This page can be viewed at http://www.historycommons.org/entity.jsp?entity=tony_snow_1
Fox News begins broadcasting on US cable television. Fox News provides 24-hour news programming alongside the nation’s only other such cable news provider, CNN. Fox executive Roger Ailes, a former campaign adviser for Richard Nixon, Ronald Reagan and George H. W. Bush (see 1968, January 25, 1988, and September 21 - October 4, 1988), envisions Fox News as a conservative “antidote” to what he calls the “liberal bias” of the rest of American news broadcasting. Ailes uses many of the methodologies and characteristics of conservative talk radio, and brings several radio hosts on his channel, including Sean Hannity and Bill O’Reilly, to host television shows. (Jamieson and Cappella 2008, pp. 47; Sherman 5/22/2011) Referring to Ailes’s campaign experience, veteran Republican consultant Ed Rollins later says: “Because of his political work, he understood there was an audience. He knew there were a couple million conservatives who were a potential audience, and he built Fox to reach them.” (Sherman 5/22/2011)
Ailes Planned for Fox News as Far Back as 1970 - Ailes began envisioning a conservative news provider to counter what he considers the mainstream media’s “liberal bias” as early as 1970, when he became heavily involved with a Nixon administration plan to plant conservative propaganda in news outlets across the nation (see Summer 1970). In 1971, he headed a short-lived private conservative television news network, Television News Incorporated (TVN—see 1971-1975), which foundered in 1975 in part because of its reporters and staffers balking at reporting Ailes-crafted propaganda instead of “straight” news. Ailes told a New York Times reporter in 1991 that he was leaving politics, saying: “I’ve been in politics for 25 years. It’s always been a detour. Now my business has taken a turn back to my entertainment and corporate clients.” But Ailes misinformed the reporter. He continued to work behind the scenes on the 1992 Bush re-election campaign, providing the campaign with attack points against Democratic contender Bill Clinton (D-AR) and earning the nickname “Deep Throat” from Bush aides. Though Ailes did do work in entertainment, helping develop tabloid television programs such as The Maury Povich Show and heading the cable business news network CNBC for three years, Ailes has continued to stay heavily involved in Republican politics ever since. Ailes became involved in the creation of Fox News in early 1996 after he left NBC, which had canceled his show America’s Talking and launched a new cable news network, MSNBC, without asking for Ailes’s involvement. Fox News is owned by News Corporation (sometimes abbreviated NewsCorp), an international media conglomerate owned by conservative billionaire Rupert Murdoch. When NBC allowed Ailes to leave, Jack Welch, the chairman of NBC’s parent company General Electric, said, “We’ll rue the day we let Roger and Rupert team up.” Murdoch has already tried and failed to buy CNN, and has already begun work on crafting news programs with hard-right slants, such as a 60 Minutes-like show that, reporter Tim Dickinson will write, “would feature a weekly attack-and-destroy piece targeting a liberal politician or social program.” Dan Cooper, the managing editor of the pre-launch Fox News, later says, “The idea of a masquerade was already around prior to Roger arriving.” Eric Burns, who will work for ten years as a Fox News media critic before leaving the network, will say in 2011: “There’s your answer right there to whether Fox News is a conventional news network or whether it has an agenda. That’s its original sin.” To get Fox News onto millions of cable boxes at once, Murdoch paid hundreds of millions of dollars to cable providers to air his new network. Murdoch biographer Neil Chenoweth will later write: “Murdoch’s offer shocked the industry. He was prepared to shell out half a billion dollars just to buy a news voice.” Dickinson will write, “Even before it took to the air, Fox News was guaranteed access to a mass audience, bought and paid for.” Ailes praised Murdoch’s “nerve,” saying, “This is capitalism and one of the things that made this country great.” (Sherman 5/22/2011; Dickinson 5/25/2011)
Using Conservative Talk Radio as Template - In 2003, NBC’s Bob Wright will note that Fox News uses conservative talk radio as a template, saying: “[W]hat Fox did was say, ‘Gee, this is a way for us to distinguish ourselves. We’re going to grab this pent-up anger—shouting—that we’re seeing on talk radio and put it onto television.’” CBS News anchor Dan Rather will be more critical, saying that Fox is a reflection of Murdoch’s own conservative political views. “Mr. Murdoch has a business, a huge worldwide conglomerate business,” Rather says. “He finds it to his benefit to have media outlets, press outlets, that serve his business interests. There’s nothing wrong with this. It’s a free country. It’s not an indictable offense. But by any clear analysis the bias is towards his own personal, political, partisan agenda… primarily because it fits his commercial interests.” (Auletta 5/26/2003)
Putting Ideology Over Journalistic Ethics, Practices - Ailes, determined not to let journalists with ethical qualms disrupt Fox News as they had his previous attempt at creating a conservative news network (see 1971-1975), brought a hand-picked selection of reporters and staffers with demonstrable conservative ideologies from NBC, including business anchor Neil Cavuto and Steve Doocy, who hosts the morning talk show “Fox and Friends.” Both Cavuto and Doocy are Ailes loyalists who, Dickinson will say, owe their careers to Ailes. Ailes then tapped Brit Hume, a veteran ABC correspondent and outspoken conservative, to host the main evening news show, and former Bush speechwriter Tony Snow as a commentator and host. John Moody, a forcefully conservative ABC News veteran, heads the newsroom. Ailes then went on a purge of Fox News staffers. Joe Peyronnin, who headed the network before Ailes displaced him, later recalls: “There was a litmus test. He was going to figure out who was liberal or conservative when he came in, and try to get rid of the liberals.” Ailes confronted reporters with suspected “liberal bias” with “gotcha” questions such as “Why are you a liberal?” Staffers with mainstream media experience were forced to defend their employment at such venues as CBS News, which he calls the “Communist Broadcast System.” He fired scores of staffers for perceived liberal leanings and replaced them with fiery young ideologues whose inexperience helps Ailes shape the network to his vision. Before the network aired its first production, Ailes had a seminal meeting with Moody. “One of the problems we have to work on here together when we start this network is that most journalists are liberals,” he told Moody. “And we’ve got to fight that.” Reporters and staffers knew from the outset that Fox, despite its insistence on being “fair and balanced” (see 1995), was going to present news with a conservative slant, and if that did not suit them, they would not be at Fox long. A former Fox News anchor later says: “All outward appearances were that it was just like any other newsroom. But you knew that the way to get ahead was to show your color—and that your color was red.” The anchor refers to “red” as associated with “red state,” commonly used on news broadcasts to define states with Republican majorities. Ailes will always insist that while his network’s talk-show hosts, such as O’Reilly, Hannity, and others, are frankly conservative, Fox’s hard-news shows maintain what he calls a “bright, clear line” that separates conservative cant from reported fact. In practice, this is not the case. Before Fox aired its first broadcast, Ailes tasked Moody to keep the newsroom in line. Early each morning, Ailes has a meeting with Moody, often with Hume on speakerphone from the Washington office, where the day’s agenda is crafted. Moody then sends a memo to the staff telling them how to slant the day’s news coverage according to the agenda of those on “the Second Floor,” as Ailes and his vice presidents are known. A former Fox anchor will later say: “There’s a chain of command, and it’s followed. Roger talks to his people, and his people pass the message on down.” After the 2004 presidential election, Bush press secretary Scott McClellan will admit, “We at the White House were getting them talking points.”
