedures to protect innocent Americans. They are simply not enough.
After failing to pass amendments that at least would have taken immunity for the telecoms off the table, or suspended the pending lawsuits against them for a year, rather than dismissing them, the 110th Congress, controlled by the Democratic Party, sold the Constitution down the river, voting to give the lame duck president, who illegally turned the instruments of foreign surveillance on the American people -- just like Richard Nixon did -- but who unlike Nixon was balanced by a belly-crawling, puerile, flaccid Congress that chose to drive the getaway car, rather than stand up for the Constitution they all took a sworn oath to uphold. To be fair, the Act does add some oversight provisions to the spying activities of the federal government, bringing certain aspects of surveillance under review. And there is this paragraph:
(2) PROBABLE CAUSE- In determining whether or not probable cause exists for purposes of paragraph (1)(B), a judge having jurisdiction under subsection (a)(1) may consider past activities of the target and facts and circumstances relating to current or future activities of the target. No United States person may be considered a foreign power, agent of a foreign power, or officer or employee of a foreign power solely upon the basis of activities protected by the first amendment to the Constitution of the United States.
And yet, civil libertarians are very worried about our democracy tonight, myself included.
Barack Obama voted for the amendments, to his credit, but for a lot of reasons, most of them political, he ultimately supported the bill. I've always said that anyone seeking the presidency will never vote to weaken the authority of the office while they have a chance at getting it. Obama lived up to that today (or down to it.) I disagree with him, though I respect his reasons for doing what he did, and more than that, his willingness to take the criticism from his supporters (myself included), and from the left wing of his base, rather than ejecting them from the building a-la Bush and McCain. I think at the end of the day, most Americans, sadly, won't care about this vote. Americans are breathtakingly cavalier about their constitutional rights (except the right to carry guns. That one they care about...) and most assume the government is spying anyway, so they don't quite care. That saddens me, because I don't think most people in this country realize just how fragile our rights are, and how easily a president, with the help of a weak-willed Congress, can take on dictatorial, autocratic powers.
Just under a third of the Senate, including presumptive Democratic presidential nominee Barack Obama, supported an amendment proposed by Sen. Christopher Dodd, D-Conn., that would have stripped immunity from the bill. It was defeated on a 32-66 vote. Presumptive Republican nominee John McCain did not vote.
Specter proposed an amendment to require a district court judge to assess the legality of warrantless wiretapping before granting immunity. It failed on a 37-61 vote.
Sen. Jeff Bingaman, D-N.M., proposed that immunity be delayed until after a yearlong government investigation into warrantless wiretapping is completed. His amendment failed on a vote of 42-56.
The final roll call on the bill, which retroactively legalizes the warrantless surveillance of perhaps millions of Americans, was 69-28. So where are we now?
Forty-six lawsuits now stand to be dismissed because of the new law, according to the American Civil Liberties Union. All are pending before a single U.S. District Court in California. But the fight has not ended. Civil rights groups are already preparing lawsuits challenging the bill's constitutionality, and four suits, filed against government officials, will not be dismissed.
Numerous lawmakers had spoken out strongly against the no-warrants eavesdropping on Americans, but the Senate voted its approval after rejecting amendments that would have watered down, delayed or stripped away the immunity provision.
The lawsuits center on allegations that the White House circumvented U.S. law by going around the FISA court, which was created 30 years ago to prevent the government from abusing its surveillance powers for political purposes, as was done in the Vietnam War and Watergate eras. The court is meant to approve all wiretaps placed inside the U.S. for intelligence-gathering purposes. The law has been interpreted to include international e-mail records stored on servers inside the U.S.
"This president broke the law," declared Sen. Russell Feingold, D-Wis.
The Bush administration brought the wiretapping back under the FISA court's authority only after The New York Times revealed the existence of the secret program. A handful of members of Congress knew about the program from top secret briefings. Most members are still forbidden to know the details of the classified effort, and some objected that they were being asked to grant immunity to the telecoms without first knowing what they did.
The bill is H.R. 6304. The full roll call is here. I think the "no" votes deserve applause by name. Russ Feingold and Chris Dodd heroically tried to filibuster the bill, but their colleagues let them down. Here are the "Nays":
Note that Hillary Clinton got herself right with the base on this vote, a shrewd move on her part.
As for John McCain? He played the real hero today. He didn't even show up to vote.
Perhaps the worst thing Obama did today was to vote against cloture (in other words, he did not support the fillibuster.) As Glenn Greenwald points out, THAT is a contradiction of his stance during the primaries. Greenwald goes on to say what many of us are scratching our heads and thinking tonight:
What is most striking is that when the Congress was controlled by the GOP -- when the Senate was run by Bill Frist and the House by Denny Hastert -- the Bush administration attempted to have a bill passed very similar to the one that just passed today. But they were unable to do so. The administration had to wait until Harry Reid, Nancy Pelosi and the Democrats took over Congress before being able to put a corrupt end to the scandal that began when, in December of 2005, the New York Times revealed that the President had been breaking the law for years by spying on Americans without the warrants required by law.
Yet again, the Democratic Congress ignored the views of their own supporters in order to comply with the orders and wishes of the Bush administration. It is therefore hardly a surprise that, yesterday, Rasmussen Reports revealed this rather humiliating finding:
Congressional Approval Falls to Single Digits for First Time Ever
Tonight on the floor of the Senate, Chris Dodd delivered a genuinely wonderful speech on civil liberties, capping his long battle against the FISA "reforms" tossed to the Senate by the House, at the behest of the Bush administration. Below is a transcript (which took a lot of pausing the TiVo. Hopefully, somebody else whose willing to admit to watching C-SPAN will post the video on Youtube.)
Dodd began by quoting the Church Committee, which investigated civil liberties abuses by the Nixon administration:
"Listen to their words of three decades ago ... and I quote: "The view that the traditional American principles of justice and fair play have no place in our struggle against the enemies of freedom, that view created the Nixonian secrecy of the 1970s." And the Church Committee wrote those words in part, as a rebuke to our predecessors in this chamber, who for years allowed secrecy, and executive abuses to slide. But today those words take on new meaning. Today, they rebuke us in a way. Today they shame us for our lack of faith that we cannot at the same time keep our country safe, and our Constitution whole.
As I said before, when the 21st century version of the Church Committee convenes to investigate the abuses of the past years, how will we be judged? When it reads through the records of our debates, not "if" Mr. President, but "when," what will they find? When the president asked us to repudiate the Geneva Conventions, and strip away the right of habeas corpus, how did we respond? How was our Congress? What did we say about that? When stories about secret prisons, outsourced torture, became impossible to deny, what did that Congress do, in 2008, and 2007? And in June of 2008, when were were asked to put corporations explicitly outside the law, and accept at face value the argument that some are literally too rich to be sued, how did that Congress, how did that Senate vote on that matter? All of these questions are coming for us, Mr. President, all of that and more. And in the quiet of his or her conscience, each Senator knows what the answers are. Remember, this is about than a few telephone calls, a few companies or a few lawsuits. If the supporters of retroactive immunity keep this argument a technical argument, then they will win. The technical argument obscures the defining question: the rule of law, or the rule of men. that question never goes away, as long there are free societies, generations and leaders who are struggling mightily to answer, and each generation must assert an answer for itself. just because our founders answered it correctl, doesn't mean we are bound by their choice. In that, as with all decisions, we are entirely free, the burden falls not on history, but on us, on each one of us. the 100 of us iwho serve n this remarkable chamber.
But we can take council. We can listen to those who came before us, who made the right choices, even when our nation's very survival was at risk. They knew that the rule of law was far more rooted in our character, than any one man's lawlessness. And from the beginning, they advised us to fight that lawlessness, whenever we found it. At the Constitutional Convention, James Madison said, and I quote him, "the means of defense against foreign danger, historically, have become the instruments of tyranny at home." He also said, and I quote, 'I beleve that there are more instances of the abridgement of the freedom of the people by gradual and silent encroachments by tose in power, than by violent and sudden usuprtions," end of quote. As long as we are temporary custodians of the Constitution, as we are, we have a duty to guard against those gradual, and silent encroachments. And that's exactly what these are; gradual and silent encroachments. ..."
