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Context of 'Late March, 2004: Ashcroft Recertifies NSA Wiretapping Program'

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Bradford Berenson.Bradford Berenson. [Source: PBS]In the weeks following 9/11, government lawyers begin to formulate a legal response to the newly perceived threat of terrorism. Four related issues are at hand: forceful prevention, detention, prosecution, and interrogation. What degree of force can the government employ to prevent acts of terrorism or apprehend suspected terrorists? How and where can it best detain terrorists if captured? How can it best bring them to trial? And how can it best obtain information from them on terrorist organizations and plots? These questions are handled in a new atmosphere that is more tolerant towards flexible interpretations of the law. Bradford Berenson, an associate White House counsel at this time, later recalls: “Legally, the watchword became ‘forward-leaning’ by which everybody meant: ‘We want to be aggressive. We want to take risks.’” [New York Times, 10/24/2004] This attitude is seemingly in line with the president’s thinking. Counterterrorism “tsar” Richard Clarke will later recall President Bush saying, “I don’t care what the international lawyers say. We are going to kick some ass” (see (9:00 p.m.-10:00 p.m.) September 11, 2001). [Clarke, 2004, pp. 23-24] At the center of legal reconstruction work are Alberto R. Gonzales, the White House counsel, his deputy Timothy E. Flanigan, and David S. Addington, legal counsel to Vice President Cheney. [New York Times, 12/19/2004] They will find a helpful hand in the Justice Department’s Office of Legal Counsel (OLC), most notably its head, Assistant Attorney General Jay S. Bybee [Los Angeles Times, 6/10/2004] and his deputies John C. Yoo [New York Times, 8/15/2004] and Patrick F. Philbin. Most of the top government lawyers dwell in fairly conservative circles, with many being a member of the Federalist Society, a conservative legal fraternity. Some have clerked for conservative Supreme Court Justices Antonin Scalia and Clarence Thomas, whose ruling effectively lead to the presidency being awarded to George W. Bush after the 2000 presidential election. [New York Times, 10/24/2004] Others worked for Judge Lawrence H. Silberman, who set up secret contacts with the Iranian government under President Reagan leading to the Iran-Contra scandal, and who advised on pursuing allegations of sexual misconduct by President Clinton. [Inter Press Service, 2/6/2004]

Entity Tags: Patrick F. Philbin, Richard A. Clarke, John C. Yoo, Joan Claybrook, Alberto R. Gonzales, Bradford Berenson, Jay S. Bybee, Alan M. Dershowitz, Rena Steinzor

Timeline Tags: Torture of US Captives, Civil Liberties

Sometime in early 2002, President Bush signs a secret executive order authorizing the National Security Agency (NSA) to wiretap phone conversations and read e-mails to and from US citizens. The order extends an operation set into motion at least as early as October 2001 to begin wiretapping US citizens’ phones in a response to the 9/11 attacks. When the program is revealed by the US media in late 2005 (see December 15, 2005), Bush and his officials will say the program is completely legal, though it ignores the requirements of the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA) that requires the government to obtain court-issued warrants to mount surveillance against US citizens. They will insist that only those suspected of having ties to al-Qaeda are monitored, and only when those individuals make or receive international communications. [New York Times, 12/15/2005; Washington Post, 12/22/2005; Newsweek, 12/22/2008] Bush’s order authorizes the NSA to monitor international telephone conversations and international e-mails of hundreds, and perhaps thousands, of US citizens without court warrants, in an effort to track what officials call “dirty numbers” linked to al-Qaeda. When the program is finally revealed by the New York Times over three years later (see December 15, 2005), officials will say that the NSA still seeks warrants to monitor domestic communications. But there is little evidence of this (see, for example, Spring 2001). The presidential order is a radical shift in US surveillance and intelligence-gathering policies, and a major realignment for the NSA, which is mandated to only conduct surveillance abroad. Some officials believe that the NSA’s domestic eavesdropping crosses constitutional limits on legal searches. “This is really a sea change,” a former senior official who specializes in national security law will say in December 2005. “It’s almost a mainstay of this country that the NSA only does foreign searches.” [New York Times, 12/15/2005] Some sources indicate that NSA domestic surveillance activities, such as data-mining, the use of information concerning US persons intercepted in foreign call monitoring, and possibly direct surveillance of US persons, took place prior to 9/11 (see Late 1999, February 27, 2000, December 2000, February 2001, February 2001, Spring 2001, and July 2001).

Entity Tags: George W. Bush, Al-Qaeda, Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court, National Security Agency

Timeline Tags: Civil Liberties

John Yoo, a neoconservative lawyer in the Justice Department’s Office of Legal Counsel serving as deputy assistant attorney general, writes a classified memo to senior Pentagon counsel William J. Haynes, titled “Application of Treaties and Law to al-Qaeda and Taliban Detainees.” [New York Times, 5/21/2004]
Yoo: Geneva Conventions Do Not Apply in War on Terror - Yoo’s memo, written in conjunction with fellow Justice Department lawyer Robert Delahunty, echoes arguments by another Justice Department lawyer, Patrick Philbin, two months earlier (see November 6, 2001). Yoo states that, in his view, the laws of war, including the Geneva Conventions, do not apply to captured Taliban or al-Qaeda prisoners, nor do they apply to the military commissions set up to try such prisoners.
Geneva Superseded by Presidential Authority - Yoo’s memo goes even farther, arguing that no international laws apply to the US whatsoever, because they do not have any status under US federal law. “As a result,” Yoo and Delahunty write, “any customary international law of armed conflict in no way binds, as a legal matter, the president or the US armed forces concerning the detention or trial of members of al-Qaeda and the Taliban.” In essence, Yoo and Delahunty argue that President Bush and the US military have carte blanche to conduct the global war on terrorism in any manner they see fit, without the restrictions of law or treaty. However, the memo says that while the US need not follow the rules of war, it can and should prosecute al-Qaeda and Taliban detainees for violating those same laws—a legal double standard that provokes sharp criticism when the memo comes to light in May 2004 (see May 21, 2004). Yoo and Delahunty write that while this double standard may seem “at first glance, counter-intuitive,” such expansive legal powers are a product of the president’s constitutional authority “to prosecute the war effectively.” The memo continues, “Restricting the president’s plenary power over military operations (including the treatment of prisoners)” would be “constitutionally dubious.” [Mother Jones, 1/9/2002; US Department of Justice, 6/9/2002 pdf file; Newsweek, 5/21/2004; New York Times, 5/21/2004]
Overriding International Legal Concerns - Yoo warns in the memo that international law experts may not accept his reasoning, as there is no legal precedent giving any country the right to unilaterally ignore its commitment to Geneva or any other such treaty, but Yoo writes that Bush, by invoking “the president’s commander in chief and chief executive powers to prosecute the war effectively,” can simply override any objections. “Importing customary international law notions concerning armed conflict would represent a direct infringement on the president’s discretion as commander in chief and chief executive to determine how best to conduct the nation’s military affairs.” [Savage, 2007, pp. 146] The essence of Yoo’s argument, a Bush official later says, is that the law “applies to them, but it doesn’t apply to us.” [Newsweek, 5/21/2004] Navy general counsel Alberto Mora later says of the memo that it “espoused an extreme and virtually unlimited theory of the extent of the president’s commander-in-chief authority.” [Savage, 2007, pp. 181]
White House Approval - White House counsel and future Attorney General Alberto Gonzales agrees (see January 25, 2002), saying, “In my judgment, this new paradigm renders obsolete Geneva’s strict limitations on questioning of enemy prisoners and renders quaint some of its provisions.” [Mother Jones, 1/9/2002]
Spark for Prisoner Abuses - Many observers believe that Yoo’s memo is the spark for the torture and prisoner abuses later reported from Iraq’s Abu Ghraib prison (see Evening November 7, 2003), Guantanamo Bay (see December 28, 2001), and other clandestine prisoner detention centers (see March 2, 2007). The rationale is that since Afghanistan is what Yoo considers a “failed state,” with no recognizable sovereignity, its militias do not have any status under any international treaties. [Newsweek, 5/21/2004; Newsweek, 5/24/2004]
Resistance from Inside, Outside Government - Within days, the State Department will vehemently protest the memo, but to no practical effect (see January 25, 2002).

Entity Tags: Patrick F. Philbin, Robert J. Delahunty, US Department of Justice, Office of Legal Counsel (DOJ), Taliban, John C. Yoo, Colin Powell, Geneva Conventions, Al-Qaeda, George W. Bush, Alberto Mora, US Department of State, Alberto R. Gonzales, William J. Haynes

Timeline Tags: Torture of US Captives, Complete 911 Timeline, Civil Liberties

Siding with the Pentagon and Justice Department against the State Department, President Bush declares the Geneva Conventions invalid with regard to conflicts with al-Qaeda and the Taliban. Secretary of State Colin Powell urges Bush to reconsider, saying that while Geneva does not apply to al-Qaeda terrorists, making such a decision for the Taliban—the putative government of Afghanistan—is a different matter. Such a decision could put US troops at risk. Both Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld and Joint Chiefs chairman General Richard B. Myers support Powell’s position. Yet another voice carries more weight with Bush: John Yoo, a deputy in the Justice Department’s Office of Legal Counsel (OLC—see October 23, 2001). Yoo says that Afghanistan is a “failed state” without a functional government, and Taliban fighters are not members of an army as such, but members of a “militant, terrorist-like group” (see January 9, 2002). White House counsel Alberto Gonzales agrees with Yoo in a January 25 memo, calling Yoo’s opinion “definitive.” The Gonzales memo concludes that the “new kind of war” Bush wants to fight should not be equated with Geneva’s “quaint” privileges granted to prisoners of war, or the “strict limitations” they impose on interrogations (see January 25, 2002). Military lawyers dispute the idea that Geneva limits interrogations to recitals of name, rank, and serial number, but their objections are ignored. For an OLC lawyer to override the judgment of senior Cabinet officials is unprecedented. OLC lawyers usually render opinions on questions that have already been deliberated by the legal staffs of the agencies involved. But, perhaps because OLC lawyers like Yoo give Bush the legal opinions he wants, Bush grants that agency the first and last say in matters such as these. “OLC was definitely running the show legally, and John Yoo in particular,” a former Pentagon lawyer will recall. “Even though he was quite young, he exercised disproportionate authority because of his personality and his strong opinions.” Yoo is also very close to senior officials in the office of the vice president and in the Pentagon’s legal office. [Ledger (Lakeland FL), 10/24/2004]
Undermining, Cutting out Top Advisers - Cheney deliberately cuts out the president’s national security counsel, John Bellinger, because, as the Washington Post will later report, Cheney’s top adviser, David Addington, holds Bellinger in “open contempt” and does not trust him to adequately push for expanded presidential authority (see January 18-25, 2002). Cheney and his office will also move to exclude Secretary of State Colin Powell from the decision-making process, and, when the media learns of the decision, will manage to shift some of the blame onto Powell (see January 25, 2002). [Washington Post, 6/24/2007]
Final Decision - Bush will make his formal final declaration three weeks later (see February 7, 2002).

Entity Tags: US Department of Defense, US Department of Justice, Richard B. Myers, US Department of State, Taliban, Office of Legal Counsel (DOJ), John C. Yoo, Alberto R. Gonzales, Richard (“Dick”) Cheney, Colin Powell, Al-Qaeda, Condoleezza Rice, Donald Rumsfeld, John Bellinger, George W. Bush, Geneva Conventions, David S. Addington

Timeline Tags: Torture of US Captives, Civil Liberties

White House lawyer Alberto Gonzales completes a draft memorandum to the president advising him not to reconsider his decision (see January 18-25, 2002) declaring Taliban and al-Qaeda fighters ineligible for prisoner of war status as Colin Powell has apparently recommended. [US Department of Justice, 1/25/2004 pdf file; Newsweek, 5/24/2004] The memo recommends that President Bush accept a recent Office of Legal Counsel (OLC) memo saying that the president has the authority to set aside the Geneva Conventions as the basis of his policy (see January 9, 2002). [Savage, 2007, pp. 146]
Geneva No Longer Applies, Says Gonzales - Gonzales writes to Bush that Powell “has asked that you conclude that GPW [Third Geneva Convention] does apply to both al-Qaeda and the Taliban. I understand, however, that he would agree that al-Qaeda and the Taliban fighters could be determined not to be prisoners of war (POWs) but only on a case-by-case basis following individual hearings before a military board.” Powell believes that US troops will be put at risk if the US renounces the Geneva Conventions in relation to the Taliban. Rumsfeld and his chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, Gen. Richard B. Myers, allegedly agree with Powell’s argument. [New York Times, 10/24/2004] But Gonzales says that he agrees with the Justice Department’s Office of Legal Counsel, which has determined that the president had the authority to make this declaration on the premise that “the war against terrorism is a new kind of war” and “not the traditional clash between nations adhering to the laws of war that formed the backdrop for GPW [Geneva Convention on the treatment of prisoners of war].” Gonzales thus states, “In my judgment, this new paradigm renders obsolete Geneva’s strict limitations on questioning of enemy prisoners and renders quaint some of its provisions.” [Newsweek, 5/24/2004] Gonzales also says that by declaring the war in Afghanistan exempt from the Geneva Conventions, the president would “[s]ubstantially [reduce] the threat of domestic criminal prosecution under the War Crimes Act [of 1996]” (see August 21, 1996). The president and other officials in the administration would then be protected from any future “prosecutors and independent counsels who may in the future decide to pursue unwarranted charges.” [New York Times, 5/21/2004; Newsweek, 5/24/2004]
Memo Actually Written by Cheney's Lawyer - Though the memo is released under Gonzales’s signature, many inside the White House do not believe the memo was written by him; it has an unorthodox format and a subtly mocking tone that does not go with Gonzales’s usual style. A White House lawyer with direct knowledge of the memo later says it was written by Cheney’s chief lawyer, David Addington. Deputy White House counsel Timothy Flanigan passed it to Gonzales, who signed it as “my judgment” and sent it to Bush. Addington’s memo quotes Bush’s own words: “the war against terrorism is a new kind of war.” [Washington Post, 6/24/2007]
Powell 'Hits the Roof' over Memo - When Powell reads the memo (see January 26, 2002), he reportedly “hit[s] the roof” and immediately arranges for a meeting with the president (see January 25, 2002). [Newsweek, 5/24/2004]