Targeting a Niche Demographic - Fox New’s primary viewership defies most demographic wisdom. According to information taken in 2011, it averages 65 years of age (the common “target demographic” for age is the 18-24 bracket), and only 1.38% of its viewers are African-American. Perhaps the most telling statistics are for the Hannity show: 86% describe themselves as pro-business, 84% believe government “does too much,” 78% are “Christian conservatives,” 78% do not support gay rights, 75% are “tea party backers,” 73% support the National Rifle Association, 66% lack college degrees, and 65% are over age 50. A former NewsCorp colleague will say: “He’s got a niche audience and he’s programmed to it beautifully. He feeds them exactly what they want to hear.” Other polls from the same time period consistently show that Fox News viewers are the most misinformed of all news consumers, and one study shows that Fox News viewers become more misinformed the more they watch the network’s programming.
Ailes's Security Concerns Affect Operations, Broadcasting - Ailes is uncomfortable in his office, a second-floor corner suite in the Fox News building at 1211 Avenue of the Americas in Manhattan. His office is too close to the street for his tastes; he believes that gay activists intend to try to harm him, either by attacks from outside the building or through assaults carried out from inside. He also believes that he is a top target for al-Qaeda assassins. Ailes barricades himself behind an enormous mahogany desk, insists on having “bombproof” glass installed in the windows, surrounds himself with heavily-armed bodyguards, and carries a firearm (he has a concealed-carry permit). A monitor on his desk shows him what is transpiring outside his office door; once, when he sees a dark-skinned man wearing what he thought was Muslim garb on the monitor, he will order an immediate lockdown of the entire building, shouting, “This man could be bombing me!” The man will turn out to be a janitor. A source close to Ailes will say, “He has a personal paranoia about people who are Muslim—which is consistent with the ideology of his network.” A large security detail escorts him daily to and from his Garrison, New Jersey home to his Manhattan offices; in Garrison, his house is surrounded by empty homes Ailes has bought to enhance his personal security. According to sources close to Ailes, Fox News’s slant on gay rights and Islamist extremism is colored by Ailes’s fear and hatred of the groups.
'We Work for Fox' - Sean Wilentz, a Princeton historian and Reagan biographer, will say: “Fox News is totalized: It’s an entire network, devoted 24 hours a day to an entire politics, and it’s broadcast as ‘the news.’ That’s why Ailes is a genius. He’s combined opinion and journalism in a wholly new way—one that blurs the distinction between the two.” Dickinson will write: “Fox News stands as the culmination of everything Ailes tried to do for Nixon back in 1968. He has created a vast stage set, designed to resemble an actual news network, that is literally hard-wired into the homes of millions of America’s most conservative voters. GOP candidates then use that forum to communicate directly to their base, bypassing the professional journalists Ailes once denounced as ‘matadors’ who want to ‘tear down the social order’ with their ‘elitist, horse-dung, socialist thinking.’ Ironically, it is Ailes who has built the most formidable propaganda machine ever seen outside of the Communist bloc, pioneering a business model that effectively monetizes conservative politics through its relentless focus on the bottom line.” Former Bush speechwriter David Frum will observe: “Republicans originally thought that Fox worked for us. Now we’re discovering that we work for Fox.” (Sherman 5/22/2011; Dickinson 5/25/2011)
After Democratic presidential contender Al Gore withdraws his concession (see 3:30 a.m. November 8, 2000) and announces his determination to press forward with his request for manual recounts (see November 10, 2000), Fox News host Tony Snow tells viewers that “his decision made the poisonous political atmosphere in Washington even more toxic. Gore has established a precedent for turning elections into legal circuses and giving the final word not to voters but to squadrons of lawyers.” (Fairness and Accuracy in Reporting 11/16/2000)
Conservative pundit Tony Snow, who was a speechwriter for the first President Bush, alleges that Clinton aides rampaged through the White House and through Air Force One in the last days of the Clinton administration, leaving wholesale wreckage in both sites—giving Washington “one last White Trash Weekend,” he writes. The White House “was a wreck,” he alleges: “They trashed word processors, left obscene messages on voice-mail machines, cut some phone lines and re-routed others, tinkered with computers, scrawled obscenities on walls, soiled rugs and carpets, tipped over desks, vandalized file cabinets, left nasty messages for their successors—and generally went that extra mile to prove Team Clinton, for all its good and decent public servants, included a record number of punks.” Snow also repeats allegations that Air Force One was subjected to systematic theft, writing that after the presidential plane took former President Clinton and some aides to New York following the inauguration (“loaned graciously by President George W. Bush [after] Clinton insisted on the grand transport because he wanted something befitting his personal grandeur”), the aircraft “looked as if it had been stripped by a skilled band of thieves—or perhaps wrecked by a trailer park twister.” Snow alleges that many items, including silverware, porcelain dishes with the presidential seal, pillows, blankets, and even candy and toothpaste, were stolen from Air Force One by Clinton aides and perhaps the Clintons themselves. “It makes one feel grateful that the seats and carpets are bolted down,” he says. “Nothing better expresses the narcissistic tackiness of the Clinton years than the last-day exit, complete with its kangaroo-court justice, graceless self-celebration, opportunistic abuse of the gift-receiving privilege, and wanton desecration of the nation’s most important political shrine, the White House.” Snow’s assertions are contradicted by officials at Andrews Air Force Base, home of the presidential jets, who tell reporters that nothing is missing from Air Force One. Weeks later, President Bush will acknowledge that nothing was taken from Air Force One (see February 8, 2001 and February 14, 2001). (Snow 1/26/2001; Goldstein 5/18/2001) Snow also passes along allegations that the Clintons were given hundreds of thousands of dollars of illicit gifts and contributions, and that First Lady Hillary Clinton posted “a weird variation on a bridal registry, establishing password-protected sites in which contributors could pledge to purchase specific items selected in advance by the Clintons’ design teams for their his ‘n’ hers palazzos.” (Snow 1/26/2001) As with the Air Force One allegations, the allegations of vandalism and theft, and the gift registry, will prove to be almost entirely false (see May 18, 2001).
