James Comey Details Renewal of NSA Surveillance Program:
Former Deputy AG James Comey testified this morning before the Senate Judiciary Committee about the wrangling over the renewal of the NSA Surveillance Program when Comey was serving as Acting AG during John Ashcroft's hospitalization. We knew the broad outlines of the story before, but Comey's testimony offers considerably more detail. The Associated Press has a general overview; TPMMuckraker has more details. A taste:
According to Comey, he was on his way home when he got a call . . . that Alberto Gonzales and Andrew Card were on their way to the hospital [to see Ashcroft and get his approval for the program]. Comey then rushed to the hospital (sirens blaring) to beat them there and thwart "an effort to overrule me."Thanks to Miriam Baer for the link.
After Comey arrived at the hospital with a group of senior Justice Department officials, Gonzales and Card arrived and walked up to Ashcroft, who was lying barely conscious on his hospital bed. "Gonzales began to explain why he was there, to seek his approval for a matter," Comey testified. But Ashcroft rebuffed Gonzales and told him that Comey was the attorney general now. "The two men turned and walked from the room," said Comey.
A "very upset" Andrew Card then called Comey and demanded that he come to the White House for a meeting at 11 PM that night.
After meeting with Justice Department officials at the Justice Deaprtment, Comey went to the White House with Ted Olson, then the Solicitor General to the White House. He brought Olson along, Comey said, because he wanted a witness for the meeting.
But Card didn't let Olson enter and Comey had a private discussion with Card. This discussion, Comey testified, was much "calmer." According to Comey, Card was concerned about reports that there were to be large numbers of resignations at Justice Department. Gonzales entered with Olson and the four had an apparently not very fruitful discussion.
The program was reauthorized without the signature of the attorney general. Because of that, Comey said, he prepared a letter of resignation. "I believed that I couldn't stay if the administration was going to engage in conduct that Justice Department said had no legal basis."