Tuesday, May 29, 2007

Where Were These Stories Three Years Ago?

By now, most political junkies have heard the story of how, in 2004, Andrew Card and Alberto Gonzales tried to strongarm a bed-ridden John Ashcroft into signing off on the warrantless wiretapping program, after he and acting-Attorney General Jim Comey expressed concern about it. Now, a Newsweek story on the Gonzales mess (isn't it great when the country's Attorney General is seen as a mess to be cleaned up?) reveals this was a very big deal at the time. Money quote-
...Back at the Justice Department, there is an equally extraordinary scene. Appalled by the White House's heavy-handed attempt to coerce the gravely ill attorney general, virtually the entire top leadership of the Justice Department is threatening to resign. The group includes the director of the FBI, Robert Mueller, Associate Attorney General Robert McCallum and the chief of the Criminal Division, Chris Wray. Some of them gather in the conference room of Deputy Attorney General James Comey, who describes Ashcroft's bravely turning away the president's men from his hospital bed. The mood that night in the conference room was tense—and sober. "This was a showdown," says a former senior Justice Department official who was there. "Everybody understood the choice they were making and the gravity of the situation. Everybody knew what the stakes were." A different source estimated that as many as 30 top DOJ officials would have resigned.

The next day Comey is summoned to the White House to meet with President Bush. The details remain murky. But it takes two weeks before a compromise is reached—averting the spectacle of mass resignation by putting more legal controls on the eavesdropping program...

This seems like big news... in 2004-- an election year-- we almost had a reverse Saturday Night Massacre, which not only would've blown the lid off the wiretapping program, but also exposed the politicization of the Justice Department in time for voters to actually do something about it. Who knows what 'compromise' the President agreed to in order to keep this all buried, but that sounds like it was a crazy two weeks.

This should also put to rest the talking point that all the people working in or around the Bush White House were totally comfortable with his illegal wiretapping program and the lengths he was willing to go to protect it. It's clear that the President mollified its biggest critics, but the acceptance of this program is certainly less uniform that they'd have us believe.

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