The General Services Administration (GSA) reports that there was no truth to assertions that Clinton White House officials had vandalized the White House before departing in January 2001. Bush White House officials made those assertions in January (see January 25, 2001), claims which were picked up on and embellished by conservative talk radio hosts and other media reporters (see January 25-27, 2001 and January 26, 2001). The GSA investigated the claims at the request of House Representative Bob Barr (R-GA).
Normal Wear and Tear, Pranks Found - The GSA report finds that nothing unusual had occurred during the transition from the Clinton administration to the Bush administration. “The condition of the real property was consistent with what we would expect to encounter when tenants vacate office space after an extended occupancy,” the GSA report finds. Although some pranks were found to have taken place—“W” keys removed from computer keyboards and signs reading “Office of Strategery” placed on office doors, for example—none of the other alleged actions took place.
No Evidence for Allegations of Vandalism - No computers, copiers, or telephones were destroyed; no lewd graffiti or pornographic images were pasted to walls or displayed on computer monitors. Nothing was stolen either from the White House or from Air Force One, as many reports had insisted (see February 8, 2001 and February 14, 2001).
Attempt to Smear Clinton Administration? - Harvard University’s Alex Jones says: “I think it was this calculated effort to plant a damaging story. There was a sort of fertile ground for believing anything bad.” The General Accounting Office’s Bernard Unger, director for physical infrastructure, says of the GSA investigation, “They told me that there were papers that were not organized lying on the floor and on desks; there were some scratches here and there, but the bottom line was they didn’t see anything really in their view that was significant and that would appear to some as real extensive damage.” Clinton aide Mark Lindsay, who oversaw the transition between the Clinton and Bush administration, says he is pleased that the GSA has set the record straight. “Because of President Clinton, this was one of the smoothest transitions in the history of the presidency,” he says. “This was nothing more than just lies.” Conservative pundit Tony Snow, one of the harshest critics of the Clinton administration over the so-called “vandal scandal” (see January 26, 2001), says, “I’m perfectly willing to admit my error on the aircraft,” but insists that the information he disseminated about vandalism and wholesale theft at the White House was true. “What often happens in Washington is gossip becomes news,” he notes. “That’s not a good thing.” (Goldstein 5/18/2001; Marquis 5/19/2001) Former Clinton chief of staff John Podesta says: “Certainly people inside the [Bush] administration fed this story. At least they got what they wanted out of it.” (Lauerman and Montgomery 5/23/2001)
Of all the media outlets that pushed the false Clinton “vandal scandal” story (see January 26, 2001), only Fox News immediately offers a true retraction. Fox had been at the forefront of repeating, and embellishing, reports of vandalism and theft carried out by Clinton staffers in the last days of their administration. After the General Services Administration (GSA) reports that none of the reports were true (see May 18, 2001), Fox acknowledges on the air that its reporting had been false. Two days later, Fox News Sunday host Tony Snow, who had accused the Clinton staffers of vandalizing and looting Air Force One (see January 26, 2001), admits his error. “OK, I’m sorry,” Snow says. “The ex-president’s pals have a legitimate beef.” Other media outlets, including NBC News, the Washington Post, and the Los Angeles Times, fail to report on the GSA report, or to acknowledge their own errors in spreading the tales. (Lauerman and Montgomery 5/23/2001) The Washington Post does eventually report, briefly, on the GSA findings, as do some other newspapers, and Post ombudsman Michael Getler will later write, “The use of a brief news service account rather than a well-displayed, staff-written story about the GSA findings tells me that the readers who complained have better news judgment than the editors.” (American Journalism Review 7/2001)
Secretary of State Colin Powell appears on “Fox News Sunday,” and asserts that Iraq has chemical and biological weapons stocks and that Saddam Hussein is intent on building a nuclear weapon. He cites a recent article in the New York Times by Judith Miller and Michael Gordon (see September 8, 2002) as evidence of Hussein’s nuclear ambitions. “There’s no doubt that he has chemical weapon stocks. We destroyed some after the Gulf War with the inspection regime, but there’s no doubt in our mind that he still has chemical weapon stocks and he has the capacity to produce more chemical weapons. With respect to biological weapons, we are confident that he has some stocks of those weapons, and he’s probably continuing to try to develop more. And biological weapons are very dangerous because they can be produced just about in any kind of pharmaceutical facility. With respect to nuclear weapons, we are quite confident that he continues to try to pursue the technology that would allow him to develop a nuclear weapon. Whether he could do it in one, five, six or seven, eight years is something that people can debate about, but what nobody can debate about is the fact that he still has the incentive, he still intends to develop those kinds of weapons. And as we saw in reporting just this morning, he is still trying to acquire, for example, some of the specialized aluminum tubing one needs to develop centrifuges that would give you an enrichment capability. So there’s no question that he has these weapons, but even more importantly, he is striving to do even more, to get even more.” Tony Snow, the program’s host, asks Secretary of State Colin Powell to respond to comments by former UN Chief Weapons Inspector Scott Ritter in a speech he recently made to Iraq’s parliament, in which the former weapons inspector stated: “The rhetoric of fear that is disseminated by my government and others has not to date been backed up by hard facts that substantiate any allegations that Iraq is today in possession of weapons of mass destruction or has links to terror groups responsible for attacking the United States. Void of such facts, all we have is speculation.” Powell responds: “We have facts, not speculation. Scott is certainly entitled to his opinion but I’m afraid that I would not place the security of my nation and the security of our friends in the region on that kind of an assertion by somebody who’s not in the intelligence chain any longer… If Scott is right, then why are they keeping the inspectors out? If Scott is right, why don’t they say, ‘Anytime, any place, anywhere, bring ‘em in, everybody come in—we are clean?’ The reason is they are not clean. And we have to find out what they have and what we’re going to do about it. And that’s why it’s been the policy of this government to insist that Iraq be disarmed in accordance with the terms of the relevant UN resolutions.” (Fox News 9/8/2002; Yacoub 9/8/2002; NewsMax 9/8/2002)
In response to Tony Snow’s probing on Fox News Sunday as to whether or not President Bush was convinced there were links between Saddam Hussein and Osama bin Laden, National Security Adviser Condoleezza Rice is circumspect until she’s pressed. “He clearly has links to terrorism…—Links to terrorism [that] would include al-Qaeda….” (Fox News 9/15/2002; Islam Online 9/15/2002; CNN 9/26/2002; US House Committee on Government Reform 3/16/2004)
