In foreign policy, the CheneyBush Administration is criticized widely
abroad for acting like an arrogant bully, threatening and often meting
out rough treatment to get what it wants. Its violent behavior in Iraq
is a good case in point, leading to tens of thousands of U.S. dead and
wounded and hundreds of thousands of Iraqi civilians killed.
But it's not just in foreign matters that such outrageous, in-your-face
behavior obtains. And the best example of this can be found in two
separate, but interrelated, cases that came into view this past week.
The one with the most political and constitutional significance involves
Dick Cheney and Karl Rove and Scooter Libby -- and by extension the
POTUS Himself -- asserting for the first time in public, through their
attorneys, that they are immune from prosecution because they are above
Libby recently was found guilty of perjury and obstruction of justice in
the Plame criminal case. He and Cheney and Rove are being civilly sued
by Joseph Wilson and his wife Valerie Plame for their having outed her
as a covert CIA agent and thus endangering her (and her contacts) and
ruining her career. The response by the defense legal team to the judge
hearing the case, as reported by the
"The lawyers said any conversations Cheney and the
officials had about Plame with one another or with reporters were
part of their normal duties because they were discussing foreign
policy and engaging in an appropriate 'policy dispute.' Cheney's
attorney went further, arguing that Cheney is legally akin to the
president because of his unique government role and has absolute
immunity from any lawsuit.
U.S. District Judge John D. Bates wanted to make sure he heard them
claim what he thought he heard them claim, so he explicitly
inquired: "So you're arguing there is nothing -- absolutely
nothing -- these officials could have said to reporters that would
have been beyond the scope of their employment," whether the
statements were true or false?
That's true, Your Honor...," said Jeffrey S. Bucholtz, deputy
assistant attorney general for the Justice Department's civil
Richard Nixon had asserted much the same claim of
absolute authority about his actions in the Watergate scandal, that when
the President does something, it's ipso facto not illegal, and
illegal, since he's the President. The U.S. Supreme Court at
that time made clear that nobody, not the President and not his
associates and aides, are outside the reach of the law. In addition, a
conservative-led federal appeals court years later ruled that President
Bill Clinton could be civilly sued by Paula Jones while he was in
But in 2007, there's a new, more "conservative" Supreme Court, which may
explain why the CheneyBushRove forces are pushing the issue of absolute
presidential authority to the point of a Constitutional Crisis. They
figure with Roberts and Alito on the court, they should be able to get a
5-4 decision granting the "commander-in-chief" carte blanche in
What war, you ask? Why the Bush-proclaimed permanent "Global War on
Terror," that's what war. Since that war is one being waged against a
tactic, it'll never end and Bush is thus free to do whatever he wishes
to do for the duration of his term.
THE ASHCROFT HOSPITAL SCENE
The scene shifts to another location on a separate matter, but with the
same arrogant, intimidating approach so prevalent in the Bush White
House for the past six years.
The public learned in gripping testimony last week by James Comey,
former Deputy Attorney General, that in 2004 he was informed that
Attorney General Ashcroft's wife -- who was by her husband's bedside in
the ICU after his emergency gall-bladder surgery -- had agitatedly
called the DOJ for help. She'd been alerted (Comey said he believes the
call came from Bush) that two White House officials -- then-White House
Counsel Alberto Gonzales and then-chief-of-staff Andrew Card -- were on
their way to the hospital that minute to see the Attorney General on an
important matter. Because her medicated husband was still groggy and
disoriented, she had restricted any calls and visitors, but that didn't
seem to matter to the White House.
With sirens blaring and lights flashing, Comey and his security detail
made it to George Washington Hospital and raced up the stairs. Their aim
was to get to the ICU room before Gonzales and Card arrived to get
Ashcroft to sign a document re-authorizing a domestic-spying operation
that the DOJ had adjudged to be unconstitutional.
Ashcroft and Comey had discussed this domestic-spying program before the
A.G. went into the hospital, and both had decided, as did the DOJ's
legal team, that they would not, and in all conscience could not, sign
the required document attesting to the program's legality. Comey, as
Ashcroft's deputy, was named Acting Attorney General while the A.G. was
in the hospital, and the White House had been so informed.
When Gonzales and Card entered the ICU room, carrying a document, they
didn't want to talk to Comey. (Comey had the reputation as somewhat
independent. Comey was the DOJ official who appointed Patrick
Fitzgerald, another straight-arrow, to prosecute the Plame case.)
Instead, Gonzales and Card spoke to Ashcroft about the need for him to
approve the top-secret surveillance program -- it needed to be
re-authorized every 45 days, and the deadline was the next day -- and
they wanted him to sign the paper.
THE DRAMATIC TENSION IN THAT ROOM
Ashcroft gathered enough strength to push himself up off his pillow,
denounced their behavior, and informed them that, in any case, Comey was
the Acting Attorney General. In the infighting that followed over the
next few days, FBI Director Robert Mueller stood with Ashcroft and Comey,
with Cheney on the side of Gonzales and Card.
The tension in that ICU room must have been positively electric. "Comey
was so concerned that the White House officials would resort to thuggish
behavior he [had] called FBI Director Robert Mueller and had Mueller
instruct the FBI agents present in Ashcroft's room
to allow me to be removed from the room under any circumstances."
