NYT: Did Bush initially authorize unwarranted taps?
In an editorial titled "Mr. Gonzales’s Incredible Adventure," Thursday's New York Times wonders if testimony by former deputy attorney general James Comey indicates that warrantless tapping had initially been authorized by President Bush.
"There were many fascinating threads to the testimony on Tuesday by the former deputy attorney general, James Comey, who described the night in March 2004 when two top White House officials tried to pressure an ailing and hospitalized Attorney General John Ashcroft into endorsing President Bush’s illegal wiretapping operation," the editorial begins. "But the really big question, an urgent avenue for investigation, is what exactly the National Security Agency was doing before that night, under Mr. Bush’s personal orders."
The paper that broke the wiretapping story to begin with asks, "Did Mr. Bush start by authorizing the agency to intercept domestic e-mails and telephone calls without first getting a warrant?"
Excerpts from editorial:
Mr. Bush has acknowledged authorizing surveillance without a court order of communications between people abroad and people in the United States. That alone violates the 1978 Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act. Domestic spying without a warrant would be an even more grievous offense.
The question cannot be answered because Mr. Bush is hiding so much about the program. But whatever was going on, it so alarmed Mr. Comey and F.B.I. Director Robert Mueller that they sped to the hospital, roused the barely conscious Mr. Ashcroft and got him ready to fend off the White House chief of staff, Andrew Card, and Mr. Bush’s counsel, Alberto Gonzales. There are clues in Mr. Comey’s testimony and in earlier testimony by Mr. Gonzales, Mr. Ashcroft’s successor, that suggest that Mr. Bush initially ordered broader surveillance than he and his aides have acknowledged.
Mr. Comey said the bizarre events in Mr. Ashcroft’s hospital room were precipitated by a White House request that the Justice Department sign off on a continuation of the eavesdropping, which started in October 2001. Mr. Comey, who was acting attorney general while Mr. Ashcroft was ill, refused. Mr. Comey said his staff had reviewed the program as it was then being run and believed it was illegal.
So someone at the White House (and Americans need to know who) dispatched Mr. Gonzales and Mr. Card to Mr. Ashcroft’s hospital bed. Mr. Ashcroft flatly refused to endorse the program, Mr. Comey said. Later, he said, Mr. Bush agreed to change the wiretapping in ways that enabled Justice to provide a legal rationale. Mr. Comey would not say why he opposed the original program — which remains secret — or how it was changed.
FULL TIMES EDITORIAL CAN BE READ AT THIS LINK