When asked by Fox News commentator Tony Snow, “If Saddam is toppled from power, do you expect to see celebrations in the streets?” White House Chief of Staff Andrew Card replies: “I think the Iraqi people are crying out for liberation and freedom. And they’ve been denied it. They’ve been living in fear for a very long time. They’re a very industrious people, and they have an awful lot to contribute to their own society as well as to the world, and they’ve been denied that chance to do so.” Snow then asks, “So you’re not worried about after shocks in Iraq?” Card answers, “I think the Iraqi people would welcome freedom with jubilation.” (Card 1/26/2003)
The White House continues to back away from its admission of error concerning President Bush’s claim that Iraq had attempted to buy uranium from Niger (see July 8, 2003 and July 11, 2003). Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld and National Security Adviser Condoleezza Rice appear on the Sunday morning talk shows to assert that the “16 words” in Bush’s January speech (see Mid-January 2003 and 9:01 pm January 28, 2003) were “technically correct” because British intelligence, not American intelligence, was the original source of the claim as worded by Bush. The British still stand by the claim, though they refuse to provide evidence. In the interviews, Rice tries to call the claim a “mistake” and simultaneously vouch for its “accuracy.” (Milbank and Allen 7/26/2003; Rich 2006, pp. 100) “I believe that Saddam Hussein had weapons of mass destruction,” she says. In particular, Fox News host Tony Snow gives Rice multiple opportunities to state that Iraq had a nuclear weapons program, and that the Iraq-Niger uranium claim is probably true. She says that the related claim of the Iraqis buying aluminum tubes for nuclear centrifuges is also supported by the CIA, even though Snow acknowledges that the tubes theory has been “knocked down.” (Fox News 7/13/2003)
Invoking the British, Blaming Tenet - On CBS’s Face the Nation, Rice again blames CIA Director George Tenet for the error (see 3:09 p.m. July 11, 2003), saying: “My only point is that, in retrospect, knowing that some of the documents underneath may have been—were, indeed, forgeries, and knowing that apparently there were concerns swirling around about this, had we known that at the time, we would not have put it in.… And had there been even a peep that the agency did not want that sentence in or that George Tenet did not want that sentence in, that the director of central intelligence did not want it in, it would have been gone.” (Rice 7/13/2003) On Fox News, Rice says: “[T]he statement that [Bush] made was indeed accurate. The British government did say that. Not only was the statement accurate, there were statements of this kind in the National Intelligence Estimate. And the British themselves stand by that statement to this very day, saying that they had sources other than sources that have now been called into question to back up that claim. We have no reason not to believe them.… We have every reason to believe that the British services are quite reliable.” (Fox News 7/13/2003) On CNN, Rice calls the issue “enormously overblown.… This 16 words has been taken out of context. It’s been blown out of proportion.” She emphasizes that Bush’s claim came “from a whole host of sources.… The British, by the way, still stand by their report to this very day in its accuracy, because they tell us that they had sources that were not compromised in any way by later, in March or April, later reports that there were some forgeries.” She adds: “We’re talking about a sentence, a data point, not the president’s case about reconstitution of weapons of mass destruction, or of nuclear weapons in Iraq.… We’re talking about a single sentence, the consequence of which was not to send America to war. The consequence of which was to state in the State of the Union something that, while accurate, did not meet the standard that we use for the president.” (CNN 7/13/2003)
Denies Involvement in Wilson Mission - Rice also denies that anyone at the White House had any involvement in sending former ambassador Joseph Wilson to Niger to investigate the uranium claims (see July 6, 2003). CNN anchor Wolf Blitzer says of the Wilson mission, “Supposedly, it came at the request of the vice president.” Rice replies: “No, this is simply not true, and this is something that’s been perpetuated that we simply have to straighten out. The vice president did not ask that Joe Wilson go to Niger. The vice president did not know. I don’t think he knew who Joe Wilson was, and he certainly didn’t know that he was going. The first that I heard of Joe Wilson mission was when I was doing a Sunday talk show and heard about it (see June 8, 2003 and June 8, 2003)… [T]he Wilson trip was not sent by anyone at a high level. It wasn’t briefed to anyone at high level. And it appears to have been inconclusive in what it found.” Rice is following the White House strategy of denying Vice President Dick Cheney’s involvement in the Wilson mission (see July 6, 2003, 8:45 a.m. July 7, 2003, 9:22 a.m. July 7, 2003, July 7-8, 2003, and July 8, 2003). (CNN 7/13/2003)
Conservative talk show host Rush Limbaugh announces the results of a poll finding: “We have a great Gallup poll, folks. Sixty percent of conservatives, 40 percent of moderates, and 18 percent of liberals say the media is too liberal.” Authors Kathleen Hall Jamieson and Joseph N. Cappella later write that Limbaugh “creates an interpretative frame for the information,” with Limbaugh saying, “We all know that moderates are liberals anyway, so that would be 58 percent of liberals and 60 percent of conservatives, that’s over 100 percent of the people who think the media is too liberal.” Neither Jamieson nor Cappella point out the creative mathematics and regrouping Limbaugh is performing. They do note, however, that on Fox News, commentator Tony Snow reports the same poll results, and accuses the “liberal media” of failing to report the poll in a widespread fashion. (Jamieson and Cappella 2008, pp. 149)
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. (Shapiro 5/15/2007; Eggen and Kane 5/16/2007; Eggen 6/7/2007; Kellman 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. (Eggen and Kane 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.” (Shapiro 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.” (Eggen and Kane 5/16/2007; Eggen 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.” (Rosen 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. (Eggen 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, (Roh 7/7/2007; Roh 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.” (Thomas and Klaidman 1/9/2006; Shapiro 5/15/2007; Nizza 5/15/2007; Eggen and Kane 5/16/2007; PBS 5/16/2007; Kellman 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.” (Rosen 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.” (Calabresi 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.” (Kellman 6/7/2007) Senate Democrats are preparing to introduce a resolution of no-confidence against Gonzales. (Calabresi 5/17/2007)
