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Cheney Shielded Bush From Crisis
Alerted by Ashcroft's chief of staff, Comey, Goldsmith and FBI Director Robert S. Mueller III raced toward the hospital, abandoning double-parked vehicles and running up a stairwell as fast as their legs could pump.
Comey reached Ashcroft's bedside first. Goldsmith and his colleague Patrick F. Philbin were close behind. Now came Card and Gonzales, holding an envelope. If Comey would not sign the papers, maybe Ashcroft would.
The showdown with the vice president the day before had been excruciating, the pressure "so great it could crush you like a grape," Comey said . This was worse.
Was Comey going to sit there and watch a barely conscious man make his mark? On an order that he believed, and knew Ashcroft believed, to be unlawful?
Unexpectedly, Ashcroft roused himself. Previous accounts have said he backed his deputy. He did far more than that. Ashcroft told the president's men he never should have certified the program in the first place .
"You drew the circle so tight I couldn't get the advice that I needed," Ashcroft said, according to Comey. He knew things now, the attorney general said, that he should have been told before. Spent, he sank back in his bed.
Mueller arrived just after Card and Gonzales departed. He shared a private moment with Ashcroft, bending over to hear the man's voice.
"Bob, I'm struggling," Ashcroft said.
"In every man's life there comes a time when the good Lord tests him," Mueller replied. "You have passed your test tonight."
* * *
Goldsmith was out the door. He telephoned Ed Whelan, his deputy, who was at home bathing his children.
"You've got to get into the office now," Goldsmith said. "Please draft a resignation letter for me. I can't tell you why."