Entity Tags: George W. Bush, Office of Legal Counsel (DOJ), Geneva Conventions, Alberto R. Gonzales, Colin Powell, David S. Addington, Al-Qaeda, Taliban, Richard B. Myers

Timeline Tags: Torture of US Captives, Civil Liberties

Jay Bybee.Jay Bybee. [Source: Public domain]The Justice Department’s Office of Legal Counsel (OLC) sends a non-classified memo to White House Counsel Alberto Gonzales, offering the opinion that a policy allowing suspected al-Qaeda members to be tortured abroad “may be justified.” [US Department of Justice, 8/1/2002 pdf file] This memo will later be nicknamed the “Golden Shield” by insiders in the hopes that it will protect government officials from later being charged with war crimes (see April 2002 and After). [ABC News, 4/9/2008]
Multiple Authors - The 50-page “torture memo” is signed and authored by Jay S. Bybee, head of OLC, and co-authored by John Yoo, a deputy assistant attorney general. It is later revealed that Yoo authored the memo himself, in close consultation with Vice President Cheney’s chief adviser David Addington, and Bybee just signed off on it (see December 2003-June 2004). [Washington Post, 6/9/2004] Deputy White House counsel Timothy Flanigan also contributed to the memo. Addington contributed the claim that the president may authorize any interrogation method, even if it is plainly torture. Addington’s reasoning: US and treaty law “do not apply” to the commander in chief, because Congress “may no more regulate the president’s ability to detain and interrogate enemy combatants than it may regulate his ability to direct troop movements on the battlefield.” [Washington Post, 6/25/2007]
Statute Only Prohibits 'Extreme Acts' - Gonzales had formally asked for the OLC’s legal opinion in response to a request by the CIA for legal guidance. A former administration official, quoted by the Washington Post, says the CIA “was prepared to get more aggressive and re-learn old skills, but only with explicit assurances from the top that they were doing so with the full legal authority the president could confer on them.” [Washington Post, 6/9/2004] “We conclude that the statute, taken as a whole,” Bybee and Yoo write, “makes plain that it prohibits only extreme acts.” Addressing the question of what exactly constitute such acts of an extreme nature, the authors proceed to define torture as the infliction of “physical pain” that is “equivalent in intensity to the pain accompanying serious physical injury, such as organ failure, impairment of bodily function, or even death.” Purely mental pain or suffering can also amount to “torture under Section 2340,” but only if it results “in significant psychological harm of significant duration, e.g. lasting for months or even years.” [Washington Post, 6/9/2004]
Torture Legal and Defensible - Bybee and Yoo appear to conclude that any act short of torture, even though it may be cruel, inhuman or degrading, would be permissible. They examine, for example, “international decisions regarding the use of sensory deprivation techniques.” These cases, they notice, “make clear that while many of these techniques may amount to cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment, they do not produce pain or suffering of the necessary intensity to meet the definition of torture. From these decisions, we conclude that there is a wide range of such techniques that will not rise to the level of torture.” More astounding is Bybee and Yoo’s view that even torture can be defensible. “We conclude,” they write, “that, under the current circumstances, necessity or self-defense may justify interrogation methods that might violate Section 2340A.” Inflicting physical or mental pain might be justified, Bybee and Yoo argue, “in order to prevent further attacks on the United States by the al-Qaeda terrorist network.” In other words, necessity or self-defense may justify torture. Moreover, “necessity and self-defense could provide justifications that would eliminate any criminal liability.” [Washington Post, 6/8/2004] International anti-torture rules, furthermore, “may be unconstitutional if applied to interrogations” of suspected terrorists. [US News and World Report, 6/21/2004] Laws prohibiting torture would “not apply to the president’s detention and interrogation of enemy combatants” in the “war on terror,” because the president has constitutional authority to conduct a military campaign. [Washington Post, 6/27/2004]
Protecting US Officials from Prosecution - In 2007, author and reporter Charlie Savage will write: “In case an interrogator was ever prosecuted for violating the antitorture law (see October 21, 1994 and January 26, 1998, Yoo laid out page after page of legal defenses he could mount to get the charges dismissed. And should someone balk at this strained interpretation of the law, Yoo offered his usual trump card: Applying the antitorture law to interrogations authorized by the president would be unconstitutional, since only the commander in chief could set standards for questioning prisoners.” [Savage, 2007, pp. 155-156]
Virtually Unrestricted Authority of President - “As commander in chief,” the memo argues, “the president has the constitutional authority to order interrogations of enemy combatants to gain intelligence information concerning the military plans of the enemy.” [Washington Post, 6/9/2004] According to some critics, this judgment—which will be echoed in a March 2003 draft Pentagon report (see March 6, 2003)—ignores important past rulings such as the 1952 Supreme Court decision in Youngstown Steel and Tube Co v. Sawyer, which determined that the president, even in wartime, is subject to US laws. [Washington Post, 6/9/2004] The memo also says that US Congress “may no more regulate the president’s ability to detain and interrogate enemy combatants than it may regulate his ability to direct troop movements on the battlefield.” [Washington Post, 6/27/2004]
Ashcroft Refuses to Release Memo - After the memo’s existence is revealed, Attorney General John Ashcroft denies senators’ requests to release it, and refuses to say if or how the president was involved in the discussion. “The president has a right to hear advice from his attorney general, in confidence,” he says. [New York Times, 6/8/2004; Bloomberg, 6/8/2004; Washington Post, 6/9/2004] Privately, Ashcroft is so irritated by Yoo’s hand-in-glove work with the White House that he begins disparagingly referring to him as “Dr. Yes.” [New York Times, 10/4/2007]
Only 'Analytical' - Responding to questions about the memo, White House press secretary Scott McClellan will claim that the memo “was not prepared to provide advice on specific methods or techniques,” but was “analytical.” But the 50-page memo seems to have been considered immensely important, given its length and the fact that it was signed by Bybee. “Given the topic and length of opinion, it had to get pretty high-level attention,” Beth Nolan, a former White House counsel from 1999-2001, will tell reporters. This view is confirmed by another former Office of Legal Counsel lawyer who says that unlike documents signed by deputies in the Office of Legal Counsel, memorandums signed by the Office’s head are considered legally binding. [Washington Post, 6/9/2004]
Memo Will be Withdrawn - Almost two years later, the OLC’s new head, Jack Goldsmith, will withdraw the torture memos, fearing that they go far beyond anything countenanced by US law (see December 2003-June 2004).
Memo Addresses CIA Concerns - The administration, particularly the axis of neoconservatives centered around Cheney’s office, has enthusiastically advocated the use of violent, abusive, and sometimes tortuous interrogation techniques, though the US has never endorsed such tactics before, and many experts say such techniques are counterproductive. The CIA, responding to the desires from the White House, hastily put together a rough program after consulting with intelligence officials from Egypt and Saudi Arabia, where detainees are routinely tortured and killed in captivity, and after studying methods used by former Soviet Union interrogators. The legal questions were continuous. The former deputy legal counsel for the CIA’s Counterterrorist Center, Paul Kelbaugh, recalls in 2007: “We were getting asked about combinations—‘Can we do this and this at the same time?… These approved techniques, say, withholding food, and 50-degree temperature—can they be combined?’ Or ‘Do I have to do the less extreme before the more extreme?’” The “torture memo” is designed to address these concerns. [New York Times, 10/4/2007]

Entity Tags: John C. Yoo, Paul Kelbaugh, Timothy E. Flanigan, Scott McClellan, John Ashcroft, Richard (“Dick”) Cheney, Jay S. Bybee, Office of Legal Counsel (DOJ), David S. Addington, Alberto R. Gonzales, Beth Nolan, Al-Qaeda, Charlie Savage, Central Intelligence Agency, Jack Goldsmith

Timeline Tags: Torture of US Captives, Complete 911 Timeline, Civil Liberties

Jack Goldsmith succeeds Jay Bybee as the head of the Justice Department’s Office of Legal Counsel (OLC). The OLC essentially performs two functions: advising the executive branch on the legal limits of presidential power, and crafts legal justifications for the actions of the president and the executive branch. Goldsmith, who along with fellow Justice Department counsel and law professor John Yoo, is seen as one of the department’s newest and brightest conservative stars. But instead of aiding the Bush administration in expanding the power of the executive branch, Goldsmith will spend nine tumultuous months battling the White House on issues such as the NSA’s warrantless wiretapping program, the administration’s advocacy of torture in the interrogation of terrorism suspects, and the extralegal detention and military tribunals of “enemy combatants.” Goldsmith will find himself at odds with Yoo, the author of two controversial OLC memos that grant the US government wide latitude in torturing terror suspects (see January 9, 2002 and August 1, 2002), with White House counsel and future attorney general Alberto Gonzales, and with the chief aide to Vice President Dick Cheney, David Addington, who along with Cheney is one of the strongest advocates of the so-called “unitary executive” theory of governance, which says the president has virtually unlimited powers, especially in the areas of national security and foreign policy, and is not always subject to Congressional or judicial oversight. Within hours of Goldsmith’s swearing-in, Goldsmith receives a phone call from Gonzales asking if the Fourth Geneva Convention, which protects civilians in war zones such as Iraq, covers terrorists and insurgents as well. Goldsmith, after intensive review with other lawyers in and out of the Justice Department, concludes that the conventions do indeed apply. Ashcroft concurs. The White House does not. Goldsmith’s deputy, Patrick Philbin, says to Goldsmith as they drive to the White House to meet with Gonzales and Addington, “They’re going to be really mad. They’re not going to understand our decision. They’ve never been told no.” Philbin’s prediction is accurate; Addington is, Goldsmith recalls, “livid.” The physically and intellectually imposing Addington thunders, “The president has already decided that terrorists do not receive Geneva Convention protections. You cannot question his decision.” Addington refuses to accept Goldsmith’s explanations. Months later, an unmollified Addington will tell Goldsmith in an argument about another presidential decision, “If you rule that way, the blood of the hundred thousand people who die in the next attack will be on your hands.” These initial encounters set the tone for Goldsmith’s stormy tenure as head of the OLC. Goldsmith will lead a small group of administration lawyers in what New York Times Magazine reporter Jeffrey Rosen calls a “behind-the-scenes revolt against what [Goldsmith] considered the constitutional excesses of the legal policies embraced by his White House superiors in the war on terror,” Goldsmith will resign in June of 2004 (see June 17, 2004). [New York Times Magazine, 9/9/2007]

Entity Tags: Richard (“Dick”) Cheney, US Department of Justice, Office of Legal Counsel (DOJ), John C. Yoo, Jack Goldsmith, David S. Addington, Alberto R. Gonzales, National Security Agency, Jay S. Bybee, John Ashcroft, Jeffrey Rosen