Dodd went on to say that the founders can warn and council, but "they cannot act for us," and called upon his colleagues to provide the answer "to them, and to generatons to come."
The FISA/telecom immunity debate going on right now in the U.S. Senate is in many ways a classic Democrat-Republican argument. On one side, you have a vigorous defense of corporations (in this case, the phone companies who complied with the Bush administration's requests to pass along the private communications of Americans) by Republicans, and a repudiation of "trial lawyers" who would damage their businesses and ruin their profits with "excessive lawsuits." On the other, Democrats defend the trial system, arguing that people's right to sue should be preserved. Of course, there's more to it than that. As Sen. Chris Dodd is very effectively arguing right now, there is also the issue of standing up to the Bush administration (at last,) and "standing up for the rule of law," and for the premise that no man, no president, and no company is above it, versus the continuing Republican push to emasculate the courts,and so to make the executive branch practically untouchable, even if it breaks the law (so long as the executive is a Republican.) But underlying the arguments, are those age-old tensions between the two parties and two of their leading interest groups: corporations for the GOP and attorneys for the Dems.
That said, Sen. Barack Obama could, in my opinion, vigorously oppose, even fillibuster, the FISA bill so long as it contains immunity for the telecoms, with very little downside. The most obvious downside would be that right wing groups would accuse him of caving to Moveon.org, which apparently doesn't understand the concept of letting the candidate control the message (hence, that baby ad, and the present FISA demands.) Obama could make a very strong argument beyond the civil liberties issues, which sadly, many Americans are willing to look past in the quest for security. He could argue, very simply, that "in securing America, the Congress of the United States should not be in the business of protecting big business from ordinary Americans."
If accused of trying to weaken national security by taking away the incentive for "good, patriotic corporations" to help the government monitor "the terrorists," he could simply reply, "I don't think the Republican Party, which misdirected us into a war with Iraq, and which can't seem to locate Osama bin Laden even with wiretaps on every phone and email account in America and abroad, is in a position to lecture me."
If accused again, he could simply state that "besides, my goal is to do what's right for good, patriotic Americans. Republicans have been helping out the corporatioons long enough."
Or as Chris Dodd just put it, "the world is not going to collapse, the sky is not gonna fall, if a few companies have to explain to their customers why they vacuumed up their personal information."
Dodd could have been one hell of a communications guy.
UPDATE: Chris Dodd may have just made some news. It sounded like he just said he would fillibuster the FISA bill tomorrow, or prevent other legislation, on housing, from coming to the floor.
If and when the vote happens, you've got to wonder whether close proximity to the telecom industry will affect individual Senators' votes. And guess who is, by far, the leading recipient of telecom industry money? According to OpenSecrets.org, it's John McCain. (Logically, since they were the presidential front runners, McCain, Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama form the top three, with Obama lagging well behind the other two...) Dodd is showing some courage tonight, given that he also makes the top 20 (rounding it out at number 20.)
Top 20 Senators (donatons from telephone utilities) Rank Candidate Amount
1 McCain, John (R) $332,795 2 Clinton, Hillary (D) $223,092 3 Obama, Barack (D) $185,898 4 Rockefeller, Jay (D-WV) $48,000 5 Stevens, Ted (R-AK) $33,450 6 Graham, Lindsey (R-SC) $31,100 7 Pryor, Mark (D-AR) $29,950 8 Collins, Susan M (R-ME) $29,850 9 Baucus, Max (D-MT) $28,000 10 Lautenberg, Frank R (D-NJ) $23,800 11 Sununu, John E (R-NH) $22,600 12 Durbin, Dick (D-IL) $20,850 13 McConnell, Mitch (R-KY) $18,750 14 Wicker, Roger (R-MS) $18,000 15 Smith, Gordon H (R-OR) $16,750 16 Brownback, Sam (R-KS) $14,200 17 Landrieu, Mary L (D-LA) $13,750 18 Roberts, Pat (R-KS) $13,250 18 Dorgan, Byron L (D-ND) $13,250 20 Dodd, Christopher J (D-CT) $13,000
Why did the Democrats capitulate on FISA? Was it cowardice? Election year politics? Or as Keith Olberman puts it, not FISA but CYSA?
Back in 2001, with 9/11 fresh in the minds of Americans, many Congressional Democrats decided it was better to switch than to fight the administration of George W. Bush. Karl Rove did his job, frightening both the country and the Congress into handing over to Mr. Bush extraordinary powers the likes of which this country hasn't seen since it divorced George III.
Now, seven years later, Democrats control the Congress, even if barely in the Senate. Bush is a lame duck and by almost everyone's calculation, a failure as president. One of his many illegal acts and outrages upon the Constitution -- the warrantless wiretapping of Americans -- comes before the Congress, mainly because they choose to bring it t the floor, and rather than allow the Constitution to prevail, House Democrats cave to a president they no longer have to fear, by retroactively legalizing the wiretapping, and granting immunity to the telecom companies who participated, illegally, in it.
The U.S. House of Representatives has approved legislation that would continue a controversial surveillance program at the U.S. National Security Agency with limited court oversight, while likely ending lawsuits against telecommunications carriers that participated in the program.
The House on Friday voted 293 to 129 to approve a bill that was a compromise between congressional Democrats and U.S. President George Bush.
The bill would extend the NSA surveillance of phone calls and e-mail messages going in and out of the U.S., while giving the U.S. Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court (FISA) an opportunity to review Bush administration requests for wide-ranging surveillance powers. The bill, called the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act Amendments Act, allows the NSA to receive blanket surveillance orders covering multiple suspects of terrorism and other crimes.
The compromise also sends the dozens of outstanding lawsuits against telecom carriers for their alleged participation in the NSA program to a district court, which will review whether they should be dismissed. The lawsuits would be thrown out if telecom companies can show that the U.S. government issued them orders for the surveillance that were presented as lawful.
U.S. President George Bush has pushed for the legislation, saying it's needed to protect U.S. residents from terrorism. For nearly a year, the Bush administration has called on Congress to pass long-term changes to the nation's surveillance laws. Congress passed temporary surveillance legislation, called the Protect America Act, in August 2007, but its provisions expired in February.
February ... and what was the urgency of passing hurry-up protection for the administration today? Nancy Pelosi pushed for this bill -- the same Nancy Pelosi who was "read into" the spying program, along with other intelligence chairs and ranking members, including Senator Diane Feinstein. (Pelosi's number two, Steny Hoyer, crafted the compromise bill, and is now being derided as "the new Joe Lieberman.") Could it be that Pelosi and other Dems are exercising the art of self protection?
Senator Russ Feingold called today's vote what it is:
“The proposed FISA deal is not a compromise; it is a capitulation. The House and Senate should not be taking up this bill, which effectively guarantees immunity for telecom companies alleged to have participated in the President’s illegal program, and which fails to protect the privacy of law-abiding Americans at home. Allowing courts to review the question of immunity is meaningless when the same legislation essentially requires the court to grant immunity. And under this bill, the government can still sweep up and keep the international communications of innocent Americans in the U.S. with no connection to suspected terrorists, with very few safeguards to protect against abuse of this power. Instead of cutting bad deals on both FISA and funding for the war in Iraq, Democrats should be standing up to the flawed and dangerous policies of this administration.”
Let's hope he's ready with a Senate fillibuster.
The big loser today was the Fourth Amendment, which is essentially gone now. The winners: the telcos:
"Congress seems to be on the verge of negotiating away our basic constitutional protections," Caroline Fredrickson, director of the American Civil Liberties Union's Washington, D.C., legislative office, said during a press conference on Wednesday.
The compromise will give Bush "pretty much unfettered authority to engage in surveillance of Americans," Fredrickson added. "The bill still allows mass, untargeted surveillance of Americans by permitting the government to gather all calls and e-mails coming into and out of the country."
