Last week, increasingly beleaguered attorney general Alberto Gonzales exasperated Senators with another round of dubious testimony concerning everything from warrantless domestic surveillance to authorizing torture to US attorneys firings. But on one point, Gonzales’ prevaricating may have been to protect his career benefactor Bush not from direct responsibility, but from something else. Gonzales refused to tell Senators who had ordered him to go to then ailing attorney general John Ashcroft’s hospital bedside to try to coerce him to sign off on a domestic spying program that then acting attorney general James Comey had refused to reauthorize.
There are growing signs that Cheney was behind the whole incredible series of events that culminated with Gonzales and former chief of staff Andy Card being sent to a nearly comatose Ashcroft’s bedside on March 2004 with an envelope with the orders to reauthorize the NSA domestic spying program. Former deputy attorney general James Comey had previously testified about the extraordinary scene at Aschroft’s hospital bed.
Yesterday, Newsweek revealed that it was Cheney who briefed the “Gang of Eight” Congressional leaders on the so-called Terrorist Surveillance Program the day of the controversial Gonzales Ashcroft hospital visit:
Late on the afternoon of March 10, 2004, eight congressional leaders filed into the White House Situation Room for an urgent briefing on one of the Bush administration’s top secrets: a classified surveillance program that involved monitoring Americans’ e-mails and phone calls without court warrants. Vice President Dick Cheney did most of the briefing. But as he explained the National Security Agency program, the lawmakers weren’t fully grasping the dimensions of what he was saying.
Today, via TPM, a New York Times editorial says that it was Cheney who ordered Gonzales to Ashcroft’s bedside.
Is “Fredo” Gonzales protecting Bush not from acknowledgement that he ordered the attempted end run around the acting attorney general on warrantless domestic spying, but rather from the revelation that he had turned over the keys on the issue to Cheney?