Timeline Tags: Civil Liberties

Jack Goldsmith, the new head of the Justice Department’s Office of Legal Counsel (see October 6, 2003), finds himself embroiled in a huge, if secretive, controversy over Justice Department lawyer John Yoo’s torture memos (see January 9, 2002 and January 25, 2002). Yoo, who wrote the original memos over former OLC chief Jay Bybee’s signature, had placed the OLC in the position of asserting that torture can indeed be used against terror suspects. Goldsmith disagrees, feeling that Yoo’s definitions of torture are far too narrow and give far too much latitude to US interrogators. He also believes that Yoo’s assertions of near-unchecked presidential power to authorize torture—at the direct expense of Congressional and judicial oversight—has no legal basis. And, Goldsmith worries, the opinions could be interpreted as a clumsy, “tendentious” attempt to protect Bush officials from criminal charges. The conflict between Goldsmith and Yoo will cost the two men their friendship. “I was basically taking steps to fix the mistakes of a close friend, who I knew would be mad about it,” Goldsmith will recall in 2007. “We don’t talk anymore, and that’s one of the many sad things about my time in government.” Goldsmith decides to withdraw the follow-up March 2003 torture memo, and tells White House officials they cannot rely on it any longer. Actually doing so proves a tricky business. [New York Times Magazine, 9/9/2007]
'Serious, Serious Problems' - Goldsmith will say in September 2007: “As soon as I absorbed the opinions I realized… that my reaction to them was a big problem. The Office of Legal Counsel rarely overturns its prior opinions, and even more rarely does so within an administration, and even more rarely than that, in the same administration about something this important. I didn’t find any precedent for it. And I did not want to do anything to affect either the programs or the underlying opinions. But they were serious, serious problems, and I knew if and when I was asked to stand by them that I would have a very hard time doing so.” [Newsweek, 9/8/2007]
Pressure from Abu Ghraib Scandal - The legal and bureaucratic niceties of withdrawing the memos become moot when, in April 2004, the Abu Ghraib scandal breaks (see Mid-April 2004), and when in June 2004, the first memo is leaked to the media. “After the leak, there was a lot of pressure on me within the administration to stand by the opinion,” he later says, “and the problem was that I had decided six months earlier that I couldn’t stand by the opinion.” [New York Times Magazine, 9/9/2007] “I had determined that the analysis was flawed,” he will recall. “But I hadn’t determined the underlying techniques were illegal. After Abu Ghraib, there was enormous pressure for me to stand by the decisions… and I couldn’t do so. I had already made up my mind many months earlier and I wasn’t about to change it. But I struggled for several days with what the consequences might be of withdrawing the opinion, because I wasn’t in the position to make an independent ruling on the other techniques. I certainly didn’t think they were unlawful, but I couldn’t get an opinion that they were lawful either. So I struggled to repudiate the flawed opinion while not causing massive disruption and fright throughout the counterterrorism world related to interrogation. And I ultimately decided that I had to withdraw those and under suspicions, stand by it, because it was so thoroughly flawed.” [Newsweek, 9/8/2007]
White House Resists Change - Though Goldsmith has the support of his boss, Attorney General John Ashcroft, Ashcroft’s deputy, James Comey, and his own deputy, Patrick Philbin, he knows the White House will fight the withdrawal. Goldsmith will decide to issue the withdrawal and then resign his position (see June 17, 2004), effectively forcing the administration to either quietly accept the withdrawal, or fight it and make his resignation a media circus. “If the story had come out that the US government decided to stick by the controversial opinions that led the head of the Office of Legal Counsel to resign, that would have looked bad,” he later recalls. “The timing was designed to ensure that the decision stuck.” Vice President Dick Cheney’s chief aide, David Addington, among other White House officials, is furious over the withdrawal of the torture opinion (interestingly, White House counsel and future attorney general Alberto Gonzales will modify his own opposition to the withdrawals later, telling Goldsmith in 2007, “I guess those opinions really were as bad as you said”). [New York Times Magazine, 9/9/2007]
Expansion of Presidential Power - Addington asks Goldsmith incredulously, “Why are you trying to give away the president’s power?” Like Cheney, Addington believes, in Goldsmith’s words, “that the very act of asking for Congress’s help would imply, contrary to the White House line, that the president needed legislative approval and could not act on his own. The president’s power would diminish, Addington thought, if Congress declined its support once asked, especially if it tried to restrict presidential power in some way. Congress had balked, during the month after 9/11, at giving the president everything he had asked for in the Congressional authorization to use force and the Patriot Act. Things would only be worse in 2004 and beyond, Addington believed.” Addington’s two questions are always, Goldsmith writes, “‘Do we have the legal power to do it ourselves?’ (meaning on the president’s sole authority), and ‘Might Congress limit our options in ways that jeopardize American lives?’” While Goldsmith and his colleagues agree that the president has the power, and that seeking Congressional approval might tie the White House’s hands more so than the administration is willing to accept, Goldsmith worries that an unfavorable Supreme Court decision would undercut Bush’s authority much more so than any restrictions passed by a compliant, Republican-led Congress. Addington sees things in very simple terms: ”“We’re going to push and push and push until some larger force makes us stop,” Addington says on several occasions. Addington tells Goldsmith, “Now that you’ve withdrawn legal opinions that the president of the United States has been relying on, I need you to go through all of [the OLC terror memos] and let me know which ones you still stand by.” Goldsmith will do just that, further angering Addington. [Savage, 2007, pp. 184; Slate, 9/11/2007]
Absolute Power Required to Defend Nation - Goldsmith later writes: “He and, I presumed, his boss viewed power as the absence of constraint. These men believed that the president would be best equipped to identify and defeat the uncertain, shifting, and lethal new enemy by eliminating all hurdles to the exercise of his power. They had no sense of trading constraint for power. It seemed never to occur to them that it might be possible to increase the president’s strength and effectiveness by accepting small limits on his prerogatives in order to secure more significant support from Congress, the courts, or allies. They believed cooperation and compromise signaled weakness and emboldened the enemies of America and the executive branch. When it came to terrorism, they viewed every encounter outside the innermost core of most trusted advisers as a zero-sum game that if they didn’t win they would necessarily lose.” [Slate, 9/11/2007]

Entity Tags: John Ashcroft, John C. Yoo, Jay S. Bybee, Office of Legal Counsel (DOJ), James B. Comey Jr., David S. Addington, Patrick F. Philbin, Alberto R. Gonzales, Bush administration (43), Daniel Levin, Jack Goldsmith, US Department of Justice

Timeline Tags: Civil Liberties

The White House and the Justice Department are at odds over the legality of the National Security Agency’s “data mining” program, which involves the NSA combing through enormous electronic databases containing personal information about millions of US citizens, ostensibly for anti-terrorism purposes and often without court warrants (see February 2001, Spring 2001, After September 11, 2001, After September 11, 2001, October 2001, and Early 2002). Such data mining by the NSA potentially threatens citizens’ constitutional right to privacy. This clash between the White House and the Justice Department is one of the reasons that White House counsel Alberto Gonzales and chief of staff Andrew Card will try to pressure Attorney General John Ashcroft, while Ashcroft is recuperating from surgery, to reauthorize the NSA program over the objections of Deputy Attorney General James Comey. That attempt to force reauthorization over Justice Department complaints will result in the protest resignations of Ashcroft, Comey, and other Justice officials (see March 10-12, 2004). In 2007, Gonzales will deny that any such attempt to pressure Ashcroft to overrule Comey ever happened (see July 24, 2007), and will deny that there was any such dispute between the White House and Justice Department over the NSA program. Those denials will lead to calls to investigate Gonzales for perjury (see May 16, 2007). In late 2005, President Bush will admit, after the New York Times reveals the existence of the NSA warrantless wiretapping program (see Early 2002), that the program indeed exists, but will not acknowledge the data mining. Several current and former administration officials, interviewed by reporters in 2007, refuse to go into detail about the dispute between the White House and Justice Department, but say that it involves other issues along with the data mining. They will also refuse to explain what modifications to the surveillance program Bush will authorize to mollify Justice Department officials. Bush and his officials, including Gonzales, who will ascend to the position of attorney general in 2005, will repeatedly insist that he has the authority, both under the Constitution and under Congress’s authorization to use military force against terrorists passed after the 9/11 attacks (see September 14-18, 2001), to bypass the requirements for court warrants to monitor US citizens. Critics will say that such surveillance is illegal under the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act. [New York Times, 7/29/2007]
Domestic Surveillance Began Before 9/11? - Though Bush officials eventually admit to beginning surveillance of US citizens only after the 9/11 attacks, that assertion is disputed by evidence suggesting that the domestic surveillance program began well before 9/11 (see Late 1999, February 27, 2000, December 2000, February 2001, February 2001, Spring 2001, July 2001, and Early 2002).

Entity Tags: US Department of Justice, National Security Agency, New York Times, James B. Comey Jr., Alberto R. Gonzales, Andrew Card, Bush administration (43), George W. Bush, John Ashcroft

Timeline Tags: Civil Liberties

Jack Goldsmith, the head of the Justice Department’s Office of Legal Counsel (see October 6, 2003), is astonished at the open contempt displayed by White House officials over dealing with Congress and the restraints imposed by the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA). Though Goldsmith agrees with the aims of the administration in battling terrorism, and agrees with the administration that FISA may present undue restraint on conducting terror investigations, he is shocked at the cavalier manner in which the administration ignores the law and the constitutional mandates for Congressional oversight. “We’re one bomb away from getting rid of that obnoxious [FISA] court,” White House aide David Addington tells Goldsmith. Addington, the chief aide to Vice President Dick Cheney, and other Bush officials treat FISA the same way they treated other laws they disdained, Goldsmith later recalls: “They blew through them in secret based on flimsy legal opinions that they guarded closely so no one could question the legal basis for the operations,” he will write in his 2007 book “The Terror Presidency” (see September 9, 2007). [New York Times Magazine, 9/9/2007]

Entity Tags: Jack Goldsmith, Bush administration (43), David S. Addington, Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act, Office of Legal Counsel (DOJ), Richard (“Dick”) Cheney, US Department of Justice

Timeline Tags: Civil Liberties

Chuck Rosenberg.Chuck Rosenberg. [Source: Associated Press / Charles Dharapak]Vice President Dick Cheney challenges objections to the White House’s secret, warrantless surveillance program (see Early 2002) by Justice Department officials. Cheney makes his objections during a meeting attended by high-level White House and Justice Department officials, but this does not come to light until a 2007 testimony by Deputy Attorney General James Comey (see May 15, 2007). [Washington Post, 6/7/2007] (Comey will step down from his post in mid-2005.) [Law.com, 4/21/2005] The White House meetings take place one day before White House officials journey to Attorney General John Ashcroft’s hospital room to try to force Ashcroft to give his approval for the NSA-managed surveillance program (see March 10-12, 2004). Ashcroft will refuse to give his approval. Cheney’s key role in leading what the Washington Post calls “a fierce internal battle over the legality of the warrantless surveillance program” is not known until Comey’s 2007 testimony. The White House meeting, held to discuss Justice Department objections to the NSA program, is attended by Cheney, White House counsel and future attorney general Alberto Gonzales, Cheney’s chief counsel David Addington, and others. Comey will testify that at the time, eight Justice Department officials are prepared to resign if the White House doesn’t back down on forcing the department to sign off on the program. Those officials include FBI director Robert Mueller, US attorney Chuck Rosenberg of the northern Virginia district, and Office of Legal Counsel head Jack Goldsmith. [Washington Post, 6/7/2007]

Entity Tags: Washington Post, US Department of Justice, Robert S. Mueller III, John Ashcroft, Alberto R. Gonzales, Chuck Rosenberg, David S. Addington, Richard (“Dick”) Cheney, James B. Comey Jr., Jack Goldsmith

