Politics

Bush Personally Intervened To Arrange Ashcroft Hospital Visit And Kneecap Comey

During his testimony yesterday, former Deputy Attorney General James Comey noted that John Ashcroft’s wife “had banned all visitors and all phone calls” to the hospital due to Ashcroft’s poor condition. So how were Alberto Gonzales and Andrew Card able to make it into Ashcroft’s room to pressure him to overrule Comey and reauthorize the warrantless spying program?

Comey explained yesterday:

COMEY: Mrs. Ashcroft reported that a call had come through, and that as a result of that call Mr. Card and Mr. Gonzales were on their way to the hospital to see Mr. Ashcroft.

SCHUMER: Do you have any idea who that call was from?

COMEY: I have some recollection that the call was from the president himself.

Comey’s statements show that President Bush was directly involved in the effort to override the administration’s own lawyers and reauthorize the warrantless spying program despite an “extensive review” by the Justice Department’s Office of Legal Counsel stating “that the program did not comply with the law.”

This hardly comes as a surprise. As Newsweek reported in January 2006, Bush was “miffed” at Comey for not being a “team player” on the spying issue.

On one day in the spring of 2004, White House chief of staff Andy Card and the then White House Counsel Alberto Gonzales made a bedside visit to John Ashcroft, attorney general at the time, who was stricken with a rare and painful pancreatic disease, to try–without success–to get him to reverse his deputy, Acting Attorney General James Comey, who was balking at the warrantless eavesdropping. Miffed that Comey, a straitlaced, by-the-book former U.S. attorney from New York, was not a “team player” on this and other issues, President George W. Bush dubbed him with a derisive nickname, “Cuomo,” after Mario Cuomo, the New York governor who vacillated over running for president in the 1980s.

Comey explained yesterday that, even after Ashcroft rebuked Gonzales and Card, Bush pushed forward and reauthorized the spying program without the Justice Department’s approval. Only later, facing a threat of mass resignations, did Bush crack and allow the changes in the program sought by the Justice Department lawyers.

UPDATE: Josh Marshall and Marty Lederman have more. Also, Comey’s testimony is the subject of today’s Progress Report.

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