During a press conference today, President Bush was confronted about recent accusations made by former Deputy Attorney General James Comey regarding the White House’s shocking efforts to seek legal sanction for its warrantless wiretapping program. According to Comey, Bush personally directed a White House effort to bypass Comey’s authority and seek approval from John Ashcroft, who was then hospitalized and in intensive care.
The New York Times writes today that “Americans need to know who dispatched Mr. Gonzales and Mr. Card to Mr. Ashcroft’s hospital bed.”
NBC’s Kelly O’Donnell pressed Bush on this point. “Sir, did you send your then Chief of Staff and White House Counsel to the bedside of John Ashcroft while he was ill to get him to approve that program,” she asked, “and do you believe that kind of conduct from White House officials is appropriate?”
Bush twice dodged the question entirely. “Kelly, there’s a lot of speculation about what happened and what didn’t happen. I’m not going to talk about it.” He added, “I’m not going to move the issue forward by talking about” it. Watch it:
During yesterday’s press briefing, White House spokesman Tony Snow implied that Comey’s testimony was somehow inaccurate. “Jim Comey gave his side of what transpired that day.”
Q: There’s been some very dramatic testimony before the Senate this week from one of your former top Justice Department officials who describes a scene that some Senators called stunning, about a time when the warrantless wiretap program was being reviewed. Sir, did you send your then chief of staff and White House counsel to the bedside of John Ashcroft while he was ill to get him to approve that program, and do you believe that kind of conduct from White House officials is appropriate?
BUSH: Kelly, there’s a lot of speculation about what happened and what didn’t happen. I’m not going to talk about it. It’s a very sensitive program. I will tell you that one, the program was necessary to protect the American people and it’s still necessary, because there’s still an enemy that wants to do us harm, and therefore I have an obligation to put in place programs that honor the civil liberties of the American people — a program that was, in this case, constantly reviewed, and briefed to the United States Congress. And the program, as I say, is an essential part of protecting this country, and so there will be all kinds of talk about it. As i say, I’m not going to move the issue forward by talking about something as highly classified subject. I will tell you, however, that the program was necessary.
Q: Was it on your order, sir?
BUSH: As I said, the program is a necessary program that was constantly reviewed and constantly briefed to the Congress. It’s an important part of protecting the United States, and it’s still an important part of our protection, because there’s still an enemy that would like to attack us, no matter how calm it may seem in America, an enemy lurks and they would like to strike. They would like to do harm to the American people, because they have an agenda. They want to impose an ideology. They want us to retreat from the world. They want to find safe haven, and these just aren’t empty words. These are the words of al Qaeda themselves, and so we will put in place programs to protect the American people that honor the civil liberties of our people and programs that we constantly brief to Congress.