Timeline Tags: Civil Liberties

Attorney General John Ashcroft is visited by a squad of top White House and Justice Department officials just hours after Ashcroft underwent emergency surgery for severe, acute pancreatis, and is still recuperating in intensive care. The White House officials attempt to persuade the barely lucid Ashcroft to give his formal approval for the secret National Security Agency warrantless wiretapping surveillance program (see Early 2002), which requires the Justice Department to periodically review and approve it. [National Public Radio, 5/15/2007; Washington Post, 5/16/2007; Washington Post, 6/7/2007; Associated Press, 6/7/2007]
Comey, Goldsmith Rush to Head Off Aides - Deputy Attorney General James Comey testifies to the incident before the Senate Judiciary Committee over three years later (see May 15, 2007). Comey will recall that he and Ashcroft had decided not to recertify the surveillance program due to their concerns over its legality and its lack of oversight. On March 9, Ashcroft was rushed to the hospital with severe pancreatis. As per Justice Department procedures, Comey became acting attorney general for the duration of Ashcroft’s incapacity. The next night, just hours after Ashcroft underwent emergency surgery for the removal of his gallbladder, Comey receives an urgent phone call from Ashcroft’s aide, David Ayres, who himself has just spoken with Ashcroft’s wife Janet. Ayres tells Comey that White House counsel Alberto Gonzales and White House chief of staff Andrew Card are en route to Ashcroft’s hospital room to pressure Ashcroft to sign off on the program recertification. A furious Comey telephones FBI director Robert Mueller, and the two, accompanied by aides, race separately through the Washington, DC streets with sirens wailing to reach Ashcroft’s hospital room; they beat Gonzales and Card to the room by a matter of minutes. “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 will testify, and will add that to him, Ashcroft appears “pretty bad off.” En route, Mueller instructs the security detail protecting Ashcroft not to allow Card or Gonzales to eject Comey from the hospital room. Card and Gonzales enter just minutes later. [Washington Post, 5/16/2007; PBS, 5/16/2007] “And it was only a matter of minutes that the door opened and in walked Mr. Gonzales, carrying an envelope, and Mr. Card,” Comey will testify. “They came over and stood by the bed, greeted the attorney general very briefly, and then Mr. Gonzales began to discuss why they were there—to seek his approval for a matter.” [National Public Radio, 5/15/2007] Gonzales is holding an envelope containing an executive order from Bush. He tells Ashcroft that he needs to sign off on the order, thereby giving the wiretapping program Justice Department authorization to continue unabated. Comey will testify that Ashcroft “lifted his head off the pillow and in very strong terms expressed his view of the matter, rich in both substance and fact, which stunned me. [Ashcroft then adds] ‘But that doesn’t matter, because I’m not the attorney general. There is the attorney general,’” pointing at Comey. Gonzales and Card leave the room without ever acknowledging Comey’s presence. “I was angry,” Comey will recall. “I thought I 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.” [Washington Post, 5/16/2007; Washington Post, 6/7/2007] “That night was probably the most difficult night of my professional life, so it’s not something I forget,” Comey will testify. [PBS, 5/16/2007] Goldsmith is also in the room; like Comey, Goldsmith receives a phone call alerting him to Gonzales’s and Card’s visit, and like Comey, Goldsmith races through the Washington streets to arrive at Ashcroft’s room minutes before Gonzales and Card arrive. He, too, is astonished at the brazen, callous approach taken by the two White House officials against Ashcroft, who he describes as laying in his darkened hospital room, with a bright light shining on him and tubes and wires protruding from his body. “Ashcroft, who looked like he was near death, sort of puffed up his chest,” Goldsmith later recalls. “All of a sudden, energy and color came into his face, and he said that he didn’t appreciate them coming to visit him under those circumstances, that he had concerns about the matter they were asking about and that, in any event, he wasn’t the attorney general at the moment; Jim Comey was. He actually gave a two-minute speech, and I was sure at the end of it he was going to die. It was the most amazing scene I’ve ever witnessed.” As Gonzales and Card leave the room, Goldsmith will recall, “Mrs. Ashcroft, who obviously couldn’t believe what she saw happening to her sick husband, looked at Gonzales and Card as they walked out of the room and stuck her tongue out at them. She had no idea what we were discussing, but this sweet-looking woman sticking out her tongue was the ultimate expression of disapproval. It captured the feeling in the room perfectly.” [New York Times Magazine, 9/9/2007] After Gonzales and Card leave the room, Comey asks Mueller to instruct the security detail not to let any more visitors into the room, except for family, without Mueller’s approval, apparently in order to keep Gonzales and Card from attempting to return. [US Department of Justice, 8/14/2007]
Cheney or Bush Behind Visit? - The hospital visit is sparked by at least two events: a meeting of White House officials a day earlier, where Vice President Dick Cheney attempted to push reluctant Justice Department officials to approve the surveillance program (see March 9, 2004), and Comey’s own refusal to certify the legality of the surveillance, as noted above. [Washington Post, 6/7/2007] Some believe that the timing of the incident shows that Cheney is the one who ordered Gonzales and Card to go to Ashcroft’s hospital room; Comey personally informed Cheney of his decision not to give his approval to the program. Speculation about Cheney’s ordering of the visit cannot be confirmed, [National Journal, 7/7/2007; National Journal, 8/16/2007] though the New York Times states flatly in an op-ed that “Vice President Dick Cheney sent Mr. Gonzales and [Card] to Mr. Ashcroft’s hospital room to get him to approve the wiretapping.” [New York Times, 7/29/2007] Three years later, Goldsmith will tell Congress that he believes Bush himself authorized the visit (see October 2, 2007).
Meeting in the White House - Minutes after the incident in Ashcroft’s hospital room, Card orders Comey to appear at a late-night meeting at the White House; Comey refuses to go alone, and pulls Solicitor General Theodore Olson from a dinner party to act as a witness to the meeting. “Mr. Card was very upset and demanded that I come to the White House immediately. After the conduct I had just witnessed, I would not meet with him without a witness present,” Comey will testify. “[Card] replied, ‘What conduct? We were just there to wish him well.’ And I said again, ‘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.’” On March 11, after an al-Qaeda bombing in Madrid kills over 200 people (see 7:37-7:42 a.m., March 11, 2004, Bush recertifies the program without the approval of the Justice Department. Comey responds by drafting a letter of resignation, effective March 12. “I couldn’t stay if the administration was going to engage in conduct that the Department of Justice had said had no legal basis,” he will testify. “I just simply couldn’t stay.” Comey is not the only one threatening to resign; he is joined by Ashcroft, Mueller, Ayres, Goldsmith, Justice Department official Patrick Philbin, and others, who all intend to resign en masse if Bush signs off on the surveillance program without Justice Department support. But Ayres persuades Comey to delay his resignation; in Comey’s words, Ayres “asked me something that meant a great deal to him, and that is that I not resign until Mr. Ashcroft was well enough to resign with me.” Instead of resigning on March 12, Bush meets separately with Comey and Mueller, and promises to make changes in the program (see March 12-Mid-2004). Those changes have never been disclosed, though some changes are later found to be the creation of a secret review court to oversee the surveillance court, and the clarification of what exactly constitutes “probable cause” for surveillance. Comey will testify,…“Director Mueller came to me and said that, ‘The president told me that the Department of Justice should get this where it wants to be—to do what the department thinks is right.’ And I took that mandate and set about to do that, and I accomplished that.” [Newsweek, 1/9/2006; National Public Radio, 5/15/2007; New York Times, 5/15/2007; Washington Post, 5/16/2007; PBS, 5/16/2007; Associated Press, 6/7/2007] Goldsmith recalls his surprise when Congress later approves the program and brings it somewhat under the supervision of the FISA court. “I was sure the government was going to melt down,” Goldsmith says in 2007. “No one anticipated they were going to reverse themselves.” [New York Times Magazine, 9/9/2007]
Did Gonzales Break the Law? - It is also possible that Gonzales and Card may have broken the law in discussing classified information in a public venue. “Executive branch rules require sensitive classified information to be discussed in specialized facilities that are designed to guard against the possibility that officials are being targeted for surveillance outside of the workplace,” says law professor Neal Katyal, a national security adviser under Bill Clinton. “The hospital room of a cabinet official is exactly the type of target ripe for surveillance by a foreign power. And the NSA program is particularly sensitive. One government official familiar with the program notes, “Since it’s that program, it may involve cryptographic information,” some of the most highly protected information in the intelligence community. The law governing disclosure of classified information is quite strict, and numerous government and military officials have been investigated for potential violations in the past. “It’s the one you worry about,” says the government official. Katyal says that if Gonzales did indeed break the law, the Justice Department cannot run any investigation into the matter: “The fact that you have a potential case against the Attorney General himself calls for the most scrupulous and independent of investigations.” Many others are dismayed and confused by the contradictions between the absolute secrecy surrounding the program, and Gonzales’s and Card’s willingness to openly discuss it in such an insecure location, and in front of witnesses not cleared to hear details about the program—including Ashcroft’s wife, who is present in the room while the officials seek her husband’s signature. Former NSA general counsel Elizabeth Parker says not enough is known about the meeting to be sure whether or not the law was broken. “Obviously things can be discussed in ways that don’t divulge highly classified information,” she says. “The real issue is what is it about this program that is so classified that can’t allow it to be discussed in a Congressional setting, even a closed Congressional hearing. In order to have confidence in what this program is all about, one needs to understand better what the approach is and how it affects the rights of American citizens.”
'Horrible' Judgment - John Martin, who oversaw Justice’s counterintelligence division for 26 years, calls Gonzales’s and Card’s attempt to override Comey’s authority as acting attorney general as more than just “bad judgment.” Martin calls their judgement “horrible…they both knew or should have known that the Attorney General while he was so incapacitated had delegated his power to his deputy Jim Comey. Comey’s actions were heroic under the circumstances.” [Time, 5/17/2007]
Snow Dismisses Concerns - In May 2007, after Comey’s testimony to the Senate hits the media, White House press secretary Tony Snow dismisses any concerns about the inappropriateness of Gonzales’s and Card’s pressuring of Ashcroft in his hospital room, and skips over the fact that Comey, not Ashcroft, had the final authority of the Attorney General at the time. “Because he had an appendectomy, his brain didn’t work?” Snow will say of Ashcroft. “Jim Comey can talk about whatever reservations he may have had. But the fact is that there were strong protections in there, this program has saved lives and it’s vital for national security and furthermore has been reformed in a bipartisan way.” Judiciary Committee member Charles Schumer (D-NY) has a different take on the incident: “What happened in that hospital room crystallized Mr. Gonzales’ view about the rule of law: that he holds it in minimum low regard.” [Associated Press, 6/7/2007] Senate Democrats are preparing to introduce a resolution of no-confidence against Gonzales. [Time, 5/17/2007]

Entity Tags: National Security Agency, George W. Bush, Jack Goldsmith, James B. Comey Jr., John Ashcroft, Elizabeth Parker, Janet Ashcroft, Richard (“Dick”) Cheney, John Martin, David Ayres, Alberto R. Gonzales, Andrew Card, US Department of Justice, Charles Schumer, Theodore (“Ted”) Olson, Tony Snow, Robert S. Mueller III, Senate Judiciary Committee, Patrick F. Philbin, Neal Katyal

Timeline Tags: Civil Liberties

Multiple bombs destroyed this train in Madrid, Spain.Multiple bombs destroyed this train in Madrid, Spain. [Source: Rafa Roa/ Cover/ Corbis] (click image to enlarge)At about 7:40 a.m., four trains are bombed in Madrid, Spain, killing 191 people and injuring about 1,800 more. These are not suicide bombings, but were set by cell phone timers. Basque separatists are initially blamed, but evidence later points to people loosely associated with al-Qaeda. It will later be reported that 34 out of the 40 main people suspected or arrested for involvement in the bombings were under surveillance in Spain prior to the bombings (see Shortly Before March 11, 2004). Most of the bombers had never been to any training camps. In 2006, Spanish investigators will announce that the bombings were inspired by al-Qaeda, but not ordered or funded by al-Qaeda’s leadership. Specifically, the bombers are said to have been inspired by a speech allegedly given by Osama bin Laden in October 2003 (see October 19, 2003). [New Yorker, 7/26/2004; Associated Press, 3/9/2006] However, there will also be evidence against this that will not be refuted. For instance, the investigators will claim that all the key participants are either dead or in jail, but a number of them remain free overseas. For example, Amer el-Azizi is implicated in the Madrid bombings (see Before March 11, 2004), and he has links to well-known al-Qaeda figures such as Khalid Shaikh Mohammed (see (November 2001)), Ramzi bin al-Shibh (see Before July 8, 2001), and Zacarias Moussaoui (see Before August 16, 2001). In late 2002 or early 2003, el-Azizi is said to have met with Serhane Abdelmajid Fakhet, one of the key bombers, to discuss a bombing. He reportedly gave Fakhet permission to stage a bombing in the name of al-Qaeda, but it is unclear if he gave any funding or other assistance. [Associated Press, 4/10/2004; New Yorker, 7/26/2004] There are suggestions that el-Azizi was protected by Spanish intelligence (see Shortly After November 21, 2001), so the government may not be eager to highlight his involvement. Fakhet, considered one of the three masterminds of the bombings, may have been a government informant (see Shortly After October 2003). Many of the other plotters also appear to have been informants, and almost all the plotters were under surveillance before the bombings (see Shortly Before March 11, 2004). Former counterterrorism “tsar” Richard Clarke will say later in the month: “If we catch [bin Laden] this summer, which I expect, it’s two years too late. Because during those two years when forces were diverted to Iraq… al-Qaeda has metamorphosized into a hydra-headed organization with cells that are operating autonomously like the cells that operated in Madrid recently.” [USA Today, 3/28/2004] It will be noted that the 9/11 terrorist attacks in the US and the Madrid train bombings are separated by a total of 911 days. [MSNBC, 3/19/2004; Bloomberg, 4/22/2005]

Entity Tags: Osama bin Laden, Amer el-Azizi, Al-Qaeda, Richard A. Clarke, Serhane Abdelmajid Fakhet

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline

After senior Justice Department officials object to the possible illegality of the National Security Agency’s secret domestic surveillance program, and refuse to sign off on its continued use, the program is suspended for several months while Justice Department officials conduct a secret audit of the program. Attorney General John Ashcroft will recertify the program at the end of the month (see Late March, 2004). The suspension is prompted by acting Attorney General James Comey’s refusal to approve the program when it comes up for its regular 45-day review, and a subsequent late-night hospital visit by White House officials Andrew Card and Alberto Gonzales to the hospital room of Attorney General John Ashcroft, where they unsuccessfully attempt to pressure Ashcroft, recuperating from surgery, to overrule Comey and approve the program (see March 10-12, 2004). Bush himself has personally reauthorized the program over 30 times since its inception after the 9/11 attacks (see Early 2002), and reauthorizes it himself after Comey and Ashcroft refuse to give it their approval. This reauthorization prompts a threat of mass resignations by Justice Department officials unless the program is brought under increased oversight. Bush will allow the Justice Department to recommend changes to the program, though those changes have never been made public. The Justice Department audits a selection of cases to see how the NSA is running the program, scrutinizing how NSA officials determine that they have probable cause to wiretap US citizens’ phones and e-mail accounts. The results of that audit have not been made public. When the program was first authorized by Bush’s executive order in early 2002, it was so secret that then-Deputy Attorney General Larry Thompson, who was active in most of the government’s most highly classified counterterrorism operations, was not given access to the program. That decision, among other elements of the program, led many Justice Department officials to worry that the program was operating outside of the Constitution and without proper oversight. Comey, Thompson’s successor, was eventually given authorization to take part in the program and to review intelligence data produced by it. Justice Department officials say that Comey takes part in overseeing the reforms that are put into place during the current audit. However, those reforms do not restrict the NSA’s authority to independently choose its eavesdropping targets, and NSA shift supervisors have the authority to decide for themselves whether there is enough evidence against a US citizen to warrant a secret wiretap. No one at the Justice Department or in the White House needs to be consulted before a wiretap is put into place. [New York Times, 12/31/2005]

Entity Tags: US Department of Justice, National Security Agency, Larry D. Thompson, Associated Press, James B. Comey Jr., John Ashcroft, Alberto R. Gonzales, George W. Bush, Andrew Card

