Every few weeks we need a gentle reminder that the Attorney General of the United States is either a liar, an incompetent toady, or both. The latest reminder comes from FBI Director Robert Mueller who tells the the House Judiciary Committee via heavily-redacted notes that the late-night hospital visit to John Ashcroft in March 2004 was about re-upping the warrantless wiretapping program and not, as Mr. Gonzales told the Senate, just to drop off a Whitman’s Sampler.
Then-Attorney General John D. Ashcroft was “feeble,” “barely articulate” and “stressed” moments after a hospital room confrontation in March 2004 with Alberto R. Gonzales, who wanted Ashcroft to approve a warrantless wiretapping program over Justice Department objections, according to notes from FBI Director Robert S. Mueller III that were released yesterday.
One of Mueller’s entries in five pages of a daily log pertaining to the dispute also indicated that Ashcroft’s deputy was so concerned about undue pressure by Gonzales and other White House aides for the attorney general to back the wiretapping program that the deputy asked Mueller to bar anyone other than relatives from later entering Ashcroft’s hospital room.
Mueller’s description of Ashcroft’s physical condition that night contrasts with testimony last month from Gonzales, who told the Senate Judiciary Committee that Ashcroft was “lucid” and “did most of the talking” during the brief visit. It also confirms an account of the episode by former deputy attorney general James B. Comey, who said Ashcroft told the two men he was not well enough to make decisions in the hospital.
“Saw AG,” Mueller writes in his notes for 8:10 p.m. on March 10, 2004, only minutes after Gonzales and White House chief of staff Andrew H. Card Jr. had visited Ashcroft. “Janet Ashcroft in the room. AG in chair; is feeble, barely articulate, clearly stressed.”
Gonzales was White House counsel at the time of the hospital visit and replaced Ashcroft as attorney general in 2005. “We never had any intent to ask anything of him if we did not feel that he was competent,” Gonzales testified, adding later: “Mr. Ashcroft talked about the legal issues in a lucid form, as I’ve heard him talk about legal issues in the White House.”
That’s an odd thing to say about Mr. Ashcroft; that even when he’s stoned on painkillers, Mr. Gonzales thinks he’s as lucid as he is on a day at the office. (Then again, this is not an administration that is known for their medical prowess: these are the same people who pronounced Terri Schiavo as mentally alert when in truth she had a brain the size of a Brussels sprout.)
I’m pretty sure that the White House will spin this as two men having an honest disagreement over their recollections of the meeting, but it takes a lot of gall to do it with a straight face. But then, the White House has been known to inadvertently channel Monty Python.