Monday, May 21, 2007

Presidential criminality

It's pretty clear now why A.G. the A-G wanted to keep former Deputy A-G, James Comey, from testifying before Congress. The after shocks of Comey's bombshell are still being felt, yet there is surprisingly little uproar in the media. As Glenn Greenwald wrote Thursday:

There is just no excuse left for allowing the administration to keep this behavior concealed from the country. What James Comey described on Tuesday is the behavior of a government completely unmoored from any constraints of law, operating only by the rules of thuggery, intimidation, and pure lawlessness. Even for the most establishment-defending organs, there are now indisputably clear facts suggesting that the scope and breadth and brazenness of the lawbreaking here is far beyond even what was known previously, and it occurred at the highest levels of the Bush administration.

We are so plainly beyond the point of no return with this criminality. It is now inescapably evident even for those who struggled for so long to avoid acknowledging it. Here is one of the most establishment-friendly voices of the Bush administration proclaiming the Attorney General of the United States to be a chronic liar and accusing the Bush administration -- as part of events in which the President was deeply and personally involved -- of engaging in deliberate cover-up of blatant lawbreaking.

The enormity of the wrong-doing is made clear by Glenn here.

Comey then made clear that he and Ashcroft met, determined that the NSA program lacked legal authority, and agreed "on a course of action," one whereby the DOJ would refuse to certify the legality of the NSA program. Yet even once Ashcroft and Comey made clear that the program had no legal basis (i.e., was against the law), the President ordered it to continue anyway. As Comey said: "The program was reauthorized without us and without a signature from the Department of Justice attesting as to its legality."

Amazingly, the President's own political appointees -- the two top Justice Department officials, including one (Ashcroft) who was known for his "aggressive" use of law enforcement powers in the name of fighting terrorism and at the expense of civil liberties -- were so convinced of its illegality that they refused to certify it and were preparing, along with numerous other top DOJ officials, to resign en masse once they learned that the program would continue notwithstanding the President's knowledge that it was illegal.

The overarching point here, as always, is that it is simply crystal clear that the President consciously and deliberately violated the law and committed multiple felonies by eavesdropping on Americans in violation of the law.

Recall that the only federal court to rule on this matter has concluded that the NSA program violated both federal law and the U.S. Constitution, and although that decision is being appealed by the Bush administration, they are relying largely on technical arguments to have it reversed (i.e., standing and "state secrets" arguments) and -- as has been true for the entire case -- are devoting very little efforts to arguing that the program was actually legal or constitutional.

Yet even once Bush knew that both Aschcroft and Comey believed the eavesdropping was illegal, he ordered it to continue anyway.

[...]

Even The Washington Post Editorial Board -- long tepid, at best, concerning the NSA scandal -- recognizes that Comey has offered "an account of Bush administration lawlessness so shocking it would have been unbelievable coming from a less reputable source." And as I documented yesterday, these "shocking" revelations were long concealed due to Alberto Gonzales' patently false assurances that the testimony of Comey and Ashcroft -- which Democrats on the Senate Judiicary Committee sought last year -- would not "add to the discussion." What more glaring and clear evidence do we need that the President of the United States deliberately committed felonies, knowing that his conduct lacked any legal authority? And what justifies simply walking away from these serial acts of deliberate criminality? At this point, how can anyone justify the lack of criminal investigations or the appointment of a Special Counsel? The President engaged in extremely serious conduct that the law expressly criminalizes and which his own DOJ made clear was illegal.

[...]

The NSA scandal has always presented two equally critical but completely distinct issues: (1) the eavesdropping was against the law; and (2) precisely because it was conducted in secret, we do not know whether the administration engaged in the eavesdropping abuses which the law (by requiring judicial oversight) was designed to prevent.

Proposition (1) has long been established, and ought to result in serious consequences by itself. But we still do not know the answer to (2) -- were these eavesdropping powers used for improper purposes? -- and whether anyone in Congress yet knows is still a mystery. But Comey's testimony yesterday adds some obviously significant information that ought to heighten the concern about whether there was such abuse.

There is one other aspect of Comey's testimony worth highlighting. This is part of what he said when describing the scene in Ashcroft's hospital room:

I tried to see if I could help him get oriented. As I said, it wasn't clear that I had succeeded. I went out in the hallway.

Spoke to Director Mueller by phone. He was on his way. I handed the phone to the head of the security detail and Director Mueller instructed the FBI agents present not to allow me to be removed from the room under any circumstances.

Comey repeatedly stated that it appeared that Ashcroft was not even oriented to his surroundings. Compare that to Tony Snow's disgustingly dismissive defense yesterday of the behavior of Andy Card and Alberto Gonzales: "Trying to take advantage of a sick man -- because he had an appendectomy, his brain didn't work?"

But more revealingly, just consider what it says about this administration. Not only did Comey think that he had to rush to the hospital room to protect Ashcroft from having a conniving Card and Gonzales manipulate his severe illness and confusion by coercing his signature on a document -- behavior that is seen only in the worst cases of deceitful, conniving relatives coercing a sick and confused person to sign a new will -- but the administration's own FBI Director thought it was necessary to instruct his FBI agents not to allow Comey to be removed from the room.

Comey and Mueller were clearly both operating on the premise that Card and Gonzales were basically thugs. Indeed, Comey said that when Card ordred him to the White House, Comey refused to meet with Card without a witness being present, and that Card refused to allow Comey's summoned witness (Solicitor General Ted Olson) even to enter Card's office. These are the most trusted intimates of the White House -- the ones who are politically sympathetic to them and know them best -- and they prepared for, defended themselves against, the most extreme acts of corruption and thuggery from the President's Chief of Staff and his then-legal counsel (and current Attorney General of the United States).

Does this sound in any way like the behavior of a government operating under the rule of law, which believes that it had legal authority to spy on Americans without the warrants required for three decades by law? How can we possibly permit our government to engage in this behavior, to spy on us in deliberate violation of the laws which we enacted democratically precisely in order to limit how they can spy on us, and to literally commit felonies at will, knowing that they are breaking the law?

How is this not a major scandal on the level of the greatest presidential corruption and lawbreaking scandals in our country's history? Why is this only a one-day story that will focus on the hospital drama but not on what it reveals about the bulging and unparalleled corruption of this administration and the complete erosion of the rule of law in our country? And, as I've asked many times before, if we passively allow the President to simply break the law with impunity in how the government spies on our conversations, what don't we allow?

If we had a functioning political press, these are the questions that would be dominating our political discourse and which would have been resolved long ago.

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