Timeline Tags: Civil Liberties

Attorney General John Ashcroft recertifies the NSA’s warrantless wiretapping program as being within the law, three weeks after he and his deputy, James Comey, refused to certify it. The program had come under question in early 2004, when Jack Goldsmith, the head of the Justice Department’s Office of Legal Counsel, wrote to Ashcroft and Comey expressing his doubts about the program’s legality (see September 9, 2007). For those three weeks, the program operated without Justice Department approval; President Bush personally recertified it himself, though it was suspended and subjected to an internal review (see March 12-Mid-2004). Ashcroft had previously refused to recertify the program while recuperating from surgery, despite pressure from White House officials Alberto Gonzales and Andrew Card (see March 10-12, 2004). Ashcroft, Comey, Goldsmith, and other Justice Department officials had even threatened to resign en masse if Bush recertified the program without their department’s support; Bush promised to revamp the program to address Ashcroft and Comey’s objections to the program, though what those changes are remains unclear. [Boston Globe, 5/16/2007; Associated Press, 6/7/2007]

Entity Tags: Andrew Card, Alberto R. Gonzales, George W. Bush, Jack Goldsmith, National Security Agency, James B. Comey Jr., US Department of Justice, John Ashcroft

Timeline Tags: Civil Liberties

Jack Goldsmith, once considered a rising star in the Bush administration (see October 6, 2003), resigns under fire from his position as chief of the Justice Department’s Office of Legal Counsel (OLC). In his nine-month tenure, Goldsmith fought against the administration’s warrantless wiretapping program, its advocacy of torture, and its policy of extrajudicial detention and trial for terror suspects. Goldsmith will not discuss his objections to the administration’s policy initiatives until September 2007, when he will give interviews to a variety of media sources in anticipation of the publication of his book, The Terror Presidency. Goldsmith led a small, in-house revolt of administration lawyers against what they considered to be the constitutional excesses of the legal policies advocated by the administration in its war on terrorism. “I was disgusted with the whole process and fed up and exhausted,” he will recall. Goldsmith chooses to remain quiet about his resignation, and as a result, his silence will be widely misinterpreted by media, legal, and administration observers. Some even feel that Goldsmith should be investigated for his supposed role in drafting the torture memos (see January 9, 2002, August 1, 2002, and December 2003-June 2004) that he had actually opposed. “It was a nightmare,” Goldsmith will recall. “I didn’t say anything to defend myself, except that I didn’t do the things I was accused of.” [New York Times Magazine, 9/9/2007] Goldsmith will not leave until the end of July, and will take a position with the Harvard University Law School. Unlike many other Justice Department officials, he will not be offered a federal judgeship, having crossed swords with White House lawyers too many times. [Savage, 2007, pp. 191]

Entity Tags: US Department of Justice, Office of Legal Counsel (DOJ), Jack Goldsmith

Timeline Tags: Civil Liberties

Referring to the recent appointment of former White House counsel Alberto Gonzales as US Attorney General (see November 10, 2004), retired chief judge of the Army Court of Appeals Brigadier General James Cullen says, “When you encounter a person who is willing to twist the law… even though for perhaps good reasons, you have to say you’re really undermining the law itself.” [Village Voice, 11/29/2004]

Entity Tags: James Cullen, Alberto R. Gonzales

Timeline Tags: Torture of US Captives, Civil Liberties

The Justice Department issues a secret opinion that countermands and contradicts the administration’s official policy that torture is “abhorrent” and will not be practiced by US military or law enforcement officials (see December 30, 2004). The secret opinion is, the New York Times writes two years later while publicly revealing its existence, “an expansive endorsement of the harshest interrogation techniques ever used by the Central Intelligence Agency.” The opinion gives explicit authorization to abuse detainees with a combination of physical and psychological abuse, including head-slapping, stress positioning, simulated drowning (“waterboarding”), and prolonged exposure to intense cold. New attorney general Alberto Gonzales (see November 10, 2004) approves the memo over the objections of deputy attorney general James Comey, himself preparing to leave the Justice Department after a series of battles over the legality of torture and the domestic surveillance program (see March 10-12, 2004). Comey says at the time that everyone at the department will be “ashamed” of the new opinion once the world learns of it. [New York Times, 10/4/2007]

Entity Tags: US Department of Justice, Alberto R. Gonzales, Central Intelligence Agency, New York Times

Timeline Tags: Torture of US Captives, Complete 911 Timeline, Civil Liberties

Attorney General Alberto Gonzales and NSA chief Lieutenant General Michael Hayden conduct their own “briefing” on the recently revealed NSA wiretapping program (see December 15, 2005) with the White House press corps. Gonzales and Hayden make the following points:
bullet Gonzales says that he will not discuss the internal workings of the still-classified program, only what he calls its “legal underpinnings.”
bullet He claims that the program, which he calls “the most classified program that exists in the United States government,” is legal because President Bush authorized it, and says that the idea that “the United States is somehow spying on American citizens” is wrong: it is “[v]ery, very important to understand that one party to the communication has to be outside the United States.”
bullet He says that for the NSA to eavesdrop on a US citizen’s telephone or e-mail communications, “we have to have a reasonable basis to conclude that one party to the communication is a member of al-Qaeda, affiliated with al-Qaeda, or a member of an organization affiliated with al-Qaeda, or working in support of al-Qaeda.” The wiretapping program is an essential part of the administration’s war against terror, he says.
bullet He goes on to claim that “the authorization to use force, which was passed by the Congress in the days following September 11th, constitutes” legal grounds for “this kind of signals intelligence.” [White House, 12/19/2005] The White House signed Congress’s Authorization to Use Military Force (AUMF) into law on September 18, 2001 (see September 14-18, 2001. [White House, 9/18/2001]
Hayden Claims Supreme Court Backing - While he admits that the Congressional authorization to use force against international terrorism does not specifically mention any kind of electronic surveillance, he refers the listeners to the Supreme Court case concerning alleged US terrorist Yaser Esam Hamdi (see June 28, 2004), in which the Court ruled that Hamdi had the legal right to challenge his detention. “[T]he United States government took the position that Congress had authorized that detention in the authorization to use force, even though the authorization to use force never mentions the word ‘detention.’ And the Supreme Court, a plurality written by Justice O’Connor agreed. She said, it was clear and unmistakable that the Congress had authorized the detention of an American citizen captured on the battlefield as an enemy combatant for the remainder—the duration of the hostilities. So even though the authorization to use force did not mention the word, ‘detention,’ she felt that detention of enemy soldiers captured on the battlefield was a fundamental incident of waging war, and therefore, had been authorized by Congress when they used the words, ‘authorize the President to use all necessary and appropriate force.’ For the same reason, we believe signals intelligence is even more a fundamental incident of war, and we believe has been authorized by the Congress. And even though signals intelligence is not mentioned in the authorization to use force, we believe that the Court would apply the same reasoning to recognize the authorization by Congress to engage in this kind of electronic surveillance.”
Bush 'Very Concerned' With Protecting Civil Liberties - Gonzales insists, Bush “is very concerned about the protection of civil liberties, and that’s why we’ve got strict parameters, strict guidelines in place out at NSA to ensure that the program is operating in a way that is consistent with the President’s directives.” He adds, “[W]e feel comfortable that this surveillance is consistent with requirements of the Fourth Amendment. The touchstone of the Fourth Amendment is reasonableness, and the Supreme Court has long held that there are exceptions to the warrant requirement in—when special needs outside the law enforcement arena. And we think that that standard has been met here.”
Wiretapping Essential in Catching Terrorists - Hayden reiterates how important the wiretapping is to catching terrorists and stopping potential attacks against US targets, though he and Gonzales both refuse to say what, if any, terrorist plots or what terror suspects might have been captured through the NSA wiretapping program. Hayden does say, “This program has been successful in detecting and preventing attacks inside the United States.…I can say unequivocally, all right, that we have got information through this program that would not otherwise have been available,” though he refuses to cite specifics. He admits that there have been some errors in surveilling innocent US citizens, though he refuses to give any details, and says those errors were quickly corrected.
Administration Not Required to Go Through FISA - Gonzales, who is the main speaker in the briefing, reiterates that while the administration continues to seek warrants from the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance (FISA) court, “we are not legally required to do, in this particular case, because the law requires that we—FISA requires that we get a court order, unless authorized by a statute, and we believe that authorization has occurred.” He justifies the administration’s refusal to use the FISA court for obtaining warrants by insisting that NSA officials “tell me that we don’t have the speed and the agility that we need, in all circumstances, to deal with this new kind of enemy. You have to remember that FISA was passed by the Congress in 1978. There have been tremendous advances in technology… since then.” Hayden adds, “I don’t think anyone could claim that FISA was envisaged as a tool to cover armed enemy combatants in preparation for attacks inside the United States. And that’s what this authorization under the President is designed to help us do.”
'Balancing' of Civil Liberties, National Security - Hayden says the warrantless wiretapping program is part of “a balancing between security and liberty,” a more “aggressive” operation “than would be traditionally available under FISA. It is also less intrusive. It deals only with international calls. It is generally for far shorter periods of time. And it is not designed to collect reams of intelligence, but to detect and warn and prevent about attacks. And, therefore, that’s where we’ve decided to draw that balance between security and liberty.”
Media Leaks Damaging to National Security - Gonzales refuses to talk about when any members of Congress were briefed on the program or what they were told, but he does imply that there will be some sort of leak investigation as to how the New York Times found out about the program: “[T]his is really hurting national security, this has really hurt our country, and we are concerned that a very valuable tool has been compromised. As to whether or not there will be a leak investigation, we’ll just have to wait and see.”
No Evidence of Compromised National Security - When asked whether he can cite any evidence that the revelation of the program’s existence has actually compromised anything—“Don’t you assume that the other side thinks we’re listening to them? I mean, come on,” one reporter says—Gonzales responds, rather confusingly, “I think the existence of this program, the confirmation of the—I mean, the fact that this program exists, in my judgment, has compromised national security, as the President indicated on Saturday.”
Easier to Sidestep FISA Instead of Seek Congressional Approval - He does admit that the administration decided to sidestep the FISA court entirely instead of attempt to work with Congress to rewrite the FISA statutes because “we were advised that that would be difficult, if not impossible” to amend the law to the White House’s satisfaction. Gonzales says those who are concerned about the program being excessively intrusive or a threat to American civil liberties simply “don’t understand the specifics of the program, they don’t understand the strict safeguards within the program.… Part of the reason for this press brief today is to have you help us educate the American people and the American Congress about what we’re doing and the legal basis for what we’re doing.” He adds that any legal experts who believe the program is illegal are basing their judgments “on very limited information.”
Tough Questioning - One reporter asks an unusually tough series of questions to Gonzales: “Do you think the government has the right to break the law?”, to which Gonzales replies, “Absolutely not. I don’t believe anyone is above the law.” The reporter then says, “You have stretched this resolution for war into giving you carte blanche to do anything you want to do,” to which Gonzales replies cryptically, “Well, one might make that same argument in connection with detention of American citizens, which is far more intrusive than listening into a conversation.” The reporter insists, “You’re never supposed to spy on Americans,” and Gonzales deflects the responsibility for the decision back onto the Supreme Court.
Administration Will Tell Nation What It Needs to Know - Gonzales says the administration has no intention of releasing any of the classified legal opinions underpinning the program, and this press briefing is one of the methods by which the administration will “educat[e] the American people…and the Congress” to give them what they need to know about the program. [White House, 12/19/2005]

Entity Tags: White House press corps, Michael Hayden, Al-Qaeda, National Security Agency, Alberto R. Gonzales, George W. Bush, Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court

Timeline Tags: Civil Liberties

Attorney General Alberto Gonzales testifies before the Senate Judiciary Committee that the new “reasonable belief” standard for wiretaps is just another term for “probable cause.” Gonzales’s claim is legally false. The difference between the two standards is significant: while administration officials must present relatively compelling evidence that a US citizen has ties to US-designated terrorist organizations or is involved in terror plots to meet the “probable cause” standard for authorizing electronic surveillance, the “reasonable belief” standard is far more lenient. Gonzales also repeats for the committee President Bush’s claims that the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court (FISC) isn’t “agile” or “nimble” enough to assist the Justice Department and the US intelligence community in finding and arresting terrorists, a claim that FISC judges find baffling. FISC routinely approves almost all warrant requests, and FISA allows the government to conduct surveillance for 72 hours before even applying for a warrant. Additionally, FISC has consistently worked with the government to expedite requests and streamline the warrant-issuance procedure. For example, in March 2002, when the FBI and Pakistani police arrested al-Qaeda operative Abu Zubaida, agents found that almost all of Zubaida’s contacts were already being monitored under FISA warrants or through international surveillance efforts (see March 28, 2002). One government official says that the Zubaida discovery gave them “some comfort” that surveillance efforts were working as needed. [Washington Post, 2/9/2006]

Entity Tags: Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court, Abu Zubaida, Al-Qaeda, Alberto R. Gonzales, US Department of Justice, Senate Judiciary Committee

Timeline Tags: Civil Liberties

Attorney General Alberto Gonzales says he will sharply limit the testimony of former attorney general John Ashcroft and former deputy attorney general James Comey before the Senate Judiciary Committee. The committee is preparing for hearings on the warrantless wiretapping program authorized by President Bush several months after the 9/11 attacks (see Early 2002). Gonzales says that “privilege issues” will circumscribe both men’s testimony: “As a general matter, we would not be disclosing internal deliberations, internal recommendations. That’s not something we’d do as a general matter, whether or not you’re a current member of the administration or a former member of the administration.” He adds, “You have to wonder what could Messrs. Comey and Ashcroft add to the discussion.” Comey was an observer to the late-night visit by Gonzales and then-White House chief of staff Andrew Card to Ashcroft’s hospital room, where Gonzales and Card unsuccessfully attempted to persuade the heavily sedated Ashcroft to reauthorize the program after Comey, as acting attorney general, determined the program was likely illegal (see March 10-12, 2004). Committee chairman Arlen Specter (R-PA) says he has asked Gonzales for permission to call Comey and Ashcroft to testify, but has not yet received an answer. Specter says, “I’m not asking about internal memoranda or any internal discussions or any of those kind of documents which would have a chilling effect.” Specter will ask Ashcroft and Comey to talk about the legal issues at play in the case, including the events surrounding the hospital visit. In the House Judiciary Committee, Republicans block an attempt by Democrats to ask Gonzales to provide legal opinions and other documents related to the program. [Washington Post, 2/16/2006]

