Monday, August 20, 2007

 

Acting AG Comey ordered tighter security for Ashcroft

I don't often write posts critical of posts from other blogs, but this time I must. It's about keeping the facts straight, which are illusive enough at the best of times. The Blue State, a team blog, issued a post last week entitled "Ashcroft ordered security detail not to let Gonzales or Card in hospital room again." The title summarizes the story. The problem is that it is not correct regarding Ashcroft—or to be more persnickity, it cannot be concluded from the facts as we know them.

The day after the post's appearance, Buzzflash linked it with the text "Ashcroft ordered security detail not to let Gonzales or Card in hospital room again." If you're not already familiar with Buzzflash, it's an important news aggregator for liberals/progressives and by one recent measure ranked fifth in "the percentage of online traffic to the Lifestyle - Politics category." In other words, the story has spread.

Before getting to the specifics, three points:

The matter has to do with that well-known incident of March 10, 2004, when Alberto Gonzales, then White House Counsel, and Andrew Card, then White House Chief of Staff, descended upon the hospital room of Attorney General Ashcroft in hopes of getting his re-authorization for a secret wiretapping program that Acting Attorney General James Comey had refused to sign off on. Comey and FBI Director Robert Mueller also went to the hospital that evening.

On July 27 of this year, Rep. John Conyers requested Mueller's notes of his meeting with Comey and Ashcroft.1 On August 17—more than two weeks past Conyers' deadline of August 1—the FBI responded2 by sending five pages of heavily redacted documents.

These notes (PDF) are the basis for Blue State's conclusion that Ashcroft had asked the FBI Director not to allow Gonzales or Card in his room. Here's the relevant text—

Wednesday, 3/10/04:

@ 1920 [7:20 pm]: Called by DAG [Deputy Attorney General Comey] while at restaurant with wife and daughter. He is at AG's [Attorney General Ashcroft's] hospital with Goldsmith and Philbin. Tells me Card and J. Gonzales are on the way to hospital to see AG, but that AG is in no condition to see them, much less make decision to authorize continuation of the program. Asks me to come to AG's hospital to witness condition of AG.

@1940 [7:40 pm]: At hospital. Card and J. Gonzales have come and gone. Comey tells me that they saw the AG and were told by the AG that he was in no condition to decide issues, and that Comey was the Acting AG. All matters were to be taken to him, but that he supported the Acting AG's position. The AG then reviewed for them the legal concerns relating to the program. The AG also told them that he was barred from obtaining the advice he needed on the program by the strict compartmentalization rules of the WH [White House]. Comey asked me to meet briefly with the AG to see his condition. He also asked that I inform the detail that no visitors, other than family, were to be allowed to see the AG without my consent. (I so informed the detail.)

@2010 [8:10 pm]: Saw AG. Janet Ashcroft [his wife] in the room. AG in chair; is feeble, barely articulate, clearly stressed.

@2020 [8:20 pm]: Departed the hospital.

The Blue State author interpreted the sentences I've highlighted to mean that Ashcroft asked Mueller to inform the FBI guard detail that no visitors other than family should be allowed in without Ashcroft's consent.

How did the blogger make this mistake? I can only conjecture of course, but I believe he became confused by the content of the first sentence: Comey asked Mueller to see Ashcroft. As if an actual visit had taken place between the two sentences, the writer then assumed that Mueller's use of "he" in the second sentence referred to Ashcroft instead of to Comey. Also, Blue State did not quote the note from 8:10 pm, which clearly shows that Mueller did not even see Ashcroft until after the note at 7:40 pm had been written. 'Nuff said about that matter.

Despite the confusion, the Blue State post was significant and was a "good catch" as bloggers like to say. It reveals Acting AG Comey's concern that Gonzales, Card or other agents of the White House might have made another attempt to take advantage of Ashcroft's weakened condition. As for Mueller honoring Comey's request to tighten security, since Comey was Acting Attorney General, he was also Mueller's boss.

But wait, there's more . . .

The text I've quoted above is the only content—other than dates, names and places—that were not redacted from the 5 pages of notes sent by the FBI.3 Yet in the context of Conyers' request, those dates, names and places take on significance.

Remember that Conyers only asked for notes "regarding a March 10, 2004, hospital visit involving former White House Counsel Alberto Gonzales and former Chief of Staff to the President Andrew Card." What he got back were notes dating from March 1 until March 23, 2004. Did Mueller respond overbroadly? Or do the notes—and especially those after March 10—reflect a White House preoccupation with the hospital incident?

Two days after the incident Mueller wrote, "The President called me into the side office off the Oval Office after we had concluded our morning briefing of him." And on March 23 "Meeting with Vice President at his request in his Office." The concern went all the way to the top.

The hospital incident revealed the extent to which Comey was not a "team player" when it came to a program that Cheney and his minions knew perfectly well was illegal. If the Mueller notes are an accurate response to Rep. Conyers' request, they show that the conspirators were fretting a great, great deal over legalities.

Tags:

Footnotes

1Here's the full text of the letter:

July 26, 2007

BY FAX AND U.S. MAIL

The Honorable Robert S. Mueller, III
Director
Federal Bureau of Investigation
935 Pennsylvania Ave., NW
Washington, DC 20535

Dear Director Mueller:

During today’s Judiciary Committee Oversight Hearing on the Federal Bureau of Investigation, you testified in response to questions from Rep. Artur Davis that you had taken or made notes regarding conversations that you had with former Deputy Attorney General James Comey (who at the time was Acting Attorney General) and former Attorney General John Ashcroft (who at the time had transferred his Attorney General duties to Mr. Comey) regarding a March 10, 2004, hospital visit involving former White House Counsel Alberto Gonzales and former Chief of Staff to the President Andrew Card. You also testified that you still were in possession of those notes, which from your testimony appear to memorialize facts regarding the issues discussed during and after the important events of March 10, 2004.