White House press secretary Scott McClellan, who has faced an increasingly disbelieving and hostile Washington press corp in his role as Bush administration spokesman in handling the Plame Wilson identity leak (see July 11, 2005), announces his upcoming resignation. Possible successors include Fox News commentator Tony Snow, former Pentagon spokeswoman Victoria Clarke, and Dan Senor, a former coalition spokesman after the invasion of Iraq, though Clarke says she is not interested in the job. President Bush says McClellan has had “a challenging assignment.” He adds: “I thought he handled his assignment with class, integrity. It’s going to be hard to replace Scott, but nevertheless he made the decision and I accepted it. One of these days, he and I are going to be rocking in chairs in Texas and talking about the good old days.” McClellan tells reporters that he has been considering leaving for weeks, ever since chief of staff Andrew Card announced his own resignation. “With a new chief of staff coming on board,” McClellan says, “it was a good time to make this decision. And three years would have been an awfully long time in this position. I’ve been at this for a long time and I didn’t need much encouragement to make this decision, even though you all [reporters] kept tempting me.” (MSNBC 4/20/2006; Bumiller 4/20/2006) Neither Bush nor McClellan tell the press that McClellan did not decide on his own to leave, but was asked to resign by Card’s successor, Joshua Bolten. In his 2008 book What Happened, McClellan will write that he had indeed considered leaving his position, perhaps by July 15, 2006, but was taken aback when Bolten informed him the week before that he had made the decision for him to leave. “[T]his is a White House that is severely crippled and in need of change,” Bolten told McClellan. “One area that I have decided needs to change is your position.” McClellan will write that his first, emotional response was, “He’s ready to throw me to the wolves,” but rationally, he understands that Bolten is just making a decision he feels he needs to make. “I had been on the defensive too often since the Rove revelations in July” (see July 10, 2005 and July 10, 2005), McClellan will write. “A press secretary cannot survive for long under such circumstances.” McClellan will add that when he discusses his upcoming resignation with Bush, the president seems regretful that he is leaving, but McClellan is not entirely convinced of Bush’s sincerity, even when Bush tears up during their brief conversation. (McClellan 2008, pp. 298-301)
President Bush personally intervenes in a Justice Department attempt to investigate the NSA’s domestic surveillance program (see May 9, 2006), refusing to grant the Justice Department’s investigators routine security clearances so they can proceed with the investigation. Bush’s intervention is later admitted by Attorney General Alberto Gonzales in testimony before the Senate Judiciary Committee on July 18, 2006. Bush’s action to block the granting of clearances to the Justice Department’s Office of Professional Responsibility (OPR) is unprecedented, and astonishes many legal experts. As a result of his decision, the OPR has no choice but to drop the investigation (see May 9, 2006). The OPR investigation would not have determined whether the surveillance program was illegal or unconstitutional; rather, the office would have investigated “allegations of misconduct involving department attorneys that relate to the exercise of their authority to investigate, litigate, or provide legal advice,” according to the office’s policies and procedures. (Associated Press 5/11/2006; Brook 7/18/2006; Eggen 7/19/2006; Waas 3/15/2007)
Stopping Gonzales from Being Investigated - The press later learns that had the probe gone forward, Gonzales himself would have been a prime target of inquiry. It is unclear if Bush knows the OPR investigation would have focused on Gonzales. The probe would have focused on Gonzales’s role in authorizing the eavesdropping program while he was White House counsel, as well as his subsequent oversight of the program as attorney general. Before Bush shuts down the probe, OPR investigators were preparing to question two crucial witnesses—Jack Goldsmith, the former chief of the Justice Department’s Office of Legal Counsel, and James A. Baker, the counsel for the department’s Office of Intelligence Policy and Review. Both Goldsmith and Baker had raised questions about the propriety and legality of numerous aspects of the wiretapping program. The OPR would have also examined documents detailing Gonzales’s participation in the program. (Waas 3/15/2007)
OPR Chief Counsel Protests Decision - Upon Gonzales’s admission of Bush’s action, OPR chief counsel H. Marshall Jarrett responds: “Since its creation some 31 years ago, OPR has conducted many highly sensitive investigations involving executive branch programs and has obtained access to information classified at the highest levels. In all those years, OPR has never been prevented from initiating or pursuing an investigation.” Jarrett notes in other memos that clearances had previously been granted to lawyers and agents from the Justice Department and the FBI who were assigned to investigate the original leak of the NSA program’s existence to the media. He also writes that numerous other investigators and officials, including members of Congress and the members of a federal civil liberties board, had been granted access to or been briefed on the program. On March 21, he will write to Gonzales’s deputy, “In contrast, our repeated requests for access to classified information about the NSA program have not been granted.” Gonzales will defend the president’s decicion by saying, in a letter to Judiciary Committee Chairman Arlen Specter (R-PA), that Bush “decided that protecting the secrecy and security of the program requires that a strict limit be placed on the number of persons granted access to information about the program for non-operational reasons. Every additional security clearance that is granted for the [program] increases the risk that national security might be compromised.” In other words, granting the OPR investigators routine security clearances, as has been done countless times in the last three decades as well as in the instances noted by Jarrett, would have jeopardized national security, according to Gonzales’s reasoning. (Associated Press 5/11/2006; Brook 7/18/2006; Eggen 7/19/2006) “It is very difficult to understand why OPR was not given clearance so they could conduct their investigation,” Specter will say. “Many other lawyers in the Department of Justice had clearance.” (Savage 7/19/2006)
OPR Investigators Seeking Information Already in Justice Department's Possession - The questions surrounding the refusal to grant security clearances deepen when it is learned that the OPR investigators were only seeking information and documents relating to the NSA’s surveillance program that were already in the Justice Department’s possession, according to two senior government officials. The only classified information that OPR investigators were seeking was what had already been given to former Attorney General John Ashcroft, Gonzales, and other department attorneys in their original approval and advice on the program, the two senior government officials say. OPR’s request was limited to documents such as internal Justice Department communications and legal opinions, and didn’t extend to secrets that are the sole domain of other agencies. (Harris and Waas 5/29/2006)