Entity Tags: Andrew Card, Alberto R. Gonzales, Arlen Specter, George W. Bush, John Ashcroft, House Judiciary Committee, James B. Comey Jr., Senate Judiciary Committee

Timeline Tags: Civil Liberties

Attorney General Alberto Gonzales stuns Senate Judiciary Committee questioners when he says that the fundamental right of habeas corpus, the right for an accused person to go to court and challenge his or her imprisonment, is not protected by the Constitution. Gonzales, in response to questions by Arlen Specter (R-PA), says: “The Constitution doesn’t say every individual in the United States or every citizen is hereby granted or assured the right of habeas.… There is no express grant of habeas in the Constitution. There’s a prohibition against taking it away.” Specter is incredulous, asking how the Constitution could bar the suspension of a right that didn’t exist—a right, he notes, that was first recognized in medieval England as protection against the king’s power to send subjects to royal dungeons. Gonzales does say that habeas corpus is “one of our most cherished rights,” and admits that Congress has protected that right. But Gonzales refuses to acknowledge that the Constitution itself protects the right. If the Constitution does not, then Congress would be able to limit or nullify habeas corpus rights if it so chooses. Congress has not passed such an all-encompassing law yet, but it has passed a law, the Military Commissions Act, that strips the courts of any authority to hear habeas corpus suits filed by “enemy combatants.”
Experts Fear Government Encroachment on Civil Liberties - But constitutional experts on both the left and the right say that Gonzales’s position implies a far broader power. Erwin Chemerinsky, a law professor who has frequently criticized the Bush administration, says: “This is the key protection that people have if they’re held in violation of the law. If there’s no habeas corpus, and if the government wants to pick you or me off the street and hold us indefinitely, how do we get our release?” Former Reagan Justice Department official Douglas Kmiec agrees. If Gonzales’s view prevails, Kmiec says, “one of the basic protections of human liberty against the powers of the state would be embarrassingly absent from our constitutional system.” A Justice Department spokesman says that Gonzales is only noting the absence of a specific constitutional guarantee for habeas corpus, and acknowledges that the Supreme Court has declared “the Constitution protects [habeas corpus] as it existed at common law” in England. These rights, the spokesman says, do not apply to foreigners held as enemy combatants. [San Francisco Chronicle, 1/24/2007]
Habeas Protected in Constitution - The right of habeas corpus is clear in Article I, Section 9, Clause 2 of the Constitution: “The Privilege of the Writ of Habeas Corpus shall not be suspended, unless when in Cases of Rebellion or Invasion the public Safety may require it.” [Think Progress, 1/19/2007]
Expansion of Presidential Powers - Former Reagan Justice Department attorney Bruce Fein says that Gonzales’s stance on habeas corpus is an underpinning of the Bush administration’s attempt to advocate the “unitary executive” theory of presidential power. Gonzales’s statements contain a message: “Congress doesn’t have to let [judges] decide national security matters. It’s part of an attempt to create the idea that during conflicts, the three branches of government collapse into one, and it is the president.” [San Francisco Chronicle, 1/24/2007]

Entity Tags: Senate Judiciary Committee, Military Commissions Act, George W. Bush, Patrick J. Leahy, Erwin Chemerinsky, Central Intelligence Agency, Alberto R. Gonzales, Arlen Specter, Douglas Kmiec, Bush administration (43), Bruce Fein

Timeline Tags: Civil Liberties

Former Deputy Attorney General James Comey delivers dramatic testimony before the Senate Judiciary Committee about the March 2004 attempts by then-White House counsel Alberto Gonzales and then-White House chief of staff Andrew Card to pressure a seriously ill John Ashcroft, then the attorney general, to certify the legality of the Bush/NSA domestic wiretapping program (see March 10-12, 2004, Early 2002). Comey testifies that even though he, who at the time has the full authority of the attorney general during Ashcroft’s illness, and Ashcroft both refused to authorize the program due to their belief that the program is illegal, President Bush will certify the program anyway. Only a threatened mass resignation by Ashcroft, Comey, FBI director Robert Mueller, and other senior officials will persuade Bush, weeks later, to make changes in the program that bring it somewhat closer to operating within the law. [Think Progress, 5/15/2007; Washington Post, 5/16/2007]
Bush Sent Gonzales, Card to Ashcroft's Hospital Room, Comey Believes - Comey says that while he cannot be certain, he believes Gonzales and Card went to Ashcroft’s hospital room on orders from President Bush: “I have some recollection that the call was from the president himself, but I don’t know that for sure,” he tells the committee. His major concern in heading off Gonzales and Card at the hospital, Comey testifies, is 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 says he was “stunned” by how forceful Ashcroft was in refusing to comply with Gonzales and Card’s directive to sign the reauthorization.
Gonzales a 'Loyal Bushie' - Committee members are openly contemptuous of Gonzales’s actions, and question his fitness to serve 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,” says Charles Schumer (D-NY). Arlen Specter (R-PA) is hardly less critical. “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 says. “And beyond Mr. Gonzales’s decision, it’s a matter for the president as to whether the president will retain the attorney general or not.” [New York Times, 5/15/2007]
Not a 'Team Player' - Interestingly, President Bush views Comey with disdain because Comey isn’t what Bush calls a “team player;” Bush earlier tagged Comey, who resigned his position in 2005 and who previously tangled with the White House over its embrace of torture for terrorist suspects, with the derisive nickname “Cuomo,” after the former Democratic governor of New York, Mario Cuomo, famous for vacillating over whether to run for the presidency in the 1980s. The White House denies the nickname. [Newsweek, 1/9/2006] Comey is not popular in the White House in part because of his 2003 appointment of special prosecutor Patrick Fitzgerald to investigate Vice President Dick Cheney’s chief of staff, Lewis “Scooter” Libby, for perjury connected to the outing of CIA agent Valerie Plame Wilson (see Shortly after February 13, 2002). And after the 9/11 attacks, Comey challenged Cheney’s assertions that the use of torture and other “war on terror” policies were legal (see January 9, 2002). Comey says he has been prepared to testify about the Ashcroft hospital visit for three years, but never did until now, because “Nobody ever asked.…I’ve never been in a forum where I was obligated to answer the question. Short of that, it was not something I was going to volunteer.” Card says that his actions at the hospital earned him bureaucratic punishment from Card. After Gonzales became attorney general, Ashcroft’s then-chief of staff, Kyle Sampson, told Comey that Gonzales’s “vision” was to merge the deputy’s office with Gonzales’s own office, stripping Comey of much of his autonomy and reducing him, in essence, to a staff member. Comey refused to cooperate. “You may want to try that with the next deputy attorney general,” Comey told Sampson. “But it’s not going to work with me.” [US News and World Report, 5/20/2007]

Entity Tags: Robert S. Mueller III, Valerie Plame Wilson, Richard (“Dick”) Cheney, Senate Judiciary Committee, D. Kyle Sampson, Patrick J. Fitzgerald, Alberto R. Gonzales, Andrew Card, John Ashcroft, James B. Comey Jr., George W. Bush

Timeline Tags: Civil Liberties

Attorney General Alberto Gonzales testifies before the Senate Judiciary Committee concerning his 2004 visit to then-Attorney General John Ashcroft’s hospital room to pressure Ashcroft into signing a recertification of the NSA’s secret domestic wiretapping program (see March 10-12, 2004). Former Deputy Attorney General James Comey has already testified before the same committee (see May 15, 2007) that Gonzales, then White House counsel, and then-chief of staff Andrew Card tried to pressure Ashcroft, then just hours out of emergency surgery, to overrule Comey, who was acting attorney general during Ashcroft’s incapacitation. Gonzales and Card were unsuccessful, and Comey, along with Ashcroft, FBI director Robert Mueller, and others, threatened to resign if the program wasn’t brought into line with the Constitution. But today Gonzales tells a quite different story. Gonzales tells the committee that he and Card only went to Ashcroft because Congress itself wanted the program to continue (see March 10, 2004), and he and Card merely intended to “inform” Ashcroft about Comey’s decision, and not to try to get Ashcroft to overrule Comey. Many of the senators on the committee are amazed at Gonzales’s contention that Congress wanted Comey overruled. And they are equally appalled at Gonzales’s seemingly cavalier explanation that he and Card were not, as Comey has testified, trying to pressure a sick man who “wasn’t fully competent to make that decision” to overrule his deputy in such a critical matter: Gonzales’s contention that “there are no rules” governing such a matter does not carry much weight with the committee. Many senators, including Dianne Feinstein (D-CA), simply do not believe Gonzales’s explanations; she says that to secure Ashcroft’s reversal was “clearly the only reason why you would go see the attorney general in intensive care.” Gonzales replies that he and Card were operating under what he calls “extraordinary circumstances,” in which “we had just been advised by the Congressional leadership, go forward anyway, and we felt it important that the attorney general, general Ashcroft, be advised of those facts.” Only later in the hearing does Sheldon Whitehouse (D-RI) force Gonzales to admit that he was indeed carrying a reauthorization order from the White House, something that he likely would not have had if he were not there to secure Ashcroft’s signature. [TPM Muckraker, 7/24/2007] Committee chairman Patrick Leahy (D-VT) says in his opening statement that Gonzales has “a severe credibility problem,” and continues, “It is time for the attorney general to fully answer these questions and to acknowledge and begin taking responsibility for the acute crisis of leadership that has gripped the department under his watch.” He goes on to note that the Bush administration has squandered the committee’s trust “with a history of civil liberty abuses and cover-ups.” Gonzales garners little trust with his own opening, which states in part, “I will not tolerate any improper politicization of this department. I will continue to make efforts to ensure that my staff and others within the department have the appropriate experience and judgment so that previous mistakes will not be repeated. I have never been one to quit.” [USA Today, 7/24/2007]
'I Don't Trust You' - Arlen Specter (R-PA) is another senator who questions Gonzales’s veracity. “Assuming you’re leveling with us on this occasion,” he says, “…I want to move to the point about how can you get approval from Ashcroft for anything when he’s under sedation and incapacitated—for anything.” Gonzales replies, “Senator, obviously there was concern about General Ashcroft’s condition. And we would not have sought nor did we intend to get any approval from General Ashcroft if in fact he wasn’t fully competent to make that decision. But General—there are no rules governing whether or not General Ashcroft can decide, ‘I’m feeling well enough to make this decision.’” Gonzales adds that the fact that Comey was acting attorney general was essentially irrelevant, as Ashcroft “could always reclaim that. There are no rules.” “While he’s in the hospital under sedation?” Specter asks incredulously. [TPM Muckraker, 7/24/2007] “It seems to me that it is just decimating, Mr. Attorney General, as to both your judgment and your credibility. And the list goes on and on.” [USA Today, 7/24/2007] After Gonzales’s restatement of his version of events, Specter observes tartly, “Not making any progress here. Let me go to another topic.” Gonzales goes on to say that he and Card visited Ashcroft hours after they had informed the so-called “Gang of Eight,” the eight Congressional leaders who are sometimes briefed on the surveillance program, that Comey did not intend to recertify the program as legal, “despite the fact the department had repeatedly approved those activities over a period of over two years. We informed the leadership that Mr. Comey felt the president did not have the authority to authorize these activities, and we were there asking for help, to ask for emergency legislation.” Gonzales claims that the Congressional leaders felt that the program should be reauthorized with or without Comey’s approval, and that since it would be “very, very difficult to obtain legislation without compromising this program…we should look for a way ahead.” Gonzales confirms what Comey has already said, that Ashcroft refused to overrule Comey. “…I just wanted to put in context for this committee and the American people why Mr. Card and I went. It’s because we had an emergency meeting in the White House Situation Room, where the congressional leadership had told us, ‘Continue going forward with this very important intelligence activity.’” Feinstein is also obviously impatient with Gonzales’s testimony, saying, “And I listen to you. And nothing gets answered directly. Everything is obfuscated. You can’t tell me that you went up to see Mr. Comey for any other reason other than to reverse his decision about the terrorist surveillance program. That’s clearly the only reason you would go to see the attorney general in intensive care.” Gonzales says that he and Card were only interested in carrying out the will of the Congressional leadership: “Clearly, if we had been confident and understood the facts and was inclined to do so, yes, we would have asked him to reverse [Comey’s] position.” When Feinstein confronts Gonzales on the contradictions between his own testimony’s and Comey’s, Gonzales retreats, claiming that the events “happened some time ago and people’s recollections are going to differ,” but continues to claim that the prime purpose of the visit was merely to inform Ashcroft of Comey’s resistance to reauthorizing the program. Like some of his fellows, Leahy is reluctant to just come out and call Gonzales a liar, but he interrupts Gonzales’s tortured explanations to ask, “Why not just be fair to the truth? Just be fair to the truth and answer the question.” [TPM Muckraker, 7/24/2007] Leahy, out of patience with Gonzales’s evasions and misstatements, finally says flatly, “I don’t trust you.” [CNN, 7/24/2007]
Whitehouse Grills Gonzales - Whitehouse wants to know if the program “was run with or without the approval of the Department of Justice but without the knowledge and approval of the attorney general of the United States, if that was ever the case.” Gonzales says he believes the program ran with Ashcroft’s approval for two years before the hospital incident: “From the very—from the inception, we believed that we had the approval of the attorney general of the United States for these activities, these particular activities.” It is now that Gonzales admits, under Whitehouse’s questioning, that he indeed “had in my possession a document to reauthorize the program” when he entered Ashcroft’s hospital room. He denies knowing anything about Mueller directing Ashcroft’s security detail not to let him and Card throw Comey out of the hospital room, as Comey previously testified. Whitehouse says, “I mean, when the FBI director considers you so nefarious that FBI agents had to be ordered not to leave you alone with the stricken attorney general, that’s a fairly serious challenge.” Gonzales replies that Mueller may not have known that he was merely following the wishes of the Congressional leadership in going to Ashcroft for reauthorization: “The director, I’m quite confident, did not have that information when he made those statements, if he made those statements.” [TPM Muckraker, 7/24/2007; CNN, 7/24/2007]
'Deceiving This Committee' - Charles Schumer (D-NY), one of Gonzales’s harshest critics, perhaps comes closest to accusing Gonzales of out-and-out lying. Schumer doesn’t believe Gonzales’s repeated assertions that there was little or no dissent among White House and Justice Department officials about the anti-terrorism programs, and what little dissent there is has nothing to do with the domestic surveillance program. “How can you say you haven’t deceived the committee?” Schumer asks. Gonzales not only stands by his claims, but says that the visit to Ashcroft’s hospital bed was not directly related to the NSA program, but merely “about other intelligence activities.” He does not say what those other programs might be. An exasperated Schumer demands, “How can you say you should stay on as attorney general when we go through exercises like this? You want to be attorney general, you should be able to clarify it yourself.” [Associated Press, 7/24/2007] Specter does not believe Gonzales any more than Schumer does; he asks Gonzales tartly, “Mr. Attorney General, do you expect us to believe that?” [CNN, 7/24/2007] In his own questioning, Whitehouse says that he believes Gonzales is intentionally misleading the committee about which program caused dissent among administration officials. Gonzales retorts that he can’t go into detail in a public hearing, but offers to provide senators with more information in private meetings. [Associated Press, 7/24/2007] Gonzales’s supporters will later claim that Gonzales’s characterization of little or no dissent between the White House and the Justice Department is technically accurate, because of differences between the NSA’s warrantless wiretapping program and that agency’s data mining program, but Senate Democrats do not accept that explanation (see Early 2004, May 16, 2007).
Executive Privilege Undermines Congressional Oversight? - Specter asks Gonzales how there can be a constitutional government if the president claims executive privilege when Congress exerts its constitutional authority for oversight. Gonzales refuses to answer directly. “Senator, both the Congress and the president have constitutional authorities,” Gonzales says. “Sometimes they clash. In most cases, accommodations are reached.” “Would you focus on my question for just a minute, please?” Specter retorts. Gonzales then replies, “Senator, I’m not going to answer this question, because it does relate to an ongoing controversy in which I am recused,” eliciting a round of boos from the gallery. [CNN, 7/24/2007]
Mueller Will Contradict Gonzales - Mueller will roundly contradict Gonzales’s testimony, and affirm the accuracy of Comey’s testimony, both in his own testimony before Congress (see July 26, 2007) and in notes the FBI releases to the media (see August 16, 2007).
Impeach Gonzales for Perjury? - The New York Times writes in an op-ed published five days after Gonzales’s testimony, “As far as we can tell, there are three possible explanations for Mr. Gonzales’s talk about a dispute over other—unspecified—intelligence activities. One, he lied to Congress. Two, he used a bureaucratic dodge to mislead lawmakers and the public: the spying program was modified after Mr. Ashcroft refused to endorse it, which made it ‘different’ from the one Mr. Bush has acknowledged. The third is that there was more wiretapping than has been disclosed, perhaps even purely domestic wiretapping, and Mr. Gonzales is helping Mr. Bush cover it up. Democratic lawmakers are asking for a special prosecutor to look into Mr. Gonzales’s words and deeds. Solicitor General Paul Clement has a last chance to show that the Justice Department is still minimally functional by fulfilling that request. If that does not happen, Congress should impeach Mr. Gonzales.” [New York Times, 7/29/2007] A Washington Post editorial from May 2007 was hardly more favorable to Gonzales: “The dramatic details should not obscure the bottom line: the administration’s alarming willingness, championed by, among others, Vice President Cheney and his counsel, David Addington, to ignore its own lawyers. Remember, this was a Justice Department that had embraced an expansive view of the president’s inherent constitutional powers, allowing the administration to dispense with following the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act. Justice’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. Now, it emerges, they were willing to override Justice if need be. That Mr. Gonzales is now in charge of the department he tried to steamroll may be most disturbing of all.” [Washington Post, 5/16/2007]