During the hearing, Representative Davis requested that you provide the Committee with copies of those notes. I write now to formalize that request, and ask that you provide the Committee with copies of the notes to which you referred in your testimony. To the extent that the notes may contain classified information, we are fully prepared to accommodate any such concerns by controlling or limiting storage of, access to, or publication of information contained in the notes.

I would appreciate receiving the notes from you by the close of business on Wednesday, August 1. Your response should be directed to the Judiciary Committee office, 2138 Rayburn House Office Building, Washington, D.C. 20515 (tel: 202-225-3951; fax: 202-225-7680). Thank you for your cooperation in this matter.

Sincerely,

John Conyers, Jr.

Chairman

cc: The Honorable Lamar S. Smith

The Honorable Artur Davis

[back]

2This is a Simply Appalling transcription of the cover letter from the FBI—

U.S. Department of Justice
Federal Bureau of Investigation
Washington, D. C. 20535-0001
August 14, 2007

The Honorable John Conyers, Jr.
Chairman
Committee on the Judiciary
U.S. House of Representatives
Washington, DC 20515

Dear Mr. Chairman:

This is in response to your letter to Director Mueller dated July 26, 2007, seeking copies of notes "regarding conversations that [he] had with former Deputy Attorney General James Comey . . . and former Attorney General John Ashcroft . . . regarding a March 10, 2004, hospital visit involving former White House Counsel Alberto Gonzales and former Chief of Staff to the President Andrew Card."

The notes on the events of March 10 are attached. Redactions have been made consistent with the Director's testimony that his ability to give and receive advice would be harmed if he were required to disclose the contents of confidential communications with the Attorney General, the President or their close aides. Because, however, a number of people have previously testified about the events of March 10, the notes from that evening are attached in full. This material is provided in furtherance of the Committee's oversight activity. We respectfully request that it not be further disseminated without prior consultation with us.

Please do not hesitate to contact this office if we may be of assistance regarding this or any other matter.

Sincerely,

Richard C. Powers
Assistant Director
Office of Congressional Affairs

Enclosures

The Honorable Lamar S. Smith
Ranking Member
Committee on the Judiciary
U.S. House of Representatives
Washington, D.C. 20515

[back]

3Here is the full text of those documents. (All text in brackets "[]" is mine.)

Monday, 3/1/04:

1700: Meeting with Comey in his office.

Tuesday, 3/9/04:

1000: Meeting with Fedarcyk, Pistole, Caproni (and perhaps Wainstein and Gebhardt). [Redaction]

1200: Meeting at Card's office. VP [Vice President], McLaughlin, Hayden, Gonzales and others present. [Redaction]

1600: Meeting at Card's office with Comey, attorneys from OLC [Office of Legal Counsel], VP [Vice President], Card, Gonzales, Hayden and others. [Redaction]

Wednesday, 3/10/04:

@ 1920 [7:20 pm]: Called by DAG [Deputy Attorney General Comey] while at restaurant with wife and daughter. He is at AG's [Attorney General Ashcroft's] hospital with Goldsmith and Philbin. Tells me Card and J. Gonzales are on the way to hospital to see AG, but that AG is in no condition to see them, much less make decision to authorize continuation of the program. Asks me to come to AG's hospital to witness condition of AG.

@1940 [7:40 pm]: At hospital. Card and J. Gonzales have come and gone. Comey tells me that they saw the AG and were told by the AG that he was in no condition to decide issues, and that Comey was the Acting AG. All matters were to be taken to him, but that he supported the Acting AG's position. The AG then reviewed for them the legal concerns relating to the program. The AG also told them that he was barred from obtaining the advice he needed on the program by the strict compartmentalization rules of the WH [White House]. Comey asked me to meet briefly with the AG to see his condition. He also asked that I inform the detail that no visitors, other than family, were to be allowed to see the AG without my consent. (I so informed the detail.)

@2010 [8:10 pm]: Saw AG. Janet Ashcroft [his wife] in the room. AG in chair; is feeble, barely articulate, clearly stressed.

@2020 [8:20 pm]: Departed the hospital.

Thursday, 3/11/04:

1200: Meeting at Card's office with him at his request. [Redaction]

1240: Stopped by J. Gonzales' office after meeting with Card.

1315: Meeting with Comey, et al., at his office. [Redaction]

1450: Telephone call from J. Gonzales [Redaction]

Friday, 3/12/04:

0945: The President called me into the side office off the Oval Office after we had concluded our morning briefing of him. [Redaction]

@1045: Met with Comey and others at DOJ [Dept. of Justice]. [Redaction]

1650: Called Judge Gonzales [Redaction]

1700: Met with Comey and others [Redaction]

1845: Called Judge Gonzales

Saturday, 3/13/04:

0955: Called General Hayden [Redaction]

Sunday, 3/14/04:

1500: Meeting at DOJ [Dept. of Justice] with Comey, et al., [Redaction]

1820: Called Comey [Redaction]

1845: Called Gonzales [Redaction]

Monday, 3/15/04:

0850: Discussed issues with Tenet after morning briefing in Sit Room.

@0930: Called Comey [Redaction]

Tuesday, 3/16/04:

1345: Call from Judge Gonzales. [Redaction]

1840: Call from Comey [Redaction]

@2000: Call at home from Judge Gonzales. [Redaction]

2030: Comey called [Redaction]

Wednesday, 3/17/04:

1105: Comey called [Redaction]

Tuesday, 3/23/04:

1200: Meeting with Vice President at his request in his Office. [Redaction]

[back]

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