OPR No; Private Citizens Yes - Jarrett will also note in his March 21 letter that, while Bush refused security clearances to OPR investigators, five “private individuals” who serve on Bush’s “Privacy and Civil Liberties Oversight Board have been briefed on the NSA program and have been granted authorization to receive the clearances in question.” Private citizens, especially those who serve only part-time on governmental panels, have traditionally been considered higher security risks than full-time government employees, who can lose their jobs or even be prosecuted for leaking to the press. Jarrett says that in contrast to the private individuals on Bush’s advisory board, OPR’s “repeated requests for access to classified information about the NSA have not been granted. As a result, this office, which is charged with monitoring the integrity of the department’s attorneys and with ensuring that the highest standards of professional ethics are maintained, has been precluded from performing its duties.” Michael Shaheen, who headed the OPR from its inception until 1997, will say that his staff “never, ever was denied a clearance” and that OPR under his leadership had conducted numerous investigations involving the activities of various attorneys general. “No attorney general has ever said no to me,” Shaheen says. (Waas 7/18/2006)
Inquiry Opened - The Justice Department’s inspector general, Glenn Fine, will open a preliminary inquiry into how the FBI has used the NSA’s surveillance data, which has often been obtained without judicial warrants and is considered by many legal experts to be illegal. Representative Maurice Hinchey (D-NY), who led the Congressional calls for an investigation of the NSA, says Bush’s decision is an example of “an administration that thinks it doesn’t have to follow the law.” (Eggen 7/19/2006) “We can’t have a president acting in a dictatorial fashion,” he says. (Brook 7/18/2006)
'Abusing' Their Offices? - Bruce Fein, a Republican constitutional lawyer who served in Ronald Reagan’s Justice Department, compares Gonzales unfavorably to Elliot Richardson, who resigned in 1973 rather than obey then-President Nixon’s order to fire Watergate special prosecutor Archibald Cox. “If he was like Elliot Richardson, he’d say, ‘Mr. President, I quit,’” Fein observes. (Think Progress 7/18/2006; Eggen 7/19/2006) In 2007, law professor and legal ethics expert Charles Wolfram will say that if Gonzales did not inform the president that he might be a target of the OPR investigation, then he ill-served Bush and abused “the discretion of his office” for his own benefit. However, Wolfram will continue, if Gonzales did inform Bush that the probe might harm Gonzales, then “both [men] are abusing the discretion of their offices.” (Waas 3/15/2007)
Defending Bush's Decision - Bush officials dismiss the attempted investigation, and the criticisms by Fein, Hinchey, and others, as politically motivated. White House press secretary Tony Snow says the NSA wiretapping program is adequately supervised by internal oversight procedures, including periodic reviews by Gonzales. (Think Progress 7/18/2006; Eggen 7/19/2006) “The Office of Professional Responsibility was not the proper venue for conducting that,” Snow says. He adds that Bush’s denial of the security clearances is warranted because “in the case of a highly classified program, you need to keep the number of people to it tight for reasons of national security, and that was what he did.” (Waas 3/15/2007)
North Korea explodes a nuclear weapon in an underground test site. The test takes place in spite of repeated US (see September 11, 2006), United Nations, and other international warnings. The North Koreans claim that the test is an unmitigated success. Both Japanese and US sources report a seismic event at the time of the test, and Russia says it is “100 percent certain” a nuclear test has occurred. The US calls the test a “provocative act”; China, in an unusually strong denunciation of its ally, calls the test “brazen,” expresses its “resolute opposition” to the test, and says it “defied the universal opposition of international society.” Prime Minister Shinzo Abe of Japan calls the test “unpardonable” and notes that the region is now “entering a new, dangerous nuclear age.” Many observers believe the United Nations will attempt to impose economic sanctions on the country, and to condemn it in a Security Council resolution. “We expect the UN Security Council to take immediate actions to respond to this unprovoked act,” says White House press secretary Tony Snow. Abe, in South Korea to meet with President Roh Moo-hyun, agrees, urging the Security Council to take “undaunted” action. Abe says the test will spur Japan and the US to speed up work on a joint missile-defense system begun after a North Korean missile test in 1998. Roh says the test creates a “severe situation” that threatens stability in the region; South Korea’s military is on high alert. For its part, North Korea says the test is a “historic event that brought happiness to our military and people,” and claims the test will maintain “peace and stability” in the region. It is “a great leap forward in the building of a great prosperous, powerful socialist nation.” (BBC 10/9/2006) A week later, the US confirms that the North Koreans have, in fact, tested a nuclear weapon of less than a kiloton. (Bliss 10/16/2006)
President Bush signs the Postal Reform bill and includes a signing statement asserting that the federal government has a right to search the mail of any US citizen “for foreign intelligence collection.” While White House spokesman Tony Snow insists that Bush is just clarifying current law, the New York Daily News reports that experts say Bush’s signing statement “is contrary to existing law and contradicted the bill he had just signed.” Nor do the lawmakers who drafted the law agree with Bush’s interpretation. “Despite the president’s statement that he may be able to circumvent a basic privacy protection, the new postal law continues to prohibit the government from snooping into people’s mail without a warrant,” says Representative Henry Waxman (D-CA), who co-sponsored the bill. Under current law, federal agents must have a search warrant to open first-class mail. Commenting on Bush’s signing statement, Ann Beeson, an attorney with the American Civil Liberties Union, remarks, “The signing statement raises serious questions whether he is authorizing opening of mail contrary to the Constitution and to laws enacted by Congress. What is the purpose of the signing statement if it isn’t that?” (New York Daily News 1/4/2007; MSNBC 1/5/2007)
The lawyers for convicted felon Lewis Libby (see March 6, 2007) are preparing a request for a new trial for their client. Meanwhile, the White House is working to lower expectations for a presidential pardon for Libby, as many conservative pundits and publications have demanded (see March 6, 2007, March 6, 2007, March 7, 2007, March 7, 2007, and March 7, 2007). Democrats are demanding that Libby not be pardoned (see March 6, 2007). President Bush, speaking to CNN En Espanol, says: “This was a lengthy trial on a serious matter, and a jury of his peers convicted him. And we’ve got to respect that conviction.… On a personal note, I was sad. I was sad for a man who had worked in my administration, and particularly sad for his family.” Bush refuses to say anything else because the issue is an “ongoing legal matter.” White House press secretary Tony Snow says: “All of this conversation, speculation about a pardon, I know, makes for interesting speculation, but it’s just that. Right now, Scooter Libby and his attorneys have made clear that they’re going to try to get a retrial and if they don’t get that, they’re going to get an appeal.” Snow says Bush is “careful” about awarding pardons. “These are not things to be treated blithely,” he says, adding that Bush takes the pardon process very seriously. “He wants to make sure that anybody who receives one—that it’s warranted, but I would caution against any speculation in this case.” One Libby trial juror, Ann Redington, says she supports the idea of a pardon, even though she was part of a unanimous decision to convict Libby of four felony counts. “It kind of bothers me that there was this whole big crime being investigated and he got caught up in the investigation as opposed to in the actual crime that was supposedly committed,” Redington says during an MSNBC interview. Libby’s lawyer William Jeffress says the lawyers are preparing a request for a new trial; the Associated Press observes that such requests are common and are rarely granted. Joseph Wilson, whose wife, Valerie Plame Wilson, was exposed as a covert CIA official by Libby and other White House officials, praises the verdict. “Convicting him of perjury was like convicting Al Capone of tax evasion or Alger Hiss of perjury,” Wilson says. “It doesn’t mean they were not guilty of other crimes.” (Apuzzo and Sniffen 3/8/2007)
