May 15, 2007

Christmas In George Washington Hospital

Hatched by Dafydd

Cue the dramatic music; turn down the thermostat -- we want it chilly, chilly.

Lights out!

A small floor-spot illuminates James B. Comey, former deputy Attorney General, from below (played by Mel Gibson), as he begins to speak, calmly and slowly...

“I was very upset,” said James B. Comey, who was deputy Attorney General at the time, in his testimony today 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 Mr. Gonzales and Andrew H. Card Jr., who was then White House chief of staff, has been disclosed before, but never in such dramatic, personal detail. Mr. 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 -- in short, elements of a potboiler paperback novel.

"Boil that dust mote, boil that dust mote!"

Actually, what this article in the New York Times (I'm not putting the name in italics because I depleted my supply in an earlier paragraph) reminded me of most was a naughty-nurse novel; all the elements are there: the stolen hours, the steamy emotionalism, the torn unmentionables...

And the heavy:

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 today.

One of those aides was Alberto R. Gonzales, who was then White House counsel and eventually succeeded Mr. Ashcroft as Attorney General.

When the New York Times interviewed Attorney General Gonzales to get his side of this controversy, here is how he explained his actions:






The other "bad guy" is not a person but a program: the NSA al-Qaeda intercept program to develop intelligence on al-Qaeda sleeper cells in the United States... a program that Mr. Comey, the man who would be AG, hates with every fiber of his being.

That was the subject of the clandestine tryst and epoch struggle between Gonzales and the "critically ill" Attorney General Ashcroft -- he had a gallstone which migrated to his pancreas, causing some pain and discomfort: Gonzales was desperate to continue the National Security Agency's monitoring of international phone calls where one terminus was a known al-Qaeda agent; while Ashcroft, well known for his deep concern for the civil liberties of terrorist suspects, was very concerned about the constitutionality and legality of the program.

Although Mr. Comey declined to say specifically what the business was that sent Mr. Gonzales to the bedside of Mr. 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 Mr. 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....

Around the time of the hospital incident, the White House suspended parts of the program for several months and imposed tougher requirements on the National Security Agency on how the program was to be used.Mr. Comey told the committee today that when Mr. Ashcroft was ill and he was in charge at the Justice Department, he told the White House he would not certify the program again “as to its legality.”

Considering that Ashcroft would be out of the hospital and back to his normal duties fairly shortly, I would hope that the "acting" Attorney General wouldn't take it upon himself to make such a momentous decision -- especially knowing that his boss was deep in negotiations with la Casa Blanca on minor oversight changes Ashcroft wanted to see. (Who knew italics were a renewable resource?)

Comey testified that the forces of goodness discovered the Evil One's plans when it was almost too late... almost! Comey received a frantic phone call from Janet Ashcroft, the Attorney General's wife, who had herself received a veiled warning from a contact known only as "Deep Oval." Some folks think it was Mark Felt, feeling a bit lonely. Others say it was Bigfoot. Some folks think it was President Bush himself, so ashamed and guilt-ridden that he had to try to stop the terrible power grab by Gonzales:

On the night of March 10, as he was being driven home by his security detail, he got a telephone call from Mr. Ashcroft’s chief of staff, who had just been contacted by Mr. Ashcroft’s wife, Janet.

Although Mrs. 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 Mr. Card and Mr. Gonzales were on their way to see her husband, Mr. Comey testified. “I have some recollection that the call was from the president himself, but I don’t know that for sure,” Mr. 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 F.B.I., Robert S. Mueller 3d, from the car. Mr. Mueller shared his sense of urgency: “He said, ‘I’ll meet you at the hospital right now,’ ” Mr. Comey testified.

When contacted by writer David Stout, Mrs. Ashcroft added these details:




Robert Mueller, in an exclusive interview for the Times, took a hard line on such shenanigans. He could barely contain his outrage in this exchange with Stout:






Through the unearned grace of the Almighty, the legion of decency managed to arrive at George Washington Hospital first (I cannot tell a lie). They waited in silent vigil, girding their loins and putting on their manly gowns for the final battle before the gates of Mordor:

Mr. Comey recalled arriving at the darkened hospital room, where Mr. Ashcroft seemed hardly aware of his surroundings. For a time, only Mr. Comey and the Ashcrofts were in the room. Meanwhile, Mr. Mueller, who had not yet arrived, told Mr. Comey’s security detail by phone “not to allow me to be removed from the room under any circumstances,” Mr. Comey testified.

