Sens. Feingold, Schumer, Kennedy and Durbin have asked Attorney General Alberto Gonzales if he cares to revise previous testimony after the revelations of former Deputy Attorney General James Comey, who gave contradictory testimony about Gonzales’ attempt to “take advantage of a very sick man.”
If you’ve been overwhelmed by Bush administration scandals and missed the details of this one, here’s a primer based on the testimony of Comey:
In 2004, Comey and then-Attorney General John Ashcroft agreed after much deliberation not to reauthorize the president’s warrantless wiretapping program unless certain changes were made.
Ashcroft fell ill and was rushed to intensive care, where he remained for some time. Comey was made acting attorney general and in that capacity refused to sign off on the program.
The White House, possibly Bush himself, phoned Ashcroft in intensive care to demand a meeting. Then-White House counsel Alberto Gonzales and Chief of Staff Andrew Card were dispatched to the hospital. Ashcroft’s wife warned Comey, who arrived in time to witness the exchange.
Gonzales and Card demanded that Ashcroft overrule Comey and authorize the program.
Ashcroft, who had been disoriented and weak, rose from his bed to explain why he wouldn’t, and then reminded the two that he didn’t have the authority, regardless.
The program was reauthorized without Justice Department authorization.
Comey, his chief of staff and possibly FBI Director Robert Mueller and even Ashcroft all prepared to resign.
During what he perceived to be his final visit to the White House, Comey met with President Bush, who relented and agreed to the Justice Department’s demands.
On Feb. 6, 2006, Gonzales denied that there had been “serious disagreement” over the domestic wiretapping program.
On May 15, 2007, Comey outlined the events described here before the Senate Judiciary Committee.
Excerpt from the senators’ letter to Alberto Gonzales dated May 16, 2007:
In very dramatic testimony to the Senate Judiciary Committee yesterday, former Deputy Attorney General James Comey testified that in March 2004, when you served as White House counsel, you were involved in “an effort to take advantage of a very sick man,” referring to then-Attorney General John Ashcroft.
Specifically, Mr. Comey testified that you and former White House Chief of Staff Andrew Card went to Mr. Ashcroft’s bedside at George Washington Hospital, where he was in intensive care, in an effort to get him to agree to certify the legality of a classified program that he and Mr. Comey, who was serving as acting Attorney General at the time, had concluded should not be so certified. Mr. Comey stated that when the administration decided to go forward with reauthorizing this classified program without that certification, he and several other Justice Department officials, including possibly Attorney General Ashcroft himself, were ready to tender their resignations.
You testified last year before both the Senate Judiciary Committee and the House Judiciary Committee about this incident. On February 6, 2006, at a Senate Judiciary Committee hearing, you were asked whether Mr. Comey and others at the Justice Department had raised concerns about the NSA wiretapping program. You stated in response that the disagreement that occurred was not related to the wiretapping program confirmed by the President in December 2005, which was the topic of the hearing.
... We ask for your prompt response to the following question: 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?