Attorney General Alberto Gonzales comes under fire from members of the Senate Judiciary Committee regarding the National Security Agency’s domestic warrantless wiretapping program (see December 15, 2005. Testimony from the day before by former deputy attorney general James Comey (see May 15, 2007) showed that White House and Justice Department officials were, and still are, deeply divided over the legality and efficacy of the program. But Gonzales has said repeatedly, both under oath before Congress and in other venues, that there is little debate over the NSA surveillance program, and almost all administration officials are unified in support of the program. In February 2006, he told the committee, “There has not been any serious disagreement about the program that the president has confirmed. There have been disagreements about other matters regarding operations, which I cannot get into.” Gonzales’s veracity has come under question before, and many senators are disinclined to believe his new testimony. Committee Democrats point out that Comey’s testimony flatly contradicts Gonzales’s statements from that February session. A letter from Senators Russ Feingold, Charles Schumer, Edward Kennedy, and Richard Durbin asks Gonzales, “In light of Mr. Comey’s testimony yesterday, do you stand by your 2006 Senate and House testimony, or do you wish to revise it?” And some Senate Republicans are now joining Democrats in calling for Gonzales’s removal. Chuck Hagel (R-NE) says, “The American people deserve an attorney general, the chief law enforcement officer of our country, whose honesty and capability are beyond question. Attorney General Gonzales can no longer meet this standard. He has failed this country. He has lost the moral authority to lead.” White House press secretary Tony Snow says of Hagel’s statement, “We disagree, and the president supports the attorney general.” Hagel joins three other Republican senators, John Sununu, Tom Coburn, and presidential candidate John McCain, and House GOP Conference Chairman Adam Putnam, in calling for Gonzales’s firing. Former Senate Intelligence Commitee chairman Pat Roberts (R-KS) says that Gonzales should consider resigning, a stance echoed by fellow Republican senators Arlen Specter and Gordon Smith. (Kellman 5/17/2007) Gonzales’s defenders say that his testimony to the committee, while legalistic and narrowly focused, is technically accurate, because the NSA program also involves “data mining” of huge electronic databases containing personal information on millions of US citizens, and that program is not exactly the same as the so-called “Terrorist Surveillance Program,” as the NSA’s wiretapping program is now called by White House officials (see Early 2004). But Feingold disagrees. “I’ve had the opportunity to review the classified matters at issue here, and I believe that his testimony was misleading at best.” (Shane and Johnston 7/29/2007)
Ending weeks of speculation, President Bush commutes the sentence of convicted felon and former White House aide Lewis “Scooter” Libby (see March 6, 2007 and June 5, 2007), calling the sentence “excessive.” Libby is now a free man, though he is still due to serve two years’ probation period and pay a $250,000 fine. Many Libby supporters, including Vice President Dick Cheney, have called upon Bush to pardon Libby (Politico 7/2/2007; Washington Post 7/3/2007; BBC 7/3/2007) , but Bush stopped short of issuing a full pardon. (Goldstein 7/3/2007) White House press secretary Tony Snow says that the White House did not bow to pressure from Republicans and conservative pundits to pardon or commute Libby’s sentence. “This has nothing to do with political pressure,” Snow says. “It has everything to do with justice.… The president is doing the right thing for a principled reason. For once, it might be refreshing for people to consider that principle tends to be governing in this White House and not polls. He’s laid out some highly defensible reasons and he takes his powers very seriously. If you take a look at pardons and commutations, they’ve been done very carefully in this White House. Not every White House has done that.” (Goldstein 7/3/2007) Bush says in a written statement that he decided to “respect” the jury’s conviction of Libby, but adds that Libby’s “exceptional public service” and prior lack of a criminal record led him to conclude that the 30-month sentence handed down last month was “excessive.” Bush notes that he had previously promised not to intervene until Libby had exhausted all of his appeals, but because an appeals court denied Libby a delay in beginning his prison sentence (see July 2, 2007), Bush decided to act: “With the denial of bail being upheld and incarceration imminent, I believe it is now important to react to that decision.… The reputation he gained through his years of public service and professional work in the legal community is forever damaged. His wife and young children have also suffered immensely. He will remain on probation. The significant fines imposed by the judge will remain in effect. The consequences of his felony conviction on his former life as a lawyer, public servant, and private citizen will be long-lasting.” Libby’s lawyer Theodore Wells says in a statement that Libby and his family “wish to express their gratitude for the president’s decision today,” and says Libby will continue to pursue an appeal. Prosecutor Patrick Fitzgerald acknowledges Bush’s power to commute Libby’s sentence, but disputes the characterization of Libby’s sentence as excessive, saying: “An experienced federal judge considered extensive argument from the parties and then imposed a sentence consistent with the applicable laws. It is fundamental to the rule of law that all citizens stand before the bar of justice as equals. That principle guided the judge during both the trial and the sentencing.” (Politico 7/2/2007; Goldstein 7/3/2007)
Libby's Commutation Allows Refusal to Testify before Congress - Author Laura Rozen will note that by commuting Libby’s sentence instead of pardoning Libby, Bush allows Libby to retain the ability to refuse to testify before Congress on the grounds that he could incriminate himself. Thusly, Libby can avoid not only testifying about his own actions in the Valerie Plame Wilson leak affair, but about the roles of his former bosses, Bush and Cheney. (Wilson 2007, pp. 388)
Split Reactions - The reactions to Libby’s commutation are split along largely partisan lines, with many Democrats and their supporters expressing their outrage over the decision to spare Libby from serving prison time (see July 2, 2007).
