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Cheney Shielded Bush From Crisis

Attorney General John D. Ashcroft told the president's men that he never should have certified the wiretapping program.
Attorney General John D. Ashcroft told the president's men that he never should have certified the wiretapping program. (Ezio Petersen - Newscom)
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Trouble was spreading. The FBI's general counsel, Valerie E. Caproni, and her CIA counterpart, Scott W. Mueller, told colleagues they would leave if the president reauthorized the program over Justice Department objections [10].

Assistant Attorney General Christopher A. Wray, who ran Justice's criminal division, stopped Comey in a hallway.

"Look, I don't know what's going on, but before you guys all pull the rip cords, please give me a heads-up so I can jump with you," he said.

James A. Baker, the counselor for intelligence, thought hard about jumping, too [11]. Early on, he got wind of the warrantless eavesdropping and forced the White House to disclose it to Lamberth. Later, Baker told Lamberth's successor that he could not vouch that the Bush administration was honoring its promise to keep the chief surveillance judge fully informed.

"I was determined to stay there and fight for what I thought was right," Baker said in an interview [12], declining to say what the fight was about, on or off the record. He had obligations, he said, to the lawyers who worked for him in the Office of Intelligence Policy and Review. "If it had come to this, if people were willing to go to the mat and tolerate the attorney general and deputy attorney general resigning, that's pretty serious. God knows what else they would have come up with."

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At the White House on Thursday morning, the president moved in a bubble so tight that hardly any air was getting in. It was March 11, decision day. If Bush reauthorized the program, he would have no signature from the attorney general. By now that was nowhere near the president's biggest problem.

Many of the people Bush trusted most were out of the picture. Karl Rove was not cleared for the program. Neither was Dan Bartlett or Karen Hughes.

National security adviser Condoleezza Rice had the clearance, but Cheney did not invite her to the meetings that mattered.

Bush gave a speech to evangelicals that morning and left the White House for an after-lunch fundraiser in New York [13]. In whatever time he took to weigh his options, the president had only Cheney, Card and Gonzales to advise him.

The vice president knew exactly where he stood, unswerving in his commitment to keep the program just as it was