The compromise provides little additional oversight of the surveillance program, Fredrickson said. If there's any delay in the FISA court's approval of a government surveillance request, the NSA can move ahead of surveillance without court oversight, she said.
There are 47 outstanding lawsuits related to the surveillance program and 35 lawsuits with telecoms including AT&T, Verizon Communications and Sprint Nextel as defendants, Kevin Bankston, a senior staff attorney at the Electronic Frontier Foundation, said at the same press conference.
"Congress appears poised to needlessly toss the rule of law out the window and deprive millions of ordinary Americans their day in court," said Bankston, one of the lead attorneys in a class-action lawsuit against AT&T for its alleged participation in the NSA program.
You can find out how your member of Congress voted by clicking here.
On "Elevating the Dialogue" this morning, Congressman Alcee Hastings (FL) told us that he was leaning toward voting yes because Barack Obama was for the bill, and House Democrats "needed to give him some political cover." I'm not sure that's true. Politico reported today that Harry Reid is looking to strip the telecom immunity out of the bill to give cover to Senators who, like Obama, could support the FISA updates, but "loathe the telecom immunity." That's a bit vague, and its not at all clear that Republicans wouldn't stand squarely in the way of separating the bill in two.
While we were on the air, Hastings voted for the bill, which is unfortunate in my opinion. To their credit, Kendrick Meek, Debbie Wasserman Schultz and Robert Wexler voted no. Maybe Wexler can convince Obama to reject it when it reaches the Senate.
Democrats including Hoyer sought to put the best spin on the vote today, with Hoyer calling it the best bill they could get. What an endorsement. No wonder Americans' confidence in Congress is at an all-time low... Best quote of the day, courtesy of Politico:
“Let me remind you, that July 4, 1776 was pre 9/11,” said Rep Jay Inslee (D-Wash.) who indicated he would not support the bill because it infringed on Americans civil liberties.
“Heaven help us if those values were shucked aside in fear.”
John McCain was against the warrantless wiretapping of Americans ... until he was for it:
The New York Times’ Charlie Savage reports that in a recent letter, Douglas Holtz-Eakin, top adviser to Sen. John McCain (R-AZ), said McCain believes that the Constitution gave President Bush the authority to wiretap Americans “without warrants,” bringing him “into closer alignment” with the Bush administration’s views of executive power.
More from Think Progress here. At the rate that McCain is selling his soul to the Bush-bots in exchange for the keys to the White House, Cindy's family jewels can't be far behind...
FBI Director Robert Mueller's notes following the now infamous March 2004 visit to the bedside of then-ailing Attorney General John Ashcroft provide fresh contradictions between Mueller's and then-acting A.G. James Comey's accounts of the "Godfather"-esque attempt to strong arm a sick man into Okaying an illegal domestic wiretapping program, and the "recollection" of Alberto Gonzales. The Washington Post reports:
Then-Attorney General John D. Ashcroft was "feeble," "barely articulate" and "stressed" moments after a hospital room confrontation in March 2004 with Alberto R. Gonzales, who wanted Ashcroft to approve a warrantless wiretapping program over Justice Department objections, according to notes from FBI Director Robert S. Mueller III that were released yesterday.
One of Mueller's entries in five pages of a daily log pertaining to the dispute also indicated that Ashcroft's deputy was so concerned about undue pressure by Gonzales and other White House aides for the attorney general to back the wiretapping program that the deputy asked Mueller to bar anyone other than relatives from later entering Ashcroft's hospital room.
Mueller's description of Ashcroft's physical condition that night contrasts with testimony last month from Gonzales, who told the Senate Judiciary Committee that Ashcroft was "lucid" and "did most of the talking" during the brief visit. It also confirms an account of the episode by former deputy attorney general James B. Comey, who said Ashcroft told the two men he was not well enough to make decisions in the hospital.
"Saw AG," Mueller writes in his notes for 8:10 p.m. on March 10, 2004, only minutes after Gonzales and White House chief of staff Andrew H. Card Jr. had visited Ashcroft. "Janet Ashcroft in the room. AG in chair; is feeble, barely articulate, clearly stressed."
The typewritten notes, heavily censored before being turned over to the House Judiciary Committee, provide further insight into a tumultuous but secret legal battle that gripped the Justice Department and the White House in March 2004, after Justice lawyers determined that parts of the warrantless wiretapping program run by the National Security Agency were illegal.
Although Mueller did not directly witness the exchange between Ashcroft, Gonzales and Card, his notes recounted Comey's personal statement that Ashcroft at the outset said that "he was in no condition to decide issues." Ashcroft also told the two men he supported his deputy's position on the secret program, Mueller said Comey told him.
Comey had precipitated the confrontation by informing the White House days earlier that the Justice Department would not approve the wiretapping program's continuation in its present form. Gonzales and Card then decided to see if they could get Ashcroft to sign a certification that it was legal.
After the meeting concluded without success, the Bush administration decided to proceed with the program anyway. But Comey, Mueller and half a dozen or so other Justice Department officials threatened to resign if it was not changed. The standoff was averted after President Bush agreed to make changes, Mueller and others have testified, but the changes have never been described.
In his notes, Mueller recounts Comey's statement that Ashcroft complained to Gonzales and Card at the hospital about being "barred" from obtaining "the advice he needed" about the NSA program because of "strict compartmentalization rules" set by the White House. Although Ashcroft, as attorney general, had been fully briefed about the program, many of his senior legal advisers were not allowed to know about it, officials said.
Gonzales was White House counsel at the time of the hospital visit and replaced Ashcroft as attorney general in 2005. "We never had any intent to ask anything of him if we did not feel that he was competent," Gonzales testified, adding later: "Mr. Ashcroft talked about the legal issues in a lucid form, as I've heard him talk about legal issues in the White House."...
Drip ... drip ... drip ... can anyone argue with any credibility that we have a functioning office of attorney general at the moment, while it's being helmed by a perjurer?
The New York Times uncovers the simple plan the Bush administration used to trick the hapless Democrats on the Hill into giving Alberto Gonzales approval power over NSA domestic spying. How did they do it? They got DNI Mike McConnell to issue a warning: the NSA is picking up 75% fewer intercepts of al-Qaida communications, because of the FISA court's dreaded 72 hour rule for granting warrants (72 hours AFTER the surveillance begins, that is...) Then, throw in a few handy dandy terror scares ("bombs in the cheese! Bombs in the cheese! Run for you liiiiiives...!!!) and presto! Democrats fold like cheap suit. Russ Feingold and Jane Harman explain their party's inherent weakness:
The White House, Mr. Feingold said Friday in an interview, “has identified the one major remaining weakness in the Democratic Party, and that’s its unwillingness to stand up to the administration when it’s making a power grab regarding terrorism and national security.”
“They have figured out that all they have to do is start talking about an imminent terrorist threat, back it up against a Congressional recess, and they know the Democrats will cave,” he added.
Representative Jane Harman, Democrat of California, said the White House “very skillfully played the fear card.”
I don't know about skillfully. Clearly you don't have to be too bright to put one over on these idiots.
I have been a Democrat all my life -- even before I was old enough to vote, I was bathed in the well of the party of JFK, whom my immigrant mother idolized. She believed in Lyndon Johnson's war on poverty -- despite Vietnam. She believed in Jimmy Carter, even as the Iran hostage crisis broke the spirit of the American people. We sneered at Ronald Reagan.
But I have, in my adult life, come close to quitting the party at times, most recently, following the disastrous candidacy of John Kerry, the wrong man for the nomination, and clearly, the wrong man for the kind of dirty, no-holds-barred fight that must be waged with the likes of George W. Bush's Republicans. I got there again, after the Democrats voted earlier this summer to give George W. Bush an extension on his war, ensurng the deaths of more American troops as the Democrats bowed down to a president who should by now be neutered and irrelevant, but who still has the power to cow this party that is too full of political cowards and fools.
I have gotten there again. In fact, never have I been so ready to walk away from the sham that is the opposition party to this extraordinarily Stalinesque president.
