Sunday :: Jan 1, 2006

Did Bush's Justice Department Object To NSA Spying Program?

by Steve

Despite another vigorous, “just trust me, dammit” protestation from Bush today over the NSA spying flap, there are signs that this matter will get sticky for Bush in the new year. Newsweek and the New York Times broke the story Sunday that one and maybe several top Justice Department officials including Patrick Fitzgerald’s boss at the time James Comey expressed legal concerns over the program and refused to sign off, and that even John Ashcroft himself wouldn’t sign off on the program. From the Sunday chatfests, we see now that Dick Lugar has come aboard to the idea that Congress may have been too deferential to the White House and may now need through the hearings to rein in the president. This comes on top of Arlen Specter also saying that there will definitely be hearings on the matter, and several Democrats saying the same.

The New York Times reported Sunday that James B. Comey, then deputy attorney general, refused to sign on to the recertification of the program in March 2004.
That prompted two of Mr. Bush's most senior aides - Andrew H. Card Jr., his chief of staff, and Alberto R. Gonzales, then the White House counsel and now the attorney general - to make an emergency hospital visit to John Ashcroft, then the attorney general, to try to persuade him to give his authorization, as required by White House procedures for the program.
Officials with knowledge of the events said that Mr. Ashcroft also appeared reluctant to sign on to the continued use of the program, and that the Justice Department's concerns appear to have led in part to the suspension of the program for several months. After a secret audit, new protocols were put in place at the N.S.A. to better determine how the agency established the targets of its eavesdropping operations, officials have said.

On the matter of the leak that Bush wants investigated, Schumer adroitly agreed that the leaker needs to be known, but said that the issue of greater importance was the motive of the leaker, namely did the leaker do what they did because of legal concerns over the NSA program? Schumer then made an interesting assumption, as a man would do if he already knew who the leaker was, that the person may have been from the Justice Department. The revelation that Comey and perhaps Ashcroft, expressed concerns about the program, and Schumer’s supposition that the leak may have come from Justice makes Bush’s attempt to silence and shut down this story more unlikely.

And as Bush tried to explain the program further today, he ended up contradicting what his aides have already said, which is a sure sign that 1) he is lying, and 2) they are in trouble on this.

Mr. Bush also emphasized that the program was "limited" in nature and designed to intercept communications from known associates of Al Qaeda to the United States. He said several times that the eavesdropping was "limited to calls from outside the United States to calls within the United States."
This assertion was at odds with press accounts and public statements of his senior aides, who have said the authorization for the program required one end of a communication - either incoming or outgoing - to be outside the United States. The White House, clarifying the president's remarks after his appearance, said later that either end of the communication could in fact be outside the United States.

This story comes a day after it was learned that some of the information gathered on Americans by the NSA was shared with other government agencies, including the Defense Department’s Defense Intelligence Agency, to monitor Americans here at home. Worse yet, despite requirements that such information not be kept on Americans here at home and be discarded, it turns out that such information was kept by the DIA to build a database, again on citizens. In other words, this is a replay of what the Nixon administration did to political and anti-war activists over 30 years ago. And as ReddHedd notes over at FireDogLake, this may not go down well in the Senate, whose Senate Intelligence and Senate Armed Services Committee members were likely not told a thing about this program or the Pentagon’s use of information gathered on American citizens here at home.

But of course, I’m just being led around by the nose on this story, right?

Happy New Year, from Manhattan!

Steve :: 9:22 PM :: Comments (12) :: TrackBack (0) :: Digg It!