Saturday, November 16, 2013

How Cheney's Illegal Domestic Spying Programs Almost Sunk The Bush White House


Not even waiting for the Supreme Court to halt the vote count in Florida and award the White House to Bush, Cheney moved with incredible speed to fill every position in the national security apparatus with his own people and claim that part of the government as his own turf. If there is one person who can be blamed for dereliction of duty in the events that led up to 9/11, it is Dick Cheney. And if there is one person who can be blamed for the overreaction to that unmitigated disaster-- think about the gutting of the Constitution and warrantless domestic spying, etc-- it is also Dick Cheney. (Cheney also laid claim to Energy Policy and The Economy; he felt Bush could handle education, which he had shown some interest in over the years.) Barton Gellman's fantastic book, Angler> makes it more than clear who was running the show.

One of the worst Cheney-made disasters for Bush was centered around Cheney's illegal directives to the NSA which led to a crisis that could have doomed the blithely unaware Bush. Aside from putting Bush in very serious legal jeopardy with his insane theories about a presidency being tantamount to a monarchy-- what Cheney called the "unitary executive"-- he let a dispute with the Justice Department turn into a catastrophic confrontation which had the Attorney General, his top officers and their top officers, including the head of the FBI, all ready to resign en mass.

James Comey, who is today head of the FBI, was Deputy Attorney General under John Ashcroft this is the resignation letter he told Bush he would submit because of Cheney's illegal domestic spying programs:
March 16, 2004
George W. Bush

President of the United States

The White House

Dear Mr. President

At my confirmation hearing, I was asked what I would do if I concluded that a course of action was fundamentally wrong and I could not convince my superiors of that fact. I replied:

You are asking me to imagine an apocalyptic situation that I don't expect to encounter. I would not take this job if I thought I was going to be working with people who didn't share my love of the law and love of the institution. So I don't think I'll ever find myself in that position. I can commit to you though, that-- because I talk so much about integrity and about this great group behind me-- that's what I really care about. I don't care about politics. I don't care about expediency. I don't care about friendship. I care about doing the right thing. And I would never be part of something that I believe to be fundamentally wrong. I mean obviously we all make policy judgements where people disagree, but I will do the right thing.

Over the last two weeks I have encountered just such an apocalyptic situation, where I and the Department of Justice have been asked to be a part of something that is fundamentally wrong. As we have struggled over these last days to do the right thing, I have never been prouder of the Department of Justice or of the Attorney General. Sadly, although I believe this has been on of the institution's finest hours, we have been unable to right that wrong. I would give much not to be in this position. But, as I told you during our private meeting last week, here I stand; I can do no other. Therefore, with a heavy heart and undiminished love of my country and my Department, I resign as Deputy Attorney General of the United States, effective immediately.

Sincerely yours,

James B. Comey
A few minutes later, FBI Director Bob Mueller told Bush was going as well. His Administration was about to fall apart and Cheney had kept it secret from him and, worse, persuaded him against the advice of his own legal and security counsel to sign patently unconstitutional orders that certainly would have led to impeachment had their been the political courage to have pursued it.
This was a rule-of-law question [Mueller] told the president, and the answer was in the Department of Justice. The Federal Bureau of Investigation could not operations that Justice held to be in breach of criminal law. If those were his orders, he would respectfully take his leave. As for others at the Bureau, they would speak for themselves.

…One week later, Bush amended his March 11 directive. The legal certification belonged again to the attorney general. Over the next weeks and months, the program changed. It stopped doing some things, and it did other things differently. Colleen Kollar-Kotelly, the chief FISA judge, got a fuller briefing and established new rules to keep warrantless evidence out of her court
One of Bush's most trusted counselors from back in his Texas days, Dan Bartlett compared what nearly happened to Nixon's Saturday Night Massacre. Mark Corallo, Ashcroft's communications director (and before that the chief spokesperson for the RNC during Bush's first presidential run, indicates that Bush didn't understand how close to the abyss Cheney had pushed him. "You don't have to be the smartest guy to figure out that [mass resignations] would be pretty much the most devastating thing that could happen to your administration… Tell me how your presidency survives."
Corallo mapped the road to ruin. "You know, one guy resigns on principle and it can be uncomfortable, it can even be damaging. If six or seven of your top lawyers… If John Ashcroft resigned, the entire political leadership of the Justice Department goes with him. That means the heads of all the divisions, the deputies-- every political appointee of the Justice Department would have walked. We would have all walked out the door, because we would have said, 'If this is big enough for Ashcroft to resign over, we're all out of here.'… The rush to hearings on the Hill, both in the Senate and the House, would be unbelievable. The media frenzy that would have ensued would have been unlike anything we've ever seen. That's when you're getting into Watergate territory."

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