Via the WaPo:
JAMES B. COMEY, the straight-as-an-arrow former No. 2 official at the Justice Department, yesterday offered the Senate Judiciary Committee an account of Bush administration lawlessness so shocking it would have been unbelievable coming from a less reputable source. The episode involved a 2004 nighttime visit to the hospital room of then-Attorney General John D. Ashcroft by Alberto Gonzales, then the White House counsel, and Andrew H. Card Jr., then the White House chief of staff. Only the broadest outlines of this visit were previously known: that Mr. Comey, who was acting as attorney general during Mr. Ashcroft's illness, had refused to recertify the legality of the administration's warrantless wiretapping program; that Mr. Gonzales and Mr. Card had tried to do an end-run around Mr. Comey; that Mr. Ashcroft had rebuffed them.
Mr. Comey's vivid depiction, worthy of a Hollywood script, showed the lengths to which the administration and the man who is now attorney general were willing to go to pursue the surveillance program. First, they tried to coerce a man in intensive care -- a man so sick he had transferred the reins of power to Mr. Comey -- to grant them legal approval. Having failed, they were willing to defy the conclusions of the nation's chief law enforcement officer and pursue the surveillance without Justice's authorization. Only in the face of the prospect of mass resignations -- Mr. Comey, FBI Director Robert S. Mueller III and most likely Mr. Ashcroft himself -- did the president back down.
As Mr. Comey testified, "I couldn't stay, if the administration was going to engage in conduct that the Department of Justice had said had no legal basis." The crisis was averted only when, the morning after the program was reauthorized without Justice's approval, President Bush agreed to fix whatever problem Justice had with it (the details remain classified). "We had the president's direction to do . . . what the Justice Department believed was necessary to put this matter on a footing where we could certify to its legality," Mr. Comey said.
The dramatic details should not obscure the bottom line: the administration's alarming willingness, championed by, among others, Vice President Cheney and his counsel, David Addington, to ignore its own lawyers. Remember, this was a Justice Department that had embraced an expansive view of the president's inherent constitutional powers, allowing the administration to dispense with following the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act. Justice's conclusions are supposed to be the final word in the executive branch about what is lawful or not, and the administration has emphasized since the warrantless wiretapping story broke that it was being done under the department's supervision.
No wonder Bush wanted Gonzales to be the new AG. He should never have been confirmed.
Watch Comey's testimony:
Earlier this month, Comey also testified before the house judiciary committee regarding the US attorneys scandal:
James B. Comey, the Justice Department's second in command from 2003 until August 2005, also told a House Judiciary subcommittee that although he was the "direct supervisor" of all U.S attorneys, he was never informed about an effort by Attorney General Alberto R. Gonzales and his aides to remove a large group of prosecutors that began in early 2005.
At that time as well, Gonzales circumvented the regular government hierarchy to get what he and the White House wanted:
The testimony from Comey, a highly regarded former prosecutor who is now general counsel for Lockheed Martin, further undermines assertions by Gonzales and his aides that dissatisfaction with the prosecutors' work led to their dismissals. It also underscores the extent to which the firings, which originated in the White House, were handled outside the normal chain of command at Justice.
It's obvious that Gonzales has never moved on from the mindset of his previous job as WH counsel and that he still operates at the behest of Bush and Cheney while bowing to the concept that anything this president wants, he gets - no matter what. We saw it on the issue of torture, which Gonzales sanctioned by whatever legal means he thought he could get away with, and now we have confirmation that the WH was bound and determined to circumvent the FISA court - a court that did its bidding anyway - even to the point where their lackeys would pressure an extremely ill Ashcroft in the ICU to fall in line.
I don't know what more the Democrats are waiting for before they decide to impeach Gonzales. If Bush won't fire him and he won't resign, it's up to them to wrest back control of the Justice department from a man who fashions himself to be a quasi-dictator with absolutely no conscience. Gonzales is a menace to society. Reid and Pelosi have already said that impeachment is "off the table" for Bush. The least they could do is to get rid of his footsoldier.
Update: The Justice department has issued the standard denial.
The Justice Department said yesterday that it will not retract a sworn statement in 2006 by Attorney General Alberto R. Gonzales that the Terrorist Surveillance Program had aroused no controversy inside the Bush administration, despite congressional testimony Tuesday that senior departmental officials nearly resigned in 2004 to protest such a program.
And, more Gonzales lies...
The Justice Department considered dismissing many more U.S. attorneys than officials have previously acknowledged, with at least 26 prosecutors suggested for termination between February 2005 and December 2006, according to sources familiar with documents withheld from the public.
Attorney General Alberto R. Gonzales testified last week that the effort was limited to eight U.S. attorneys fired since last June, and other administration officials have said that only a few others were suggested for removal.
In fact, D. Kyle Sampson, then Gonzales's chief of staff, considered more than two dozen U.S. attorneys for termination, according to lists compiled by him and his colleagues, the sources said.