Entity Tags: Senate Judiciary Committee, Washington Post, Robert S. Mueller III, Arlen Specter, Alberto R. Gonzales, Andrew Card, “Gang of Eight”, Paul Clement, Sheldon Whitehouse, New York Times, Dianne Feinstein, Patrick J. Leahy, Charles Schumer, Federal Bureau of Investigation, David S. Addington, John Ashcroft, National Security Agency, James B. Comey Jr.

Timeline Tags: Civil Liberties

New documents contradict Attorney General Alberto Gonzales’s recent sworn testimony before the Senate Judiciary Committee, indicating that Gonzales may have committed perjury before the panel.
Lied About Congressional Briefing - In testimony before the committee (see July 24, 2007), Gonzales told senators that a March 10, 2004 emergency briefing with the so-called “Gang of Eight,” comprised of the Republican and Democratic leaders of the two houses of Congress and the ranking members of both houses’ intelligence committees (see March 10, 2004), did not concern the controversial NSA warrantless domestic surveillance program, but instead was about other surveillance programs which he was not at liberty to discuss. But according to a four-page memo from the national intelligence director’s office, that briefing was indeed about the so-called “Terrorist Surveillance Program,” or TSP, as it is now being called by White House officials and some lawmakers. The memo is dated May 17, 2006, and addressed to then-Speaker of the House Dennis Hastert. It details “the classification of the dates, locations, and names of members of Congress who attended briefings on the Terrorist Surveillance Program,” wrote then-Director of National Intelligence John Negroponte. The DNI memo provides further evidence that Gonzales has not been truthful in his dealings with Congress, and gives further impetus to a possible perjury investigation by the Senate. So far, both Gonzales and Justice Department spokesmen have stood by his testimony. The nature of the March 2004 briefing is important because on that date, Gonzales and then-White House chief of staff Andrew Card tried to pressure then-Attorney General John Ashcroft, while Ashcroft was recuperating from emergency surgery in the hospital, to reauthorize the domestic wiretapping program over the objections of acting Attorney General James Comey, who had refused to sign off on the program due to its apparent illegality (see March 10-12, 2004). Comey’s own testimony before the Senate has already strongly contradicted Gonzales’s earlier testimonies and statements (see May 15, 2007). The entire imbroglio illustrates just how far from legality the NSA wiretapping program may be, and the controversy within the Justice Department it has produced. Gonzales flatly denied that the March 2004 briefing was about the NSA program, telling the panel, “The dissent related to other intelligence activities. The dissent was not about the terrorist surveillance program.”
Grilled By Senators - Senator Charles Schumer (D-NY) pressed Gonzales for clarification: “Not the TSP? Come on. If you say it’s about other, that implies not. Now say it or not.” Gonzales replied, “It was not. It was about other intelligence activities.” Today, with the DNI documents in hand, Schumer says, “It seemed clear to just about everyone on the committee that the attorney general was deceiving us when he said the dissent was about other intelligence activities and this memo is even more evidence that helps confirm our suspicions.” Other senators agree that Gonzales is not telling the truth. “There’s a discrepancy here in sworn testimony,” says committee chairman Patrick Leahy (D-VT). “We’re going to have to ask who’s telling the truth, who’s not.” And committee Democrats are not the only ones who find Gonzales’s testimony hard to swallow. Arlen Specter (R-PA) told Gonzales yesterday, “I do not find your testimony credible, candidly.” The “Gang of Eight” members disagree about the content of the March briefing. Democrats Nancy Pelosi, Jay Rockefeller, and Tom Daschle all say Gonzales’s testimony is inaccurate, with Rockefeller calling Gonzales’s testimony “untruthful.” But former House Intelligence chairman Porter Goss and former Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist, both Republicans, refuse to directly dispute Gonzales’s claims. [Associated Press, 7/25/2007]
Mueller Will Contradict Gonzales - Three weeks later, notes from FBI director Robert Mueller, also present at the Ashcroft meeting, further contradict Gonzales’s testimony (see August 16, 2007).

Entity Tags: National Security Agency, Patrick J. Leahy, Tom Daschle, Senate Judiciary Committee, US Department of Justice, Porter J. Goss, Nancy Pelosi, John Ashcroft, John D. Rockefeller, John Negroponte, Andrew Card, Arlen Specter, Bill Frist, Charles Schumer, “Gang of Eight”, James B. Comey Jr., Dennis Hastert, Alberto R. Gonzales

Timeline Tags: Civil Liberties

FBI Director Robert Mueller testifies before the House Judiciary Committee about the NSA’s warrantless wiretapping program (see Early 2002), which many believe to be illegal. Mueller directly contradicts testimony given the day before by Attorney General Alberto Gonzales (see July 24, 2007), where Gonzales claimed that “there has not been any serious disagreement about the program that the president has confirmed.” Mel Watt (D-NC) asks Mueller, “Can you confirm that you had some serious reservations about the warrantless wiretapping program that kind of led up to this?” Mueller replies, “Yes.” Later, Sheila Jackson-Lee (D-TX) asks about the now-notorious visit by Gonzales and then-chief of staff Andrew Card to then-Attorney General John Ashcroft’s hospital room, where they tried to pressure the heavily sedated Ashcroft to reauthorize the program (see March 10-12, 2004). Gonzales testified that he and Card visited Ashcroft to discuss “other intelligence matters,” and not the NSA surveillance program. Jackson-Lee asks, “Did you have an understanding that the conversation was on TSP?” referring to the current moniker of the NSA operation, the “Terrorist Surveillance Program.” Mueller replies, “I had an understanding that the discussion was on an NSA program, yes.” Jackson-Lee says, “I guess we use ‘TSP,’ we use ‘warrantless wiretapping,’ so would I be comfortable in saying that those were the items that were part of the discussion?” Mueller agrees: “The discussion was on a national NSA program that has been much discussed, yes.” [Speaker of the House, 7/26/2007; New York Times, 7/26/2007]

Entity Tags: House Judiciary Committee, Alberto R. Gonzales, Federal Bureau of Investigation, Sheila Jackson-Lee, Terrorist Surveillance Program, National Security Agency, Andrew Card, Mel Watt, John Ashcroft, Robert S. Mueller III