The Democrats have shamed themselves, by once again capitulating to a demand from the waning boy king of 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue, who had demanded that, even amid the myriad scandals that include the firing of U.S. attorneys by a thoroughly politicized and disgraced attorney general, the abuse of security letters by the FBI, which falls under Alberto Gonzales' authority, the codification of torture, again by Gonzales, in his former capacity as White House Counsel, not to mention the abuses by the NSA of its eavesdrop authority by ignoring, or outright flouting of the FISA law.
The latest capitulation: giving in to the presudent's demand for expansion of his constitutionally fictitious authority to spy on the electronic communications of American citizens and residents. The Dems could easily have ignored Bush's lame duck request, given the climate of distrust sown by Alberto's midnight ride to John Ashcroft's hospital bedside to try and intimidate the then-sidelined A.G. into approving the combination data mining / eavesdropping scheme cooked up either before or after 9/11, depending on how much of the official story you believe. But they didn't. Instead, they relented, giving this president -- worse -- his incompetent, corrupt attorney general and Director of National Intelligence Mitch McConnell , sole authority to wiretap, read the emails of and inspect all other electronic communications by, American citizens and residents, at their sole discretion, without review by a court, and therefore without probable cause. All Gonzales has to do is say, "hey, this American is talking to a foreigner!" and it is done. The Center for American Progress reports it this way:
CONGRESS 'PLAYING WITH HALF A DECK': Since March, the Bush administration has been building a case for its FISA legislation. But it wasn't clear until last week why it was pushing so urgently. On Tuesday, House Minority Leader John Boehner (R-OH) revealed on Fox News that earlier this year, a judge issued a secret ruling concluding "that the government had overstepped its authority in attempting to broadly surveil communications between two locations overseas that are passed through routing stations in the United States." Boehner noted that this court order made "a key element of the Bush administration's wiretapping efforts illegal," a fact the White House has attempted to conceal from the public and many in Congress. "It clearly shows that Congress has been playing with half a deck," said Jim Dempsey, policy director for the Center for Democracy and Technology. "The administration is asking lawmakers to vote on a very important piece of legislation based upon selective declassification of intelligence."
WHITE HOUSE OVERRULED INTEL DIRECTOR: The House congressional leadership quickly worked with McConnell to hammer out legislation fixing the holes created by the secret ruling, which included "three points" that McConnell "said the Bush administration needed." Yet instead of accepting the legislation, the White House took advantage of the opening "to write its warrantless wiretapping program into law -- or, more precisely, to write it out from under any real legal restrictions." "We had an agreement with DNI McConnell," said Stacey Bernards, spokeswoman for House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer (D-MD), "and then the White House quashed the agreement." Nevertheless, lawmakers "more concerned with protecting its political backside than with safeguarding the privacy of American citizens" caved in to the administration's demands for increased spying powers. "The only purpose of [the White House-backed] bill is to protect this administration from its own political problems and cynicism, and its own illegal actions it has taken outside the law without any authorization," said Rep. Jerrold Nadler (D-NY), who opposed the legislation, on the House floor on Saturday.
GONZALES HANDED EXPANDED SPYING POWERS: Provisions of the compromise bill attempted to address the "anachronism" of the 1978 FISA legislation, while imposing oversight on the White House. For example, it would have required audits by the Department of Justice's Inspector General to check the Attorney General. It would also make the Attorney General "create guidelines to ensure that the government applies for a regular FISA warrant application when the government seeks to spy on a U.S. person." Yet under the legislation Bush signed into law, Gonzales has "sole authority" to "intercept any communications believed to be from outside the United States (including from Americans overseas) that involve 'foreign intelligence' -- not just terrorism. ... Instead of having the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act court ensure that surveillance is being done properly, with monitoring of Americans minimized, that job would be up to the attorney general and the director of national intelligence. The court's role is reduced to that of rubber stamp." Senate Intelligence Committee Chairman Jay Rockefeller (D-WV) called Gonzales's expanded power "simply unacceptable," in light of the fact that he has misled Congress on disputes over the administration's spying program. On Saturday, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-CA), who opposed the bill, sent a letter to House Judiciary Committee Chairman John Conyers (D-MI) and Intelligence Committee Chairman Silvestre Reyes (D-TX) requesting legislation "as soon as possible after Congress reconvenes" to address the administration's overreaching on spying.
Keep in mind that Democrats hold the majority in both houses of Congress, and yet, they failed to utilize that majority to protect the American people from the almost obsessive zeal of this administration for secret spying powers. We are walking headlong into a Soviet system, all on the basis of nebulous, nameless fear of a completely theoretical attack.
As Jonathan Turley, Constitutional law professor and frequent guest on "Countdown" has said, the fact that we're fighting to preserve the FISA law, is itself a secret court accountable to no one, shows how far down the rabbit hole we've gone. The fact that Democrats would continue to back down, and capitulate to a president who has been so thoroughly and publicly discredited, is astounding.
The statute will be reviewed in six months, in the middle of a presidential campaign. Let's hope none of the Senators running for president has the temerity, or the stupidity, to support it then.
As for me, I have come to realize that I am what you might call a civil liberties absolutist. I care more about habeas corpus than I do about the Democratic Party. I'm about a milimeter away from tearing up my voter registration card.
THE DEMOCRATIC-led Congress, more concerned with protecting its political backside than with safeguarding the privacy of American citizens, left town early yesterday after caving in to administration demands that it allow warrantless surveillance of the phone calls and e-mails of American citizens, with scant judicial supervision and no reporting to Congress about how many communications are being intercepted. To call this legislation ill-considered is to give it too much credit: It was scarcely considered at all. Instead, it was strong-armed through both chambers by an administration that seized the opportunity to write its warrantless wiretapping program into law -- or, more precisely, to write it out from under any real legal restrictions.
Administration officials, backed up by their Republican enablers in Congress, argued that they were being dangerously hamstrung in their ability to collect foreign-to-foreign communications by suspected terrorists that happen to transit through the United States. The problem is that while no serious person objects to intercepting foreign-to-foreign communications, what the administration sought -- and what it managed to obtain -- allows much more than foreign-to-foreign contacts. The government will now be free to intercept any communications believed to be from outside the United States (including from Americans overseas) that involve "foreign intelligence" -- not just terrorism. It will be able to monitor phone calls and e-mails of U.S. citizens or residents without warrants -- unless the subject is the "primary target" of the surveillance. Instead of having the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act court ensure that surveillance is being done properly, with monitoring of Americans minimized, that job would be up to the attorney general and the director of national intelligence. The court's role is reduced to that of rubber stamp.
This is as reckless as it was unnecessary. Democrats had presented a compromise plan that would have permitted surveillance to proceed, but with court review and an audit by the Justice Department's inspector general, to be provided to Congress, about how many Americans had been surveilled. Democrats could have stuck to their guns and insisted on their version. Instead, nervous about being blamed for any terrorist attack and eager to get out of town, they accepted the unacceptable. Most Democrats opposed the measure, but enough (16 in the Senate, 41 in the House) went with Republicans to allow it to pass, and the leadership enabled that result.
Without that audit, how will the Democrats even know if this new law has been abused six months from now? I'm tempted to ask, do they even care?
These clods fell for the oldest trick in Karl Rove's book threats of another terror attack, which would of course be blamed on them. How so, DemiDummies? It is Bush who has styled himself the protector of the nation (and its children.) If that protection falters, sux years after 9/11 and scads of phony terror alerts scaring up everythng from liquid perfume to cheese... even a moron would have placed the blame at 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue. Jesus, guys, can't you do anything right???
BTW, any reporters who work on international stories, particularly regarding Bush's unpopular war, or his various, overreaching national security schemes, had better be on notice. Don't think for a moment that you are not a key target of this administration's plans to control and destroy information and dissent. Presidential candidates -- if you plan on talking to foreign leaders in anticipation of one day running this country's foreign policy, you just voted for your own bugging. Great job.