When White House Press Secretary Tony Snow was asked the other day about
the mob-style tactics in that hospital room, trying to lean on a very
sick man to get what they wanted, Snow said, apparently with a straight
face: "Because he had an appendectomy, his brain didn't work?"
Snow -- who may have been speaking metaphorically when he got the
operation wrong -- would say no more about the incident. And Bush would
not answer reporters' questions about whether he sent his heavies to
Ashcroft's room in the ICU.
CARD ORDERS COMEY TO WHITE HOUSE
After Gonzales and Card left the hospital, having obtained no DOJ
signature on the document, Card called Comey and angrily ordered him to
come to the White House later that evening for a meeting. Comey told
Card that based on the behavior of White House officials that afternoon
in the hospital room, there was no way he would meet with Card without
an outside witness being present. He chose Solicitor General Theodore
Olson as his witness.
The White House meeting solved nothing. The DOJ officials would not
agree to authorize a domestic-spying program they had determined to be
What did Bush do? According to Comey, "The program was reauthorized
without us and without a signature from the Department of Justice
attesting as to its legality."
Ashcroft, Comey, and Mueller threatened to resign in protest unless Bush
changed his policy. Perhaps because of the threat of another scandal
going public just before the November 2004 election, Bush said he would
back off and make adjustments to the program to meet the DOJ objections.
But, to this day it's not clear what changes, if any, he might have made
in the program.
BUT WHICH DOMESTIC SPYING PROGRAM?
One reason virtually nobody is sure what Bush did is that it's still
unclear what domestic spying operation was being discussed by Gonzales
and then by Comey.
On the surface, the program would seem to be the NSA's domestic spying
program that Bush&Co. took out of the hands of the legally-constituted
FISA authorities, the super-secret court that has jurisdiction in
okaying wiretaps on U.S. citizens suspected of ties with terrorists.
This is the domestic-spying program that received all the publicity when
the New York Times finally made it public in 2005 -- notably, after
the presidential election.
But if one pays careful attention to Gonzales' February 6, 2006
testimony to the Senate Judiciary Committee, one is led to wonder if
Ashcroft, Comey and Mueller were adamant about the admitted-to NSA spy
operation or about another, still undisclosed domestic-spying program.
In that testimony, when questioned by senators as to the NSA
domestic-spying operations, Gonzales continually used the phrase
"the program which I'm testifying about today." ) In a
later written clarification, he said: "I did not and could not
address . . . any other classified intelligence activities." Using
the administration's term for the recently disclosed operation, he
continued, "I was confining my remarks to the Terrorist Surveillance
Program as described by the President, the legality of which was the
subject" of that day's hearing.
The clear implication in Gonzales' carefully-parsed language is that
there were other domestic spying programs in place that Bush had not
THE "MYSTERY" SPYING OPERATION
Ashcroft, Comey and Mueller all were conservative-Republicans who had
supported virtually every one of Bush's numerous violations of civil
liberties, but in this case they were willing to take the ultimate step
of putting their necks on the block by resigning and going public. So
you can bet that program was something major and truly outrageous. It
could well have been the NSA program, but, if not, there are at least
two other possibilities:
1. The "Total Information Awareness" program, involving massive
data-mining of millions of Americans' phone calls and e-mails, had been
defunded by Congress when the legislators found out about it. Could the
something very much like it, have been made operational, perhaps
under another name, and that this was what Bush&Co. wanted to legalize
in some fashion?
2. Could there be a domestic surveillance operation that enabled
Bush&Co. to spy on political opponents to Bush policy -- Democratic
leaders, anti-war activists, etc. -- that had no cover of law and needed
a legal fig-leaf?
At the very least, Comey, Ashcroft and Mueller should be invited soon to
testify before the Senate Judiciary Committee and explain what the hell
the Bush Administration was doing that was so legally suspect that the
three top men in the Department of Justice were willing to go public
with their resignations in opposition to the policy.
So far as I know, Ashcroft has not been questioned under oath about his
tenure as A.G., and it's long past time that he be asked pointed
questions about that period, and especially about these episodes. And
certainly it's time for Gonzales to be grilled again under oath about
this, and other matters involving the legality and advisability of his
behavior as White House Counsel and Attorney General. Lift up those
rocks and the American public will have the opportunity to see a whole
lot of bad.
Glenn Greenwald sums up the situation accurately: "What James Comey
described on Tuesday is the behavior of a government completely unmoored
from any constraints of law, operating only by the rules of thuggery,
intimidation, and pure lawlessness. Even for the most
establishment-defending organs, there are now indisputably clear facts
suggesting that the scope and breadth and brazenness of the lawbreaking
here is far beyond even what was known previously, and it occurred at
the highest levels of the Bush administration. We are so plainly beyond
the point of no return with this criminality. It is now inescapably
evident even for those who struggled for so long to avoid acknowledging
Even the Washington Post, normally friendly in its editorials to
CheneyBush spin, came down hard on the Administration, speaking of a
"lawlessness so shocking that it would have been unbelievable coming
from a less reputable source." But, sad to say, this incident, and the
CheneyBush Administration's conduct in Iraq and in its domestic spying,
does in fact represent the mob currently residing in the White House.
Impeachment ASAP is a necessity to save our country.
Copyright 2007, by Bernard Weiner