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In the wake of the attacks of September 11, 2001 the people of the United States were in the mood for a few things; chief among them was security. Not long afterward President George W. Bush started the National Security Agency’s warrant-less wiretapping program. Bush’s own Justice Department later reported that it could not certify the legality of that program, a euphemistic way of saying that the program was illegal.
The program had a hard stop date of March 11, 2004 and needed a sign-off by the Attorney General in order for the program to continue under the terms of its original authorization. Shortly before the reauthorization deadline, Attorney General John Ashcroft became quite ill with what was diagnosed as gallstone pancreatitis and doctors had removed his gall bladder. He lay in intensive care, a very sick man.
On the night of March 10, 2004, the night before the reauthorization deadline, White House Counsel Alberto R. Gonzales (the same legal counsel who had declared that waterboarding was not torture and was, therefore, legal) and President Bush’s chief of staff, Andrew H. Card Jr. were on their way to Ashcroft’s intensive care bedside to strong arm him into signing the re-authorization that he had refused to sign prior to becoming ill. Ashcroft’s deputy Attorney General was James Comey, who was acting Attorney General due to Ashcroft’s incapacitation. When Comey learned what was about to happen he rushed to the hospital and prevented the strong arming, while at the same time refusing to sign the re-authorization.
Bush later authorized the illegal surveillance himself and caused it to continue. That was the last straw and Comey and the rest of the top officers in the Attorney General office were prepared to resign en-mass, refusing to be a part of an administration that would subvert the law. Bush then backed off, agreeing to make changes to the program.
That is the same James Comey who issued a blistering assessment of the use of private email servers by then-Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and at the same time said that his FBI team found no evidence of criminal intent and recommended that no legal action be taken against Clinton.
This is the same James Comey who stood his ground during the hearing of the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee, as several Republican members attempted to impugn Comey’s integrity, suggesting political considerations bent his judgment and that he allowed for a double standard of justice, one for the Clintons and another for everyone else.
We now seem to have an overabundance of people focused solely on political advantage for themselves, who want to warp the understanding of events into whatever fantasy serves them and whose spines seem to be a bit too flexible. They don’t care whom they trample or how they crush integrity.
In contrast, how refreshing it is to find a man like Comey who stands up, speaks truth to power, saying, “Not on my watch.”
For full details of the 2004 hospital confrontation, read the Washington Post report here.
Ed. note: There is much in America that needs fixing and we are on a path to continually fail to make things better. It is my goal to make a difference – perhaps to be a catalyst for things to get better. That is the reason for these posts. To accomplish the goal requires reaching many thousands of people and a robust dialogue.
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Copyright 2019 by Jack Altschuler
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