And then there are people like myself, who have family overseas, including both my husband's family and my father's side of the aisle, who all live in the Congo. I'm just going to assume from here on in that Dubya is mining everything, and everyone, and that he's not just looking for al-Qaida, he's looking for any speech that interferes with his "war on terror," including dissent. If you doubt it, remember that executive order which allows the Treasury Department to seize the property of anyone who interferes, by war or deed, with Bush's war in Iraq? Goodbye First , Fourth and Fifth amendments.
This is sickening, and it didn't have to happen. Have a nice vacation, Democrats. Today, I'm ashamed to be one of you.
As for the roll calls for the Orwellian-themed "Protect America Act", here's the House and here's the Senate. Read it and weep. I'm happy to report that from Florida, Congressmen Meek and Hastings voted nay. On the Senate side, I'm saddened that Chuch Hagel voted for this monstrosity, as did every other GOPer. 16 Dems capitulated, too, but thankfully, neither Hillary Clinton nor Barack Obama fell for the okey doke. Among the civil liberties sell-outs: Bill Nelson of Florida, Jim Webb of Virginia, Diane Feinstein (CA) and Ken Salazar of Colorado. Previous:
Gonzo gets the Isikoff treatment in the latest explication of his midnight ride to push John Ashcroft to sign onto warrantless wiretapping through the fog of medication.
Aug. 6, 2007 issue - Late on the afternoon of March 10, 2004, eight congressional leaders filed into the White House Situation Room for an urgent briefing on one of the Bush administration's top secrets: a classified surveillance program that involved monitoring Americans' e-mails and phone calls without court warrants. Vice President Dick Cheney did most of the briefing. But as he explained the National Security Agency program, the lawmakers weren't fully grasping the dimensions of what he was saying. Tom Daschle, then the Senate minority leader, tells NEWSWEEK that Cheney "talked like it was something routine. We really had no idea what it was all about." Still, as Daschle recalls, there were "a lot of concerns" expressed by some Democrats in the room when Cheney asked for their approval to continue the program. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, then the House minority leader, recalls that she "made clear my disagreement with what the White House was asking."
Last week, embattled Attorney General Alberto Gonzales gave a different account of the briefing, provoking yet another controversy in his tenure as the country's top law-enforcement officer. In testimony before the Senate Judiciary Committee, Gonzales, who participated in the briefing as the White House counsel, said the legislators were told the deputy attorney general at the time, James Comey, had raised objections to the program. Gonzales said there was "consensus" that the program, aimed at catching terrorists, was needed. "The congressional leadership ... told us, 'Continue going forward with this very important intelligence activity'," Gonzales testified.
It was only after getting that go-ahead, Gonzales said, that he and then White House chief of staff Andrew Card visited the hospital room of John Ashcroft, the gravely ill attorney general recovering from surgery. Gonzales tried, unsuccessfully, to get the heavily medicated Ashcroft to overrule Comey—a pivotal moment in one of the fiercest behind-the-scenes clashes of the Bush presidency. ...
Another interesting bit:
Congressional Democrats plan to step up the heat in coming weeks, pressing for Justice memos and other documents. They also plan to call a potentially crucial witness: Jack L. Goldsmith, the former chief of Justice's Office of Legal Counsel. It was Goldsmith who wrote a key opinion concluding the eavesdropping program was illegal. A conservative lawyer now at Harvard, Goldsmith, who declined to comment, will have every incentive to talk. He is due to publish a new book this fall called "The Terror Presidency: Law and Judgment Inside the Bush Administration." According to its Amazon.com listing, the book will chronicle how the president's "apparent indifference to human rights has damaged his presidency." On the cover are pictures of Bush, Cheney—and Gonzales.
Fox News can't find anyone in the White House or on Capitol Hill to come on Chris Wallace's White House/GOP hour and defend Alberto Gonzales, and Newt Gingrich treats the A.G. like a spoiled, smelly enchilada. Watch and enjoy. (Sigh.) Pobre Albertcito...
When you're in a hole, stop digging ... unless you have a magic spade
President Bush is either the most balsy politician ever made, or he's completely insane. In response to the continuing controversy over his illegal warrantless wiretapping scheme, a scandal that has brought his attorney general to the brink of criminal perjury and possibly other charges, Bush has presented Congress with a new demand: in short -- "give me the legal authority to use our foreign intelligence services to spy on Americans." It's a stunning development, even for this president. Bloomberg reports:
July 28 (Bloomberg) -- President George W. Bush urged Congress to pass legislation to expand potential surveillance targets, a step he said is important to help fight terrorism.
Bush's plea comes days after Robert Mueller, director of the Federal Bureau of Investigation, said he had serious concerns about the Bush administration's terrorism surveillance program, saying there had been a dispute in the administration over the spying.
``Today we face sophisticated terrorists who use disposable cell phones and the Internet to communicate with each other, recruit operatives, and plan attacks on our country,'' Bush said in his weekly radio address.
Equally stunning, is the fact that it appears that Democratic leaders are actually considering accommodating Bush's demand. More from Bloomberg:
House Speaker Nancy Pelosi said yesterday that Democrats would advance a proposal next week to revise laws governing the the Bush administration's warrantless wiretapping programs under the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act.
Bush said Congress should update the law to include people in the U.S. suspected of possessing significant information on terrorists or enemy government plots. The law now allows the government to get court approval for eavesdropping only if it shows a clear link to an enemy government or terrorist group.
``The law is badly out of date,'' Bush said. ``Our intelligence community warns that under the current statute, we are missing a significant amount of foreign intelligence that we should be collecting to protect our country.''
The Bush administration in April proposed legislation to update FISA to take into account the development of cell phones and e-mail, which they say has made it easier for terrorists to communicate.
Nancy, are you serious???
Could it be that Bush is being this assertive because his dutiful White House monkeys have found the secret key to get Alberto out of lock-up, preserving the presence of the most scandalized attorney general, the better to keep the cover-up of Bushie crimes going?
The New York Times on Saturday revealed new details about the fight within the U.S. intelligence community -- the one Alberto Gonzales claimed wasn't going on in his perjurious testimony before the Senate Judiciary Committee last week -- over warrantless spying on Americans. And if you read the article carefully, it reads like a very clever plant from administration loyalists to very carefully ease Alberto off the perjury hot seat. Here's an excerpt from the Times article:
WASHINGTON, July 28 — A 2004 dispute over the National Security Agency’s secret surveillance program that led top Justice Department officials to threaten resignation involved computer searches through massive electronic databases, according to current and former officials briefed on the program.
It is not known precisely why searching the databases, or data mining, raised such a furious legal debate. But such databases contain records of the phone calls and e-mail messages of millions of Americans, and their examination by the government would raise privacy issues.
The N.S.A.’s data mining has previously been reported. But the disclosure that concerns about it figured in the March 2004 debate helps to clarify the clash this week between Attorney General Alberto R. Gonzales and senators who accused him of misleading Congress and called for a perjury investigation.
The confrontation in 2004 led to a showdown in the hospital room of then Attorney General John Ashcroft, where Mr. Gonzales, the White House counsel at the time, and Andrew H. Card Jr., then the White House chief of staff, tried to get the ailing Mr. Ashcroft to reauthorize the N.S.A. program.
Mr. Gonzales insisted before the Senate this week that the 2004 dispute did not involve the Terrorist Surveillance Program “confirmed” by President Bush, who has acknowledged eavesdropping without warrants but has never acknowledged the data mining.
If the dispute chiefly involved data mining, rather than eavesdropping, Mr. Gonzales’ defenders may maintain that his narrowly crafted answers, while legalistic, were technically correct.
Really? A bit more:
A half-dozen officials and former officials interviewed for this article would speak only on the condition of anonymity, in part because unauthorized disclosures about the classified program are already the subject of a criminal investigation. Some of the officials said the 2004 dispute involved other issues in addition to the data mining, but would not provide details. They would not say whether the differences were over how the databases were searched or how the resulting information was used.
Nor would they explain what modifications to the surveillance program President Bush authorized to head off the threatened resignations by Justice Department officials.
