Thanks to other journalists and bloggers, we are now learning additional details to my story posted online at the Atlantic that it was President Bush who personally directed Alberto Gonzales and then-White House Chief of Staff Andrew Card to make their now famous visit to then-Attorney General John Ashcrooft’s hospital room in an attempt to have Ashcroft overrule his own deputy attorney general’s conclusion that the Bush administration’s warantless surveillance program was being conducted outside the law.
Via Marcy, we learn that the AP reported on Sept. 2 that Gonzales lawyer, George TerwilligerIII, made public a memo defending Gonzales against charges by Comey that when Gonzales and Card visited Ashcroft’s hospital room, they were “trying to take advantage of a six man.” Ashcroft was in fact in intensive care at the time, heavily medicated, and recovering from surgery in which his gall bladder had been removed.
According to Terwilliger, such criticism by Comey was “demonstrably hyper-inflated rhetoric without basis in fact.” As to Comey’s own presence in Ashcroft’s hospital room, Terwilliger claims that Comey was inappropriately “seeking to interpose himself between the president and a high-level official communication to his attorney general on a vital of national security.”
The allegations by Terwilliger appear to be baseless in that Comey did nothing to stop either Gonzales or Card from saying their piece. Moreover, after refusing to do what Card and Gonzales wanted him to do, Ashcroft made it clear that due to his still being hospitalized, he considered Comey for all intents and purposes as acting Attorny General to have assumed all the responsibilities and duties of the Attorney General. Instead of being in way of Card and Gonzales making their case to the Attorney General, James Comey was on that particular day, in fact as designated by Ashcroft, the Attorney General of the United States– the very person that Terwilliger says Comey was attempting to prevent Gonzales from making make his case to.
Interestingly, Terwilliger’s comments are a reversal of what his client has previously said. According to Barton Gellman’s book on Cheney, The Angler, “[W]hen John Ashcroft returned to health… Ashcroft and Comey paid a call to the White House counsel [Gonzales at the time].. Gonzales apologized for the hospital visit, `I never should have done that,’ he reportedly told the attorney general, `I’m very sorry.’” If Gellman’s account is correct, it appears that that apology has been withdraw.
Related stories by Murray Waas:
Murray Waas and Anna Schecter, “Bush White House Pushed Grant for Former Staffer,” ABC News, June 24, 2008.