Four Democratic members of the Senate Judiciary Committee request that Attorney General Alberto Gonzales be investigated for perjury in light of his contradictory testimony to the Senate Judiciary Committee regarding the NSA warrantless wiretapping program (see July 24, 2007). “It has become apparent that the attorney general has provided at a minimum half-truths and misleading statements,” the four senators—Charles Schumer (D-NY), Dianne Feinstein (D-CA), Russ Feingold (D-WI), and Sheldon Whitehouse (D-RI)—write in a letter to Solicitor General Paul Clement calling for a special counsel to investigate. “We ask that you immediately appoint an independent special counsel from outside the Department of Justice to determine whether Attorney General Gonzales may have misled Congress or perjured himself in testimony before Congress.” (Senate Judiciary Committee 7/26/2007) (The letter is sent to Clement because he would be the one to decide whether to appoint a special counsel. Gonzales and outgoing Deputy Attorney General Paul McNulty have recused themselves from any such investigation due to their own involvement in the incidents. The next person in line at the Justice Department, acting Associate Attorney General William Mercer, lacks the authority to make such a decision.) (CBS News 7/26/2007) Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV), who did not sign the letter but supports the request for a special counsel, says, “I’m convinced that he’s not telling the truth.” The call for a special counsel follows earlier testimony by FBI director Robert Mueller that flatly contradicted Gonzales’s testimony (see July 26, 2007), though White House spokespersons denied that Mueller contradicted Gonzales.
White House Denies Perjury Allegation - White House press secretary Tony Snow says the apparent contradictions stem from Gonzales’s and Mueller’s restrictions in testifying in public about the classified program. “The FBI director didn’t contradict the testimony,” Snow says. “It is inappropriate and unfair to ask people to testify in public settings about highly classified programs. The president, meanwhile, maintains full confidence in the attorney general.” And Justice Department spokesman Brian Roehrkasse insists that Gonzales was referring during his testimony to a separate intelligence operation that has not yet been revealed, though numerous other sources have contradicted that position (see July 25, 2007). “The disagreement that occurred in March 2004 concerned the legal basis for intelligence activities that have not been publicly disclosed and that remain highly classified,” Roehrkasse says.
Further Instances of Misleading Testimony - Senate Democrats also assert that Gonzales has repeatedly given false and misleading testimony about the US attorney firings, has been part of a White House program to encourage White House aides to ignore Congressional subpoenas, has falsely claimed that he has never discussed the firings with other witnesses (including White House aide Monica Goodling, who recently testified that she discussed the firings with Gonzales), and other instances of deception. Schumer says, “There’s no wiggle room. Those are not misleading [statements]. Those are deceiving. Those are lying.” (Kellman and Jordan 7/26/2007) Schumer says at a press conference later in the day, “The attorney general took an oath to tell the truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth. Instead, he tells the half-truth, the partial truth and everything but the truth. And he does it not once, and not twice, but over and over and over again. His instinct is not to tell the truth but to dissemble and deceive.…I have not seen anything like it from a witness in the 27 years that I have been in Congress.” Feingold adds, “Based on what we know and the evidence about what happened in terms of the gang of eight and what he said in that sworn testimony in the committee, I believe it’s perjury.…Not just misleading—perjury.” (US Senate 7/26/2007) Judiciary Committee chairman Patrick Leahy (D-VT) does not sign the letter asking for the investigation, and has instead sent his own letter to Gonzales giving him a week to resolve the inconsistencies in his testimony. “The burden is on him to clear up the contradictions,” Leahy says. Leahy is joined by ranking Republican committee member Arlen Specter (R-PA), who says the call for a special counsel is premature. Specter accuses Schumer of “throwing down the gauntlet and making a story in tomorrow’s newspapers.” (Kellman and Jordan 7/26/2007) Specter has suggested that Gonzales resign instead of continuing as attorney general. (USA Today 7/26/2007)
'Linguistic Parsing' - Justice Department aides acknowledge that Gonzales’s self-contradictory testimonies have caused confusion because of his “linguistic parsing.” (Stout 7/26/2007)
The anti-gay Westboro Baptist Church (WBC—see November 27, 1955 and After) announces its intention to picket the July 17 funeral of former Bush administration press secretary and Fox News commentator Tony Snow. According to the WBC, Snow deserves condemnation because he was a “critic” of their group and “a high-profile representative of godless Big Media and Big Government.” A WBC press release reads as follows: “07/17/2008 10:00 AM - 11:00 AM Alexandria, VA Christ Episcopal Church (Lepor [sic] Colony) 118 N. Washington St. Tony Snow (Press Secretary for 6 ‘B’ George W. Bush) is dead, YES! He had a platform, he was given some small talent by his creator. He was an unfaithful steward, and is now residing in hell. Each opportunity he had to faithfully Report what the servants at WBC had to tell this country/world, Tony Snow besmerched and vilified the words of God and the people of God.” A blogger at the right-wing Newsbusters Web site asks that the Patriot Guard Riders, a group Fox News has described as made up of “veterans, soldiers, and civilians who often ride flag-bearing motorcycles accompanying funeral processions of soldiers killed in combat to shield the famil[ies] from unwanted attention,” intervene in the protest and “stop these fools.” The protest will take place without incident. (Murret 2/19/2007; Terkel 7/14/2008; Newsbusters 7/14/2008)
Except where otherwise noted, the textual content of each timeline is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike