Civil Liberties: Shocking Lawlessness

Then-acting AG James Comey revealed extraordinary details about the effort by Alberto Gonzales and Andrew Card to overrule the department on domestic spying.



“Sixteen cities around the world will begin cutting carbon emissions by renovating city-owned buildings with green technology under a program spearheaded by former President Clinton’s foundation.”


NEW YORK: “A little-noticed resolution to a case involving same-sex couples from New York will allow dozens of them to be considered legally married in Massachusetts” as well as New York.

RHODE ISLAND: Lawmakers are set to debate three landmark bills on same-sex unions today.

ENVIRONMENT: Eleven states tell a federal court that “the Bush administration failed to consider global warming when setting new gas mileage rules.”

IMMIGRATION: Some cities are resorting to radical immigration measures as comprehensive reform stalls in Congress.


THINK PROGRESS: Former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney (R): “We ought to double Guantanamo.”

CARPETBAGGER REPORT: A retrospective on the life of the late Rev. Jerry Falwell.

DANIEL W. DREZNER: As demonstrated by his actions in the World Bank scandal, bank president Paul Wolfowitz shares a managerial style with President Bush.

TALKING POINTS MEMO: MSNBC host cites spoof website as a legitimate source live on the air.


“Don’t call it a comeback, I’ve been here for years.”
— Rep. Ric Keller (R-FL), 5/15/07


“Don’t call it a comeback, I’ve been here for years.”
— Rapper LL Cool J, 1991, in the song “Mama Said Knock You Out


Progress Report


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 May 16, 2007
Shocking Lawlessness
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Shocking Lawlessness

In March 2004, President Bush’s warrantless domestic spying program was temporarily suspended after then-acting Attorney General James Comey refused to sign onto an extension of the program, citing an “extensive review” by the Justice Department’s Office of Legal Counsel, stating “that the program did not comply with the law.” In “gripping testimony” yesterday before the Senate Judiciary Committee, Comey revealed extraordinary details about the efforts made by Alberto Gonzales and Andrew Card — then-White House counsel and chief of staff, respectively — to persuade John Ashcroft to overrule Comey, even as Ashcroft was debilitated in an intensive care unit with pancreatitis. The Washington Post calls Comey’s “account of Bush administration lawlessness so shocking it would have been unbelievable coming from a less reputable source.” Indeed, Comey’s revelations confirm the worst fears about Gonzales’s dangerously flawed judgment, and provide further evidence of the administration’s — including the President’s — contempt for basic legal restraints.

RACE TO THE HOSPITAL: Describing the events as “the most difficult of my professional career,” Comey explained yesterday how the ordeal began on the evening of March 10, 2004, hours before the authority for the spying program was set to expire. A top aide to Ashcroft alerted Comey that Gonzales and Card had arranged a visit with Ashcroft, who was then hospitalized with gallstone pancreatitis. Comey “ordered his driver to rush him to George Washington University Hospital with emergency lights flashing and a siren blaring, to intercept the pair.” Comey said yesterday, “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 that.” He described how he “literally ran up the stairs” to Ashcroft’s room, and had FBI Director Robert Mueller order the agents on Ashcroft’s security detail not to evict him from the room if Gonzales and Card objected to his presence.

ASHCROFT, ‘BARELY CONSCIOUS,’ REJECTS THE POWER PLAY: Comey “arrived first in the darkened room, in time to brief Mr. Ashcroft, who he said seemed barely conscious.” Minutes later, Gonzales and Card arrived, envelope in hand, and explained that they were seeking his approval to extend authority for warrantless spying. “Attorney General Ashcroft then stunned me,” Comey said yesterday. “He lifted his head off the pillow and in very strong terms expressed his view of the matter, rich in both substance and fact…and then laid his head back down on the pillow, seemed spent, and said to them, ‘But that doesn’t matter, because I’m not the attorney general’…and he pointed to me.” The White House effort to overrule Comey had failed. “The two men did not acknowledge me,” Comey said. “They turned and walked from the room.” Comey added, “I was angry. I had just witnessed an effort to take advantage of a very sick man. … I thought he had conducted himself in a way that demonstrated a strength I had never seen before, but still I thought it was improper.”

WHITE HOUSE CAVES ONLY AFTER MASS RESIGNATION THREAT: Shortly afterwards, a “very upset” Card called Comey “and demanded that I come to the White House immediately.” Comey told Card that, after the conduct he had just witnessed, he would not meet with him without a witness present. Card apparently replied, “What conduct? We were just there to wish him well.” Comey insisted on having then-solicitor general Ted Olson accompany him to the White House, but Card “would not allow Mr. Olson to enter his office.” Comey was informed that White House officials (including Vice President Cheney and Cheney’s then-general counsel David Addington) wanted to continue the program. The next morning, March 11, the program was reauthorized “without a signature from the Department of Justice attesting as to its legality.” Comey had seen enough, and wrote up his resignation letter. “I couldn’t stay, if the administration was going to engage in conduct that the Department of Justice had said had no legal basis. I just simply couldn’t stay.” Comey said yesterday that he believed both Mueller and Ashcroft were prepared to resign with him, along with all of their top aides. One day later, on March 12, facing a threat of mass resignations, the administration cracked. Bush informed Mueller that he would authorize the changes in the program sought by the Justice Department. Comey said he signed the reauthorization “two or three weeks” later. “It was unclear from his testimony what authority existed for the program while the changes were being made.”

BUSH AND GONZALES IN THE SPOTLIGHT: The Washington Post notes that “the bottom line” of Comey’s revelations is “the administration’s alarming willingness…to ignore its own lawyers.” After all, the Justice Department’s conclusions “are supposed to be the final word in the executive branch about what is lawful or not, and the administration has emphasized since the warrantless wiretapping story broke that it was being done under the department’s supervision.” The fact that Gonzales “is now in charge of the department he tried to steamroll may be most disturbing of all.” Moreover, Bush’s direct role in this affair remains to be fully explored. Last year, Newsweek reported that Bush dubbed Comey “with a derisive nickname, ‘Cuomo,’ after Mario Cuomo, the New York governor who vacillated over running for president in the 1980s”; Bush was “[m]iffed” that Comey, “a straitlaced, by-the-book former U.S. attorney from New York, was not a ‘team player’ on this and other issues.” Comey noted yesterday that Ashcroft’s wife “had banned all visitors and all phone calls” to the hospital, but that Card and Gonzales were permitted to visit Ashcroft after a direct call from the White House. “I have some recollection that the call was from the president himself,” he said.

Under the Radar

ETHICS — DESPITE ROVE’S CLAIMS, VOTER FRAUD WASN’T A ‘PROBLEM’ IN NEVADA: The Washington Post recently reported, “Of the 12 U.S. attorneys known to have been dismissed or considered for removal last year, five were identified by Rove or other administration officials as working in districts that were trouble spots for voter fraud.” One of those districts was Nevada. The U.S. attorney in that region, Daniel Bogden, was fired last year as part of the Bush administration’s prosecutor purge. According to Justice Department documents, part of the reason he was fired was because Karl Rove and Benton Campbell, chief of staff for the Justice Department’s Criminal Division, believed that Bogden didn’t go after voter fraud aggressively enough. Yet as the Las Vegas Sun reports, voter fraud wasn’t a problem in Nevada. In fact, Bogden didn’t have any cases to pursue. “Secretary of State Ross Miller, a Democrat, said he knew of no cases brought to the U.S. attorney’s office in recent years,” noted the Sun. “Nevada Republicans say the same. The biggest case Nevada had seen recently was an allegation in 2004 that a Republican-financed group had shredded registration cards from Democratic voters. The FBI investigated but it appears the case was not forwarded to Bogden.” As the New York Times said in a March 16 editorial, “In partisan Republican circles, the pursuit of voter fraud is code for suppressing the votes of minorities and poor people. … There is no evidence of rampant voter fraud in this country. Rather, Republicans under Mr. Bush have used such allegations as an excuse to suppress the votes of Democratic-leaning groups.” Gonzales has admitted that when he approved of the firings in Nov. 2006, he didn’t know why Bogden was on the hit list.

On March 1, President Bush nominated Michael Baroody to head the Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC), which is charged with protecting the public from dangerous consumer products. Baroody is a senior lobbyist at the National Association of Manufacturers (NAM), “a trade group that opposes aggressive product safety regulation” and “has called for weakening the Consumer Product Safety Commission.” Today, the New York Times reports that Baroody will “receive a $150,000 departing payment from the association when he takes his new government job,” even though he will be charged with “enforcing consumer laws against members of the association.” This “extraordinary payment” will nearly equal the $154,600 salary Baroody will receive as chairman of the commission. NAM often has issues before the CPSC and “recently prevailed on the agency, for instance, to relax the requirements for when companies must notify the agency about defective products.” While at NAM, Baroody repeatedly lobbied for looser business regulations, frequently at the expense of public safety. NAM opposes tougher rules regulating asbestos and in 2003, teamed up with the asbestos industry and spent $180,000 opposing asbestos reform legislation. In 2000, NAM successfully killed a bill in the Senate that would have helped reduce safety risks to motorists by requiring tire manufacturers to report accident data and potential defects to the National Highway and Transportation Safety Board. A coalition of consumer groups has come out in opposition to Baroody’s nomination.

ETHICS — REP. MCHENRY ATTACKS PROSECUTOR WHO SUPPORTED HIS CAMPAIGN AS ‘POLITICALLY MOTIVATED’: CBS News recently reported that a campaign aide to Rep. Patrick McHenry (R-NC) had been indicted on charges of voter fraud. The aide, Aaron Lay, is alleged to have “illegally cast his ballot in two 2004 congressional primary runoffs in which McHenry was a candidate.” McHenry barely won the primary campaign, in which Lay served as a political director, by a margin of just 86 votes. Since news of the indictment broke, McHenry and his supporters have attempted to spin the charges, claiming that they are the work of a “politically motivated” district attorney on a partisan witch-hunt. “It’s unfortunate that political opponents chose to target this young man in order to attack me,” declared McHenry in a statement. His spokesman, Jason Deans, told reporters that the indictment “is the culmination of a three-year smear campaign…this case is much like the Duke Lacrosse case in that a politically motivated district attorney sought an indictment against a young man.” McHenry’s attempt to spin the story as a “politically motivated” district attorney on “a three-year smear campaign” is difficult to believe. First, the district attorney, Locke Bell, is a Republican and a supporter of McHenry’s. Bell told the Charlotte Observer yesterday that he had contributed money and helped host a fundraiser for the congressman. Also, Bell could not have possibly participated in “a three-year smear campaign” against Lay and McHenry, as he only “inherited” the case recently when he became district attorney in January. Gaston County District Attorney Locke Bell is actually a recently elected supporter of McHenry, not a long-time political opponent on a three-year quest to “attack” and “destroy” him.

Think Fast

“Households are spending about $1,000 more per year for gasoline than they were just five years ago, an 85 percent increase” according to consumer groups’ analysis prepared for the House Judiciary Committee. “In the past five years the oil industry has picked consumers pockets for 200 billion in excess profits,” said the Consumer Federation of America.

“Nearly two dozen officials who received hefty performance bonuses last year at the Veterans Affairs Department sat on the boards charged with recommending the payments.”

“Navy veteran David Miller said that when he checked into the Veterans Affairs Medical Center in Iowa City, he didn’t realize he would get a hard sell for Christian fundamentalism along with treatment for his kidney stones.” Miller, an Orthodox Jew, “said he was repeatedly proselytized by hospital chaplains and staff in attempts to convert him to Christianity during three hospitalizations over the past two years.”

“Two federal appeals court judges appeared to support giving detainees at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, access to all the evidence against them when challenging their designation as enemy combatants. The Bush administration proposes to limit detainees’ lawyers to the evidence presented to the U.S. military tribunal that made the determination.”

92 percent: Proportion of the world’s opium that Afghanistan now produces. Bush administration officials acknowledge that until recently, “fighting drugs was considered a distraction from fighting terrorists.” The problem has become so severe that American officials now “hope that Afghanistan’s drug problem will someday be only as bad as that of Colombia.” 

“For the first time,” the Senate is expected to vote today on measure sponsored by Sen. John Warner (R-VA) “that would force President Bush to report to Congress how he intends to revise U.S. strategy if the Iraqi government fails to meet certain benchmarks.”

“Warm temperatures melted an area of western Antarctica that adds up to the size of California in January 2005, scientists report,” noting “clear signs that melting had occurred in multiple distinct regions, including far inland and at high latitudes and elevations, where melt had been considered unlikely.”

41: Number of Iraqis killed in violence yesterday. At least 125 people were wounded.

“A Texas businessman listed as a major fundraiser for President George Bush has made millions of dollars in profits from a federal reading program that critics say favored administration cronies at the expense of schoolchildren.”

And finally: Do people love Vice President Cheney more than they love President Bush? In 2006, Cheney received at least 15 presents totaling $21,674, many reflecting his “love of outdoor pursuits.” Bush received at least 20 gifts worth just $12,364. Gifts for Bush included “two wooden benches” and “jackets.” At Christmas, Bush gave Cheney “$667 worth of instruments to measure temperature, barometric pressure and tides.”

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