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Conflict Over Spying Led White House to Brink

David Addington, the vice president's lawyer, kept in his office controlling documents that gave strategic direction to the nation's largest spy agency.
David Addington, the vice president's lawyer, kept in his office controlling documents that gave strategic direction to the nation's largest spy agency. (By Melina Mara -- The Washington Post)
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Addington replied first.

"Forget it," he said.

"The president insists on strict limitations on access to the program," Gonzales agreed.

Weeks passed. Goldsmith kept asking. Addington kept saying no.

"He always invoked the president, not the vice president," Goldsmith said [15].

Comey was not exactly Mr. Popular at 1600 Pennsylvania Ave. He had arrived at Justice as a 6-foot-8 golden boy, smooth and polished, with top chops as a federal terrorism prosecutor in Northern Virginia and New York City. Then came Dec. 30, 2003. Comey did something unforgivable: He appointed an independent counsel to investigate the leak of Valerie Plame's identity as a clandestine CIA officer, a move that would bring no end of grief for Cheney.

In late January, Goldsmith and Addington cut a deal. Comey would get his read-in. Goldsmith would get off the fence about the program, giving his definitive answer by the March 11 deadline.

"You're the head of the Office of Legal Counsel, and if you say we cannot do this thing legally, we'll shut it off," Addington told him [16].

Feel free to tell the president that his most important intelligence operation has to stop.

Your call, Jack.

Goldsmith wanted to fix the thing, not stop it. He and Philbin traveled again and again to Fort Meade, each time delving deeper. They were in and out of Gonzales's office, looking for adjustments in the program that would bring it into compliance with the law. The issues were complex and remain classified. Addington bent on nothing, swatting back every idea. Gonzales listened placidly, sipping Diet Cokes from his little refrigerator, encouraging the antagonists to keep things civil.

There would be no easy out, no middle ground. Addington made clear that he did not believe for a moment that Justice would pull the plug.


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