Timeline Tags: Civil Liberties

Notes made by FBI Director Robert Mueller about the 2004 attempt by then-White House counsel Alberto Gonzales and then-chief of staff Andrew Card to pressure ailing Attorney General John Ashcroft to reauthorize the secret NSA warrantless wiretapping program contradict Gonzales’s July testimony before the Senate Judiciary Committee about the events of that evening (see March 10-12, 2004 and July 24, 2007). Gonzales’s testimony was already at odds with previous testimony by former deputy attorney general James Comey (see May 15, 2007). Gonzales testified that Ashcroft was lucid and articulate, even though Ashcroft had had emergency surgery just hours before (see March 10-12, 2004), and he and Card had merely gone to Ashcroft’s hospital room to inform Ashcroft of Comey’s refusal to authorize the program (see May 15, 2007). But Mueller’s notes of the impromptu hospital room meeting, turned over to the House Judiciary Committee today, portray Ashcroft as “feeble,” “barely articulate,” and “stressed” during and after the confrontation with Gonzales and Card. [US Department of Justice, 8/16/2007; Washington Post, 8/17/2007; Associated Press, 8/17/2007] Mueller wrote that Ashcroft was “in no condition to see them, much less make decision [sic] to authorize continuation of the program.” Mueller’s notes confirm Comey’s testimony that Comey requested Mueller’s presence at the hospital to “witness” Ashcroft’s condition. [National Journal, 8/16/2007]
Mueller Directed FBI Agents to Protect Comey - The notes, five pages from Mueller’s daily log, also confirm Comey’s contention that Mueller had directed FBI agents providing security for Ashcroft at the hospital to ensure that Card and Gonzales not be allowed to throw Comey out of the meeting. Gonzales testified that he had no knowledge of such a directive. Mueller’s notes also confirm Comey’s testimony, which held that Ashcroft had refused to overrule Comey’s decision because he was too sick to resume his authority as Attorney General; Ashcroft had delegated that authority to Comey for the duration of his hospital stay. Gonzales replaced Ashcroft as attorney general for President Bush’s second term. Representative John Conyers (D-MI), chairman of the House Judiciary Committee, says that Mueller’s notes “confirm an attempt to goad a sick and heavily medicated Ashcroft to approve the warrantless surveillance program. Particularly disconcerting is the new revelation that the White House sought Mr. Ashcroft’s authorization for the surveillance program, yet refused to let him seek the advice he needed on the program.” (Ashcroft had previously complained that the White House’s insistence on absolute secrecy for the program had precluded him from receiving legal advice from his senior staffers, who were not allowed to know about the program.)
Notes Contradict Other Testimony - Mueller’s notes also contradict later Senate testimony by Gonzales, which he later “clarified,” that held that there was no specific dispute among White House officials about the domestic surveillance program, but that there was merely a difference of opinion about “other intelligence activities.” [New York Times, 8/16/2007; Washington Post, 8/17/2007] In his earlier Congressional testimony (see July 26, 2007), which came the day after Gonzales’s testimony, Mueller said he spoke with Ashcroft shortly after Gonzales left the hospital, and Ashcroft told him the meeting dealt with “an NSA program that has been much discussed….” [CNN, 7/25/2007] Mueller did not go into nearly as much detail during that session, declining to give particulars of the meeting in Ashcroft’s hospital room and merely describing the visit as “out of the ordinary.” [House Judiciary Committee, 7/26/2007; New York Times, 8/16/2007] Mueller’s notes show that White House and Justice Department officials were often at odds over the NSA program, which Bush has lately taken to call the “Terrorist Surveillance Program.” Other information in the notes, including details of several high-level meetings concerning the NSA program before and after the hospital meeting, are redacted.
Call for Inquiry - In light of Mueller’s notes, Patrick Leahy (D-VT), chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee, has asked the Justice Department’s inspector general, Glenn Fine, to investigate whether Gonzales has misled lawmakers—in essence, committed perjury—in his testimony about the NSA program as well as in other testimony, particularly statements related to last year’s controversial firings of nine US attorneys. Other Democrats have asked for a full perjury investigation (see July 26, 2007). [Washington Post, 8/17/2007] Leahy writes to Fine, “Consistent with your jurisdiction, please do not limit your inquiry to whether or not the attorney general has committed any criminal violations. Rather, I ask that you look into whether the attorney general, in the course of his testimony, engaged in any misconduct, engaged in conduct inappropriate for a Cabinet officer and the nation’s chief law enforcement officer, or violated any duty.” [Associated Press, 8/17/2007]

Entity Tags: John Conyers, John Ashcroft, Robert S. Mueller III, James B. Comey Jr., US Department of Justice, Patrick J. Leahy, House Judiciary Committee, Senate Judiciary Committee, George W. Bush, Glenn Fine, Alberto R. Gonzales, Federal Bureau of Investigation, Andrew Card

Timeline Tags: Civil Liberties

Jack Goldsmith’s ‘The Terror Presidency.’Jack Goldsmith’s ‘The Terror Presidency.’ [Source: Barnes and Noble.com]Jack Goldsmith, the head of the Justice Department’s Office of Legal Counsel (OLC) from October 2003 through June 2004, is publishing a new book, The Terror Presidency, in which he details many of the controversies in which he found himself mired during his brief and stormy tenure. Goldsmith was viewed, along with his friend and fellow law professor John Yoo, as two of the department’s newest and brightest conservative stars; the two were called the “New Sovereigntists” by the prestigious political journal Foreign Affairs. But instead of adding his voice to others in the Bush administration who supported the expanding powers of the presidency at the cost of civil liberties, Goldsmith found himself at odds with Yoo, White House counsel Alberto Gonzales, and other White House and Justice Department officials. The OLC advises the president on the limits of executive power (and finds legal justifications for its actions as well), and Goldsmith became embattled in disputes with the White House over the Bush administration’s systematic attempts to push the boundaries of executive power almost from the onset of his term as OLC chief, especially in light of the administration’s responses to 9/11 and the threat of Islamist terrorism (see October 6, 2003). Goldsmith disagreed with the White House over issues surrounding the use of torture against terrorist suspects (see December 2003-June 2004), the NSA’s secret domestic wiretapping program (see June 17, 2004), the extra-constitutional detention and trial of enemy combatants (see January-June 2004), and other issues.
'Behind-the-Scenes Revolt' - After nine contentious months leading a small group of administration lawyers in what New York Times Magazine reporter Jeffrey Rosen calls a “behind-the-scenes revolt against what [Goldsmith] considered the constitutional excesses of the legal policies embraced by his White House superiors in the war on terror,” Goldsmith resigned. He says of his mindset at the end of his term, “I was disgusted with the whole process and fed up and exhausted.” Goldsmith chose to remain quiet about his resignation, and as a result, his silence was widely misinterpreted by media, legal, and administration observers. Some even felt that Goldsmith should be investigated for his supposed role in drafting the torture memos he had actually opposed. “It was a nightmare,” Goldsmith recalls. “I didn’t say anything to defend myself, except that I didn’t do the things I was accused of.” [New York Times Magazine, 9/9/2007]
Not a Whistleblower - Goldsmith, who now teaches law at Harvard, does not regard himself as a whistleblower. “This book is not about whistle blowing,” he says. “It’s about trying to explain to the public the enormous pressures and tensions inside the executive branch to keep Americans safe and about how that pressure bumps into the wall, and about the difficulties that everyone in the administration has and the pressure to do everything possible to keep Americans safe, and the intense pressure to comply with the law. And it’s an attempt to give a fair-minded and deeply sympathetic description of that tension, and I actually think there’s a structural problem in the presidency because of this, and I’m trying to explain the pressure the administration is under and why it did the things it did, and why it did things correctly in some circumstances and why it made mistakes.” He says he has learned some difficult lessons from his tenure in Washington: “I came away from my time in government thinking, as many people do, that there’s too much secrecy. Both too much secrecy inside the executive branch and between the executive branch and Congress. There’s obviously a trade-off and it’s hard to know when to draw the line. If issues and debates are too tightly drawn, and there’s too much secrecy, then two pathologies occur and we saw them occur in this administration. One is you don’t have the wide-range debate needed to help you avoid errors. Two is, it’s pretty well known that excessive secrecy leaves other people in the government to question what is going on when they get wind of it, and to leak it.” [Newsweek, 9/8/2007]
Bush, Administration Officials Going Too Far in Placing Politics Above Law - Goldsmith believes that Bush and his officials are their own worst enemies in their attempts to expand presidential power. Goldsmith, like his heroes Abraham Lincoln and Franklin D. Roosevelt, regards the law as secondary to political leadership. Bush’s indifference and even contempt for the political process has weakened his abilities as a wartime leader, in direct contrast to Lincoln and Roosevelt. “I don’t know if President Bush understood how extreme some of the arguments were about executive power that some people in his administration were making,” Goldsmith says. Since Bush is not a lawyer, “[i]t’s hard to know how he would know.” Bush’s refusal to work with Congress is in direct contradiction to Lincoln’s and Roosevelt’s approaches, and that refusal has damaged his administration’s ability to combat terrorism and achieve its agenda. Goldsmith writes that Bush has willfully ignored the axiom that the strongest presidential power is the power to persuade. “The Bush administration has operated on an entirely different concept of power that relies on minimal deliberation, unilateral action and legalistic defense,” Goldsmith writes. “This approach largely eschews politics: the need to explain, to justify, to convince, to get people on board, to compromise.” While Goldsmith agrees with the administration that the terrorist threat is extremely serious, and that the US must counter it aggressively, he quotes his conservative Harvard colleague Charles Fried that Bush “badly overplayed a winning hand.” Bush “could have achieved all that he wanted to achieve, and put it on a firmer foundation, if he had been willing to reach out to other institutions of government.” Instead, he says, Bush weakened the presidency he was so determined to strengthen. “I don’t think any president in the near future can have the same attitude toward executive power, because the other institutions of government won’t allow it. The Bush administration has borrowed its power against future presidents.” [New York Times Magazine, 9/9/2007]
Adding to Presidential Power - He adds, “Basically, the administration has the conception of executive power that suggests they clearly have a public agenda item of wanting to leave the presidency more powerful than they found it. Vice President Cheney was in the Ford White House at the dawn of the resurgent Congress after Watergate and Vietnam and he believed then that the 1970s restrictions put on the executive branch by Congress related to war and intelligence harm the presidency. So one of their agenda items before 9/11 was to keep the power of presidency and expand the power of the presidency to put it back to its rightful place.… They’ve certainly lost a lot of trust of Congress. And the Supreme Court really, I think, cut back on certain presidential prerogatives.… Future presidencies will face a culture of distrust and worry, I believe, because of the actions taken by the Bush administration. A lot of it was unnecessary.… So when you have those pressures [to battle terrorism and keep the nation safe] and then you run into laws that don’t allow you to do what you need to do, I think the prescription is that going it alone unilaterally with executive power is not as good as getting the other institutions on board through consensus and consultation.” [Newsweek, 9/8/2007]

Entity Tags: Charles Fried, Bush administration (43), Abraham Lincoln, US Department of Justice, Office of Legal Counsel (DOJ), Jeffrey Rosen, Alberto R. Gonzales, George W. Bush, Jack Goldsmith, John C. Yoo, Franklin Delano Roosevelt

Timeline Tags: Civil Liberties

In his testimony to the Senate Judiciary Committee, Jack Goldsmith, the former head of the Justice Department’s Office of Legal Counsel (see October 6, 2003), says that he believes President Bush sent White House aides Alberto Gonzales and Andrew Card to pressure then-Attorney General John Ashcroft to reauthorize the NSA’s warrantless wiretapping program while Ashcroft was recuperating from surgery (see March 10-12, 2004). When asked whom he believed had sent Gonzales and Card to the hospital, Goldsmith says he “recall[s] it was the President.” [ABC News, 10/2/2007]

Entity Tags: Andrew Card, Alberto R. Gonzales, George W. Bush, US Department of Justice, Senate Judiciary Committee, John Ashcroft, Terrorist Surveillance Program, Office of Legal Counsel (DOJ), Jack Goldsmith

Timeline Tags: Civil Liberties

Former Attorney General Alberto Gonzales tells an NPR reporter that he never allowed the Justice Department (DOJ) to become politicized, and that he believes the historical judgment of his tenure in the department will be favorable. He acknowledges making some errors, including failing to properly oversee the DOJ’s push to fire nine US attorneys in 2008, a process many believe was orchestrated by the White House with the involvement of Gonzales and then-White House political guru Karl Rove.
Failure to Engage - “No question, I should have been more engaged in that process,” he says, but adds that he is being held accountable for decisions made by his subordinates. “I deeply regret some of the decisions made by my staff,” he says, referring to his former deputy Paul McNulty, who resigned over the controversy after telling a Senate committee that the attorney firings were performance-related and not politically motivated. Gonzales says his then-chief of staff, Kyle Sampson, was primarily responsible for the US attorney review process and for working with McNulty. “If Paul McNulty makes a recommendation to me—if a recommendation includes his views—I would feel quite comfortable that those would be good recommendations coming to me” about the qualifications of the US attorneys under question, Gonzales says. He adds that he has “seen no evidence” that Rove or anyone at the White House tried to use the US attorneys to politicize the work at the DOJ. A review by the DOJ’s Inspector General found that the firing policy was fundamentally flawed, and that Gonzales was disengaged and had failed to properly supervise the review process.
Claims He Was Unfairly Targeted by 'Mean-Spirited' Washington Insiders - Gonzales says he has been unfairly held responsible for many controversial Bush administration policies, including its refusal to abide by the Geneva Conventions (see Late September 2001, January 9, 2002, January 18-25, 2002, January 25, 2002, August 1, 2002, November 11, 2004, and January 17, 2007) and its illegal eavesdropping on US citizens (see Early 2004, March 9, 2004, December 19, 2005, Early 2006, and February 15, 2006), because of his close personal relationship with former President Bush. Washington, he says, is a “difficult town, a mean-spirited town.” He continues: “Sometimes people identify someone to target. That’s what happened to me. I’m not whining. It comes with the job.”
Visiting Ashcroft at the Hospital - In 2004, Gonzales, then the White House counsel, and White House chief of staff Andrew Card raced to the bedside of hospitalized Attorney General John Ashcroft to persuade, or perhaps coerce, Ashcroft to sign off on a secret government surveillance program (see March 10-12, 2004). The intervention was blocked by Deputy Attorney General James Comey (see March 12-Mid-2004). Gonzales says he has no regrets about the incident: “Neither Andy nor I would have gone there to take advantage of somebody who was sick. We were sent there on behalf of the president of the United States.” As for threats by Justice Department officials to resign en masse over the hospital visit (see Late March, 2004), Gonzales merely says, “Lawyers often disagree about important legal issues.”
Warning about Plain Speaking - Gonzales says Obama’s attorney general nominee, Eric Holder, should refrain from making such statements as Holder made last week when he testified that waterboarding is torture. “One needs to be careful in making a blanket pronouncement like that,” Gonzales says, adding that such a statement might affect the “morale and dedication” of intelligence officials and lawyers who are attempting to make cases against terrorism suspects. [National Public Radio, 1/26/2009]

Entity Tags: US Department of Justice, Eric Holder, Bush administration (43), Andrew Card, Alberto R. Gonzales, Geneva Conventions, George W. Bush, James B. Comey Jr., Karl C. Rove, Paul J. McNulty, D. Kyle Sampson

Timeline Tags: Civil Liberties

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