An agency spokesman declined to comment on the data mining issue but referred a reporter to a statement issued earlier that Mr. Gonzales had testified truthfully.
Are these unauthorized leaks to the Times, which, recall, was the preferred recipient of Ahmad Chalabi and Pentagon leaks in the run-up to the Iraq war... or are these strategic leaks intended to push Congress off the independent counsel track? So now, Alberto was obfuscating about the data mining, and not the eavesdropping part of the TSP? Then why did FBI director Mueller acknowledge, during questioning before the House Judiciary Committee, that the disputes inside the administration indeed involved the Terror Surveillance Program -- in toto, one must assume -- unless the administration is now trying to divorce the data mining from the program intended to benefit from it? It will be worth watching whether Russert and Stephanopoulos use the NYT article to let Alberto off the hook (my money's on their doing just that.) Two more key paras from the article, which has also been picked up by the Washington Post:
The first known assertion by administration officials that there had been no serious disagreement within the government about the legality of the N.S.A. program came in talks with New York Times editors in 2004. In an effort to persuade the editors not to disclose the eavesdropping program, senior officials repeatedly cited the lack of dissent as evidence of the program’s lawfulness.
In December 2005, The Times published articles describing the program, the data mining and the internal legal debate. The newspaper reported that the N.S.A. had combed large volumes of telephone and Internet traffic in search of patterns that might point to terrorism suspects.
In other words, the data mining and the wiretapping were part and parcel of the same, illegal, program. But look for poor Tony Snow to be given a new talking point to add to his rather pathetic, flailing defense of Albertcito last week. Now, Tony can say to Chris Matthews, over pizza, apparently, that Alberto couldn't testify fully about the programs that were in dispute, because they involved ... voila! ... data mining, and not warrantless wiretapping, which "everybody agreed with." Really?
It's hard to see through the White House obfuscation about its warrantless wiretapping program, but thanks in part to former deputy attorney general James Comey's congressional testimony in May, we think we know this much:
Soon after 9/11, the administration started eavesdropping on Americans. By March 2004, Bush's own Justice Department had decided that the program was clearly illegal, and top department officials couldn't find a way to rationalize it. After a rebellion led by Comey -- and backed by a hospitalized John Ashcroft -- the White House agreed to make some changes. The revised program, still controversial, was described in the New York Times in December 2005. The White House christened it the "Terrorist Surveillance Program." And in January 2007, Bush agreed to put the revised program under court jurisdiction -- although it's not clear exactly what that means.
The talk sweeping Washington today of a possible perjury investigation of Attorney General Alberto Gonzales stems from Gonzales's assertion in a February 2006 Senate Judiciary Committee hearing that "there has not been any serious disagreement about the program that the president has confirmed."
Even after Comey's testimony, Gonzales insisted that he had testified truthfully.
How could that be? It appears that Gonzales is engaged in what one anonymous Justice Department official this week charitably called " linguistic parsing."
Gonzales is trying to make a distinction between the "Terrorist Surveillance Program" that was "publicly confirmed by the President in December 2005" and what he calls "other intelligence activities" that Comey objected to. But he dug himself deeper during his congressional testimony on Tuesday, when he characterized a March 2004 meeting with some members of Congress that was obviously about the Terrorist Surveillance Program as being about -- you guessed it -- "other intelligence activities." Those members of Congress begged to differ.
This is not just a story about Gonzales's relationship to the truth. It's also a story about all the things we still don't know about the White House and illegal wiretapping.
One of the chief unanswered questions, as I wrote in my May 17 column: What was the program like when it was illegal even in the opinion of Bush's own Justice Department? What was the government doing to its citizens for two and a half years -- starting soon after 9/11 through the spring of 2004?
Apparently, the answer this week, from the White House, will be that what they were doing to Americans was "data mining," and that it was that which became the object of dispute.
Watch and marvel at the hubris. And let's see if the Dems -- and the media talking heads -- fall for it.
Just in case you had any remaining doubt that the leading right wing bloggers are little more than stenographers for the White House and the GOP, dutifully tapping out talking points garnished to look like original thoughts, RawStory cops a link that utterly clears the fog:
At the urging of top conservative bloggers, the White House set up a Friday morning conference call to promote its message on the subject of executive privilege, RAW STORY has found.
"The White House hosted a blogger conference call to discuss the issues surrounding the Bush administration's use of executive privilege in the probe of the firings of eight federal prosecutors," wrote Ed Morrissey, who produces the blog Captains Quarters. "The White House arranged the call based on a recommendation by this blog, in order to familiarize the blogosphere with the legal and political arguments on which the administration will rely to prevail in the upcoming fight regarding the contempt citations Congress seems likely to approve." ...
Morrisey did not name any other participants in the call or identify the administration official who spoke to the assembled bloggers. But he showed that the message being delivered by the White House was short and to the point.
"The power to hire and fire federal prosecutors belongs exclusively to the executive branch," Morrissey wrote. "Congress has no particular oversight in these matters, and so the executive privilege claim is very compelling in this instance."
At least one commenter was critical of Morrissey's efforts.
"Thanks for reporting the administration's talking points, Captain Steno," wrote the posts only commenter. "You have a reputation for being a rational thinker, so how's about a little more in-depth analysis of the legal merit of the points?"
The offending post can be found here. Some of the commenters appear to be rightfully appalled at Captain's new job as Tony Snow's virtual lieutenant, but many of the BushBots are circling the wagons around the president and his lackey attorney general. Typical of the lap-dog commenters is someone called "Skywatch":
We are at war.
That does not forgive everything. I was and still am very worried about some of the patriot act (tho some concernces have been addressed).Like a Dem commentor said above would you want Hillary having this power? I would not. I trust the Bush toadies to use the powers to protect me. To listen and collect data on folks that wish harm on the country but I think Hillary would use those same powers to collect data on political foes.
Do you, now? Well that'll do, then, donkey, that'll do...
But there are also some lucid commenters over at Ed's, including someone called "Shieldvulf":
Lying to Congress and the people, politicizing law enforcement, and ignoring Congressional subpoenas are not at issue at all! The only question to be asked is, which side is someone on? Them over there? They are bad! It doesn't matter how well documented their outrage may be. All that matters is whether or not they get in line.
Last night on "Hardball," former Reagan deputy Attorney General Bruce Fein threw down the gauntlet, saying that the real problem with Alberto Gonzales' testimony was that by standing alone in saying there was no disagreement among the administration's legal and intelligence chiefs about the legality of the warrantless NSA spying program, he puts himself out on a very serious legal limb. Why? Because in all probability, the NSA's "terrorist surveillance program" or TSP, violated the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA), and all of the leading intelligence and legal officials in the administration, including then acting A.G. James Comey, FBI director Mueller, and even John Ashcroft, objected to it as such. If the then White House counsel ignored those disagreements and tried to push an ailing Ashcroft to OK the program anyway, he was suborning the breaking of the FISA law, which as Chris Matthews bluntly put it, "could make him a criminal." (I'll post the transcript when it's available.)
Further, it is clear to most legal scholars that Gonzales perjured himself before the Senate committee, which puts him in even further jeopardy, especially now that he has been directly contradicted by the director of the FBI.
Fein went on to explain that the Congress can do nothing to bring about the prosecution of Mr. Gonzales for perjury -- they can only recommend a special counsel, which Democrats have now done, or they can do something else to address President Bush's refusal to bring his attorney general in line with the law. I'll paraphrase:
"...impeachment is the remedy if the president refuses to faithfully execute the laws."
Amen, brother. After hearing Fein, who is a conservative constitutional and international lawyer as well as a frequent critic of the Bush administration, I looked up an article he wrote prior to the 2004 Congressional elections. It's very interesting, and very prescient. Here's a bite:
Suppose Democrats capture control of one or both chambers of Congress in November. A conservative would instinctively cringe. ...
... perhaps not.