Minutes later, he said, Mr. Gonzales and Mr. Card entered the room, with Mr. Gonzales carrying an envelope. “And then Mr. Gonzales began to discuss why they were there, to seek his approval for a matter,” Mr. Comey related.

Confronted with this damning testimony, Andrew Card was almost at a loss for words:




But the grand climax was yet to come. Like a bolt from Gandalf's staff, Ashbed suddenly jerked upright, rising from his near-deathbed to thunder like an Old Testament prophet...

“And Attorney General Ashcroft then stunned me,” Mr. Comey went on: He raised his head from the pillow, reiterated his objections to the program, then lay back down, pointing to Mr. Comey as the attorney general during his illness.

Spent, his power drained, John Ashcroft resigned after the elections that year. But he managed to survive his dreadful ordeal, and has since been nursed (by elves) back to some semblance of good health. When the Times contacted him -- as the principal involved in this exchange -- he offered these words of hope and healing:






He then offered his blessing and papal dispensation for the numerous traffic violations that Comey was forced to commit by the urgency of the emergency.

But our tale is not yet full told; a savage denouement erupted later, at the very House of Blackness...

Mr. Gonzales and Mr. Card departed, but after a while, Mr. Card telephoned Mr. Comey and “demanded that I come to the White House immediately,” Mr. 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,” Mr. Comey said he told Mr. Card.

Whereupon, Mr. Comey said, he contacted the solicitor general, Theodore B. Olson, who was at a dinner party, and arranged to go with him to the White House. At first, Mr. Card would not let Mr. Olson enter his office, Mr. Comey said; he then had a considerably calmer private chat with Mr. Card for a quarter-hour, after which Mr. Olson entered the room and took part in the conversation.

Fortunately for Comey, Ted Olson is readily available for comment. I can only imagine Comey's sigh of relief when Olson, contacted for independent verification by the Times, was able to buttress Comey's words with this much-needed corroboration:




Separately, the Associated Press is also hot on this story. They contacted White House spokesman Tony Snow, as the obvious person to comment on a secret hospital struggle in 2004, and received this stunning confirmation:

Asked about Comey's testimony, White House press secretary Tony Snow said he didn't know anything about the conversation at Ashcroft's bedside.

But it's the New York Times that is driving this new Bush/Gonazles scandal, and it is the Times that draws the obvious conclusion: After such an obvious attempt at a coup d'état, the only honorable thing for the Attorney General to do is resign immediately, shave his head, take a vow of silence, and become a Trappist monk:

Even before Mr. Comey’s testimony, ["Chairman of today's committee session" Sen. Charles "Chuck"] Schumer [D-NY, 100%] and Senator Arlen Specter of Pennsylvania [43%], the panel’s ranking Republican, reiterated their low opinion of Mr. Gonzales as attorney general.

“He’s presided over a Justice Department where being a, quote, loyal Bushie seems to be more important than being a seasoned professional, where what the White House wants is more important than what the law requires or what prudence dictates,” Schumer said.

“It is the decision of Mr. Gonzales as to whether he stays or goes, but it is hard to see how the Department of Justice can function and perform its important duties with Mr. Gonzales remaining where he is,” Specter said. “And beyond Mr. Gonzales’ decision, it’s a matter for the president as to whether the president will retain the attorney general or not.”

Thank God we have Chuck Schumer and Arlen Specter to defend us on our hospital beds from visitations by various unwanted Gonzaleses and Cards.

And an especial cheek-kissing accolade to Mr. David Stout of the New York Times for his sense of fairness and integrity, and his journalistic determination to present all sides of such a melodramatic story. Where would we be without such dogged digging?

Hatched by Dafydd on this day, May 15, 2007, at the time of 4:30 PM

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The following hissed in response by: Robert Schwartz

President Intervened in Dispute Over Eavesdropping:

And what did the evil Chimp Hitler=Bush do? Read down to paragraph 16 of the story:

The next morning, March 11, Mr. Comey went to the White House for a terrorism briefing. Afterward, he said Mr. Bush took him aside for a private 15-minute meeting in the president’s study, which Mr. Comey described as a “full exchange.”

At Mr. Comey’s urging, Mr. Bush also met with Mr. Mueller, who emerged to inform Mr. Comey that the president had authorized the changes in the program sought by the Justice Department.

We had the president’s direction to do what we believed, what the Justice Department believed, was necessary to put this on a footing where we could certify to its legality,” Mr. Comey said. “And so we set out to do that and we did that.”

And they wonder why their circulation is imploding.

The above hissed in response by: Robert Schwartz [TypeKey Profile Page] at May 16, 2007 4:59 PM

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