Wednesday, May 16, 2007

Bedside Manners

This is creepy on so many levels.

On the night of March 10, 2004, as Attorney General John D. Ashcroft lay ill in an intensive-care unit, his deputy, James B. Comey, received an urgent call.

White House Counsel Alberto R. Gonzales and President Bush’s chief of staff, Andrew H. Card Jr., were on their way to the hospital to persuade Ashcroft to reauthorize Bush’s domestic surveillance program, which the Justice Department had just determined was illegal.

In vivid testimony to the Senate Judiciary Committee yesterday, Comey said he alerted FBI Director Robert S. Mueller III and raced, sirens blaring, to join Ashcroft in his hospital room, arriving minutes before Gonzales and Card. Ashcroft, summoning the strength to lift his head and speak, refused to sign the papers they had brought. Gonzales and Card, who had never acknowledged Comey’s presence in the room, turned and left.


“I was angry,” Comey testified. “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.”

The broad outlines of the hospital-room conflict have been reported previously, but without Comey’s gripping detail of efforts by Card, who has left the White House, and Gonzales, now the attorney general. His account appears to present yet another challenge to the embattled Gonzales, who has strongly defended the surveillance program’s legality and is embroiled in a battle with Congress over the dismissals of nine U.S. attorneys last year.

It’s like something out of The Sopranos, but even Tony and his boys have the decency to leave someone who is in pain alone and allow them to get their rest. They wait until he’s back on his feet before they ambush him.

Mr. Gonzales and Mr. Card eventually got around it by going to the president, who allowed the warrantless wiretapping program to go on without the approval of the Justice Department, and in the process avoided mass resignations (vide the Saturday Day Night Massacre). Nothing like a little turf war to get the juices flowing.

Meanwhile, Mr. Gonzales continues to dig himself in deeper. Yesterday he found a new person to blame for the firings of the eight or more U.S. attorneys: Paul McNulty, his deputy who had just announced his resignation.

“You have to remember, at the end of the day, the recommendations reflected the views of the deputy attorney general,” Gonzales said at the National Press Club. “The deputy attorney general would know best about the qualifications and the experiences of the United States attorneys community, and he signed off on the names,” he added.

Those comments appear to differ, at least in emphasis, from earlier remarks by Gonzales, who has previously laid much of the responsibility for the dismissals on his ex-chief of staff, D. Kyle Sampson. They stand in contrast to testimony and statements from McNulty, who has acknowledged signing off on the firings but has told Congress he was surprised when he heard about the effort.

At some point Mr. Gonzales, in true Republican and loyal Bushie fashion, will figure out a way to blame it all on the Clinton administration.