The most conservative principle of the Founding Fathers was distrust of unchecked power. Centuries of experience substantiated that absolute power corrupts absolutely. Men are not angels. Ambition must be made to counteract ambition to avert abuses or tyranny. The Constitution embraced a separation of powers to keep the legislative, executive, and judicial branches in equilibrium. As Edward Gibbon wrote in The History of the Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire: “The principles of a free constitution are irrevocably lost, when the legislative power is nominated by the executive.”
But a Republican Congress has done nothing to thwart President George W. Bush’s alarming usurpations of legislative prerogatives. Instead, it has largely functioned as an echo chamber of the White House.
President Bush has flouted the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act of 1978 (FISA) for five years by directing the National Security Agency to target American citizens on American soil for electronic surveillance on his say-so alone. The president has defended his warrantless domestic spying with an imperial theory of inherent constitutional power that would empower him to open mail, break in and enter homes, or torture detainees, even in violation of federal criminal statutes. He has concealed details of the spying program indispensable to rational congressional oversight—for example, the number of Americans targeted, the earmarks employed to select the targets, or the intelligence yield of the spying. He has never explained to Congress why FISA could not have been amended to accommodate any unforeseen evasive tactics by al Qaeda in lieu of simply disregarding the law. Indeed, Congress has amended FISA six times since 9/11 at the request of the White House, and the Senate Intelligence Committee was informed by Bush’s Justice Department on July 31, 2002, that FISA was working impeccably. The president has also refused to disclose what legal advice he received to justify the NSA’s warrantless domestic spying at its inception. And Attorney General Alberto Gonzalez has confessed that President Bush is operating other intelligence collection programs that are unknown to Congress and the public and that will never be revealed, absent leaks to the media.
Republicans in Congress have bowed to the president’s scorn for the rule of law and craving for secret government. They have voted against Democratic Sen. Russell Feingold’s resolution to rebuke Bush for violating federal statutes and crippling checks and balances. They have resisted brandishing either the power of the purse or the contempt power (with which it can compel testimony) to end the president’s violation of FISA and to force full disclosure of his secret foreign-intelligence programs. Indeed, the Republican chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee, Arlen Specter, is sponsoring a bill that in substance endorses President Bush’s FISA illegalities and authorizes an electronic-surveillance program warrant that would enable the NSA to spy on Americans indiscriminately without the particularized suspicion of wrongdoing required by the Fourth Amendment.
Republicans in the House and Senate have been equally invertebrate in the face of presidential signing statements that usurp the power to legislate. In approximately 800 cases, President Bush has both signed a bill and declared his intent to disregard provisions he believes are unconstitutional, the equivalent of a line-item veto. For instance, he signed the Detainee Treatment Act of 2005 prohibiting torture while issuing a signing statement declaring his intent to ignore the law in order to gather military or foreign intelligence.
The Presentment Clause of Article I, Section 7 gives the president but two options when presented with a bill passed by Congress: sign or veto the bill in its entirety. That was the holding of the Supreme Court when it found a line-item veto statute unconstitutional in 1998’s Clinton v. City of New York. The president is obligated to veto a bill that he believes to be unconstitutional; Congress may override that judgment by two-thirds majorities. In the 217-year history of the United States under the present Constitution, Congress has overridden only 28 constitutionally based vetoes, and on only one occasion did the override engender a constitutional battle between the president and Congress. Presidential signing statements further usurp the legislative power by resulting in the enforcement of laws that Congress has not passed. Members vote on all the provisions of a law collectively in the expectation that all will be executed if the president approves.
Signing statements also flout the president’s obligation in Article II of the Constitution to execute the laws faithfully. The Founding Fathers were acutely aware of the example of King James II, whose practice of suspending or dispensing with laws he believed encroached on royal prerogatives eventually occasioned his overthrow in the Glorious Revolution of 1688. With such precedents in mind, the framers of the United States Constitution directed the president to execute the laws without fail. The Republican Congress, however, has acted as a disinterested spectator while President Bush has stolen its legislative authority in plain view and exercised the tyrannical power of making, executing, and conclusively interpreting the law and the Constitution.
The most frightening claim made by Bush with congressional acquiescence is reminiscent of the lettres de cachet of prerevolutionary France. (Such letters, with which the king could order the arrest and imprisonment of subjects without trial, helped trigger the storming of the Bastille.) In the aftermath of 9/11, Mr. Bush maintained that he could pluck any American citizen out of his home or off of the sidewalk and detain him indefinitely on the president’s finding that he was an illegal combatant. No court could second-guess the president. Bush soon employed such monarchial power to detain a few citizens and to frighten would-be dissenters, and Republicans in Congress either cheered or fiddled like Nero while the Constitution burned. The Supreme Court ultimately entered the breach and repudiated the president in 2004’s Hamdi v. Rumsfeld. Republicans similarly yawned as President Bush ordained military tribunals to try accused war criminals based on secret evidence and unreliable hearsay in violation of the Uniform Code of Military Justice and the Geneva Convention. The Supreme Court again was forced to countervail the congressional dereliction by holding the tribunals illegal in 2006’s Hamdan v. Rumsfeld.
Republicans have shied from challenging Bush by placing party loyalty above institutional loyalty, contrary to the expectations of the Founding Fathers. They do so in the fear that embarrassing or discrediting a Republican president might reverberate to their political disadvantage in a reverse coat-tail effect.
Democrats, for their part, likewise place party above the Constitution, but their party loyalty at least creates an incentive to frustrate Bush’s super-imperial presidency. This could help to restore checks and balances. For the foreseeable future, divided government is the best bet for preserving both the letter and spirit of the Constitution. If Democrats capture the House or Senate in November 2006, the danger created by Bush with a Republican-controlled Congress would be mitigated or eliminated.
"Wade in the water ... Wade in the water, children Wade in the ater ... God is gonna trouble the water..."
Here we go. Four members of the Senate Judiciary Committee have asked the solicitor general of the United States to appoint a special prosecutor to investigate possible -- if you want to call it that -- perjury by Attorney General Alberto Gonzales in the illegal NSA warrantless wiretapping probe, in the wake of the latest bombshell: the FBI director's testimoney directly contradicting Gonzales' sworn statements. From the National Journal:
The senators -- Charles Schumer, Dianne Feinstein, Russ Feingold and Sheldon Whitehouse -- are also members of the Judiciary Committee. In testimony esterday before the committee, Gonzales contradicted his own earlier sworn accounts, along with those of other witnesses in the probe.
And despite his blistering cross-examination of Gonzales at yesterday's hearing, ranking Judiciary Committee member Sen. Arlen Specter returned to form today. Apparently he was traveling with the president, and so perhaps this particular Specterism has more to do with fear of your dinner partners than genuine moral outrage. The Journal continues:
In a press conference this afternoon, ranking Republican Arlen Specter railed against the request, and indicated that Chairman Leahy was not on board, either.
"I think that Senator Schumer has made a practice of politicizing this matter," Specter told reporters. "Senator Schumer's not interested in looking at the record. He's interested in throwing down the gauntlet and making a story in tomorrow's newspapers."
Specter has previously accused Schumer of having a conflict of interest in the firings probe, because the New York Democrat is also head of the DSCC, the Senate's campaign fundraising arm.
Specter has backed congressional subpoenas of administration officials, and drew a distinction with the prosecutor request. "The inspector general generally does not conduct investigations with a view to a prosecution. The inspector general conducts investigation with a view to improprieties and recommendations for changes in policy," Specter said. "I think there's a little bit of Don Quixote here. People are riding off in all different directions at once."
Meanwhile, the Leahy committee has also subpoenaed Karl Rove, the president's increasingly addled brain, in the U.S. attorney firings scandal. Expect that to be the next "executive privilege" showdown in D.C. ...
Drip ... drip ... drip ... how long can the house of cards that is the Bush administration continue to stand? Haven't we had enough yet?
An E.U. report sheds new light on the CIA's secret prison system, which apparently had tentacles in the former Soviet bloc -- how appropriate is that -- including secret gulags in Poland and Romania, formerly home not only to Soviet detention facilities, but Nazi ones as well. The ironies are just too rich.
