Saturday, June 23, 2007

Scandal Over Bush's Secret Spying On Americans Grows In Scope And Controversy

Is President Bush a dictator? No, not yet. But when it comes to spying on their fellow Americans, Bush and his inner circle often act like they are running a Communist-era police state, instead of, supposedly, the beacon of world democracy, freedom and liberty.

The following story recaps the extraordinary scene that took place in a hospital room in early 2004, when it became clear that Bush could not legally spy on American citizens, and how his 'fixers' tried to sort out the mess, before they were exposed :

The events of September 11, 2001, gave Bush the excuse to procure absurd legal advice that, as commander-in-chief in a war on a high-order abstraction, terrorism, he has the power to do what he liked with the lives of millions at home and abroad.

He soon signed a secret executive order instructing the National Security Agency's 30,000 operatives to spy without a warrant on US citizens. Whatever certain lawyers or judges might say, this was plainly unlawful under the Fourth Amendment (1791) to the US constitution.

Bush periodically renewed the order and the former attorney-general John Ashcroft had to certify it was legal, but James Comey supervised a re-evaluation soon after he became deputy attorney-general in December 2003.

A week before the next renewal, due on March 11, 2004, Comey, Ashcroft and the FBI director, Robert Mueller, agreed that the spying was illegal, but Ashcroft was shortly in intensive care with gall-bladder pancreatitis. His wife, Janet, banned all visitors and telephone calls.

Comey, now the acting attorney-general, told the White House on March 9 that he would not certify that the spying was legal.

Not long before 8pm on March 10, 2004, Bush telephoned Janet Ashcroft at the hospital to say his legal adviser, Alberto ("Seedy") Gonzales, and Bush's chief-of-staff, Andrew Card, were on their way to see Ashcroft.

Janet Ashcroft got a warning to Comey, who was being driven home by his FBI security detail. He understood that Bush was making "an end run" round him to get Ashcroft to sign. Speeding to the hospital with the siren on and the lights flashing, Comey told two of his lawyers to go there. Mueller said he would join the resistance.


Comey sat in an armchair to the left of Ashcroft's bed. His officers, Jack Goldsmith and Patrick Philbin, stood behind him. Janet Ashcroft held her husband's arm. "And," Comey said, "we waited."

Minutes later, Gonzales, carrying an envelope, and Card arrived. Ignoring the phalanx, Seedy told Ashcroft he was there "to seek his approval" for the renewal.

Comey said: "Attorney-General Ashcroft then stunned me. He lifted his head off the pillow and in very strong terms expressed his view of the matter, rich in both substance and fact … and then laid his head back down on the pillow, seemed spent, and said to them, 'But that doesn't matter, because I'm not the attorney-general … There is the attorney-general', and he pointed to me."

Gonzales and Card turned and left, but Card soon after called Comey and "demanded that I come to the White House immediately". Comey said he "would not meet with him without a witness present".

Bush alone renewed the order on March 11, but the following day Comey and then Mueller told him that they and other Justice Department officers, probably including Ashcroft, were ready to resign on the issue.

Bush understood what that portended. In October 1973, he was 27 and a drunk but he was involved in Republican politics and he knew that impeachment bills followed president Richard Nixon's Saturday night massacre of Justice Department lawyers. Bush told Mueller to tell Comey to put the spying on a proper legal footing.

That should have been the end of it. But it's not. Bush and Vice President Cheney have never given up on their desire to spy at will on the American people, and they fight on still to break the key amendment of the US Constitution that guarantees citizens their right to privacy.

However, the US Congress is now forcing Bush Co. to come clean on their spying programs :

President George W Bush faced new pressure to explain the legal basis for his warrantless domestic spying programme when a Senate panel authorised subpoenas to obtain administration documents.

The Senate Judiciary Committee approved the subpoenas in a 13-3 vote following 18 months of futile efforts to obtain documents related to Bush's contested legal justification for the programme, which was implemented after the Sept. 11 attacks.

Three Republicans joined 10 Democrats in voting to authorize the subpoenas, which may be issued within days unless the White House suddenly provides the materials voluntarily.

"We have been in the dark too long," said Committee Chairman Patrick Leahy, a Vermont Democrat. "The stonewalling is unacceptable and must end."

Bush could challenge the subpoenas, citing a right of executive privilege that his predecessors have invoked with mixed success to keep certain materials private and prevent aides from testifying.

In January, the administration abandoned the programme and agreed to get approval of the FISA court for its electronic surveillance. But Bush and Democrats still are at odds over revisions he wants in the FISA law.

...when Gonzales, now attorney general, appeared before the panel on Feb. 6, he was asked if senior department officials had voiced reservations about the programme.

"I do not believe that these DoJ (department) officials. . . had concerns about this programme," Leahy quoted Gonzales as saying. Leahy added, "The committee and the American people deserve better."

Bush Co. Asks Judge To Toss Out States Domestic Spying Lawsuits

June 28 Deadline : Bush Co. Told To Testify, Hand Over Documents, Or Face Contempt