Former Bush Official: White House Wanted To ‘Get Rid Of That Obnoxious FISA Court’

A new book by Jack Goldsmith — one of the “brightest stars in the conservative legal firmament,” good friend of John Yoo, visiting scholar at AEI, and former head of the Justice Department’s Office of Legal Counsel — has published a book detailing the administration’s extraordinary efforts to expand its wiretapping program.

While Goldsmith “shared the White House’s concern that the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act might prevent wiretaps on international calls involving terrorists,” he disagreed with the White House’s unwarranted grab for power. “We’re one bomb away from getting rid of that obnoxious [FISA] court,” Goldsmith recalls Cheney chief of staff David Addington telling him in Feb. 2004, indicating that the White House always intended to do away with the FISA court.

Goldsmith also witnessed Alberto Gonzales’s and Andrew Card’s confrontation of John Ashcroft in his hospital bed on March 10, 2004, when they demanded that the sick Ashcroft approve the administration’s secret spying program, over the objections of Goldsmith and James Comey, then acting Attorney General:

Suddenly, Gonzales and Card came in the room and announced that they were there in connection with the classified program. “Ashcroft, who looked like he was near death, sort of puffed up his chest,” Goldsmith 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.”


After a bit of silence, Goldsmith told me, Gonzales thanked Ashcroft, and he and Card walked out of the room. “At that moment,” Goldsmith recalled, “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.”

As Glenn Greenwald notes, Goldsmith is “no hero.” He “is a hard-core right-wing ideologue who continues to support many of the administration’s most radical positions, including his view that Common Article 3 of the Geneva Conventions does not apply to terrorist suspects (the position rejected by Hamdan).” Yet even Goldsmith couldn’t stomach the extraordinary measures to which the administration went to push its spying programs.

UPDATE: Spencer Ackerman has more on Goldsmith’s book.