The Bush administration prepares to ask for a do-over on the military tribunals ruling, hoping to push the military judges to reverse their decision to throw out cases against Gitmo detainees who were misclassified as "enemy combatants," rather than "unlawful enemy combatants," making them ineligible for trial by Bushian kangaroo court. To whit:
WASHINGTON -- The Bush administration won't dismantle the controversial war-crimes tribunals at Guantanamo Bay for alleged terrorists, including Canada's Omar Khadr, despite rulings by two military judges tossing out all charges, a senior U.S. official said yesterday.
"The government is looking at a number of different options," said John Bellinger, legal adviser to U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice. But scrapping the tribunals and putting the terrorist suspects on trial, either in federal court in the United States or in military courts martial, isn't among them.
Instead, the government has quickly assembled a court to hear an appeal of the dismissal of charges against Mr. Khadr, accused of killing for al-Qaeda, and Salim Ahmed Hamdan, alleged to have been a driver for Osama bin Laden.
"Judges have been appointed and the court is prepared to receive appeals," said Navy Commander Jeffrey Gordon, a Pentagon spokesman. But Cdr. Gordon said he couldn't provide the names of those named to the Court of Military Commission Review. It was created by Congress last year, but had no judges or staff until the government scrambled in the wake of Monday's surprise rulings by the military judges.
The story goes on to say that prosecutors may have actually missed the deadline to refile the charges, but that isn't stopping the Bushies, either.
Is it just me, or are our detentionos of prisoners in Gitmo somewhat analagous to the detention of Iranian-Americans in Tehran? In both cases, suspects are held incommunicado with no clear charges against them. And if so, on what basis to we demand our citizens back, let alone any U.S. G.I.s who may be captured on a battlefield? Now you're getting to the fundamental damage the Bush administration has done...
Meanwhile, on the homefront, the military is charging a National Guard soldier with desertion ... because she refuses to leave her 7-year-old daughter with her abusive ex-husband so she can go back to Iraq.
Oh, wait, finally! Some good news! Here come the subpoenas!!!
The Chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee strongly criticized the Justice Department for obstructing an investigation of the Bush administration's warrantless spying program. The statement came after the committee scheduled a hearing next week to authorize subpoenas related to the shadowy government program.
"The warrantless wiretapping program has operated for over five years outside of the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA) and without the approval of the FISA Court. The Committee has continued to ask for the legal justification for this sweeping and secret program, and has continually been rebuffed by inadequate and at times, misleading, responses from this Justice Department," said Senator Patrick Leahy (D-VT), who chairs the Senate Judiciary Committee, in a statement sent to RAW STORY. "The information we have requested has been specific to the legal justification for this program and is firmly within the Committee’s oversight jurisdiction."
Leahy's statement came after his committee had announced earlier in the day that it planned to "authorize subpoenas in connection with investigation of legal basis for warrantless wiretap program," according to the committee's website. The meeting will occur on Thursday, June 14. ...
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.
All you need to know about the Bush administration
...is contained in this story about an absolutely stunning story about the conduct of Alberto Gonzales when he was White House counsel (aside from signing the torture memo and otherwise behaving as a two-bit stooge. I'm reposting this because it's critical to understanding who these people are -- utterly guileless, almost theatrically sinister, and utterly without conscience. Here is the story, as told by one of the good guys -- former Deputy Attorney General James Comey:
WASHINGTON: On the night of March 10, 2004, a high-ranking Justice Department official rushed to a Washington hospital to prevent two White House aides from taking advantage of the critically ill Attorney General, John Ashcroft, the official testified on Tuesday.
One of those aides was Alberto Gonzales, who was then White House counsel and eventually succeeded Ashcroft as Attorney General.
"I was very upset," said James Comey, who was deputy Attorney General at the time, in his testimony Tuesday before the Senate Judiciary Committee. "I was angry. I thought 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."
The hospital visit by Gonzales and Andrew Card Jr., who was then White House chief of staff, has been disclosed before, but never in such dramatic, personal detail. Comey's account offered a rare and titillating glimpse of a Washington power struggle, complete with a late-night showdown in the White House after a dramatic encounter in a darkened hospital room.
Comey related his story to the committee, which is investigating various aspects of Gonzales's tenure as Attorney General, including the recent dismissals of eight United States attorneys and allegations that applicants for traditionally nonpartisan career prosecutor jobs were screened for political loyalties.
Although Comey declined to say specifically what the business was that sent Gonzales to the bedside of Ashcroft in George Washington Hospital, where he lay critically ill with pancreatitis, it was clear that the subject was the National Security Agency's secret domestic surveillance program. The signature of Ashcroft or his surrogate was needed by the next day, March 11, in order to renew the program, which was still secret at that time. ...
Howard Fineman said on Countdown tonight that whatever you think of Alberto, he's proving why George W. Bush loves him -- he is shameless and relentless when it comes to doing whatever it is the president wants. He is the ultimate shill -- a man with so little conscience it's almost hard to believe he's real. He is the Bush bag man extraordinaire, and he will do anything -- no matter how gut-bucket -- to please his boss.
And that's why Bush doesn't want him going anywhere. More on that fateful night:
On the night of March 10, as he was being driven home by his security detail, he got a telephone call from Ashcroft's chief of staff, who had just been contacted by Ashcroft's wife, Janet.
Although Janet Ashcroft had banned visitors and telephone calls to her husband's hospital room, she had just gotten a call from the White House telling her that Card and Gonzales were on their way to see her husband, Comey testified. "I have some recollection that the call was from the president himself, but I don't know that for sure," Comey said.
He said his security detail then sped him to the hospital with sirens blaring and emergency lights flashing, while he telephoned the director of the FBI, Robert S. Mueller 3d, from the car. Mueller shared his sense of urgency: "He said, 'I'll meet you at the hospital right now,' " Mr. Comey testified.
When he got to the hospital, Comey recalled, "I got out of the car and ran up - literally, ran up the stairs with my security detail."
"What was your concern?" asked Senator Charles Schumer, Democrat of New York, who was the chairman of the committee session on Tuesday.
"I was concerned that, given how ill I knew the attorney general was, that there might be an effort to ask him to overrule me when he was in no condition to do that," Comey replied.
Comey recalled arriving at the darkened hospital room, where Ashcroft seemed hardly aware of his surroundings. For a time, only Comey and the Ashcrofts were in the room. Meanwhile, Mueller, who had not yet arrived, told Comey's security detail by phone "not to allow me to be removed from the room under any circumstances," Comey testified.
Minutes later, he said, Gonzales and Card entered the room, with Gonzales carrying an envelope. "And then Gonzales began to discuss why they were there, to seek his approval for a matter," Comey related.
"And Attorney General Ashcroft then stunned me," Comey went on: He raised his head from the pillow, reiterated his objections to the program, then lay back down, pointing to Comey as the attorney general during his illness.
When Mueller arrived, "he had a brief, a memorable brief exchange with the attorney general, and then we went outside in the hallway," Comey said.
Gonzales and Card departed, but after a while, Card telephoned Comey and "demanded that I come to the White House immediately," Comey said.
"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," Comey said he told Card.
Whereupon, Comey said, he contacted the solicitor general, Theodore Olson, who was at a dinner party, and arranged to go with him to the White House. At first, Card would not let Olson enter his office, Comey said; he then had a considerably calmer private chat with Card for a quarter-hour, after which Olson entered the room and took part in the conversation.
"Mr. Card was concerned that he had heard reports that there were to be a large number of resignations at the Department of Justice," Comey recalled.
Ashcroft had such serious reservations about the program that he considered resigning then, Comey testified. Instead, he stayed on until November 2004.
Mueller, too, considered resigning, Comey said.
"You had conversations with him about it?" Schumer asked.
"Yes," Comey replied. The surveillance program was reauthorized on March 11, 2004, without a signature from the Department of Justice "attesting to its legality," Comey testified.
Comey said Tuesday that he intended to resign the next day, March 12. But on that day, terrorists carried out deadly train bombings in Madrid, and he put his plans on hold and remained on the job until August 2005. ...