There's no shortage of intrigue over the Bush administration's warrantless surveillance efforts contained in FBI Director Robert Mueller's just-released notes on the March 10, 2004 tussle in John Ashcroft's hospital room between Alberto Gonzales, Andy Card and Jim Comey.
First thing to note. Mueller testified on July 26, contra Gonzales, that the legal dispute between Gonzales and Acting Attorney General Jim Comey that prompted the rush to Ashcroft's hospital room had to do with the program now known as the Terrorist Surveillance Program. (Gonzales insisted on July 24, as he had in testimony last year, that Comey objected to "other intelligence activities," not the TSP.) The surveillance program known as the TSP was but one component of a constellation of surveillance activities, even though Comey and others at the time of the March 2004 controversy considered the whole effort -- authorized under a single 2001 executive order -- to be a unitary enterprise. Now notice that all throughout Mueller's memo, he refers to "program" -- singular.
Secondly, the only non-redacted portion of the notes concerns the Ashcroft hospital visit, which takes up only a scant four paragraphs. Ashcroft -- who, contrary to Gonzales' portrayal, is described in Mueller's notes as "feeble, barely articulate, clearly stressed" -- isn't talking about what happened during the visit. But Mueller reveals something intriguing. According to the FBI director, Ashcroft tells Card and Gonzales that "he was barred from obtaining the advice he needed on the program" -- again, note program, singular -- "by the strict compartmentalization rules of the [White House.]" Now that's cronyism! For the first time, there's the suggestion that even John Ashcroft -- the attorney general of the United States and by all accounts a loyal Bushie -- didn't know all there was to know about the warrantless surveillance efforts. Apparently, Ashcroft wasn't considered trustworthy enough to be kept in the loop on the most legally controversial program of them all -- though his counterpart at the White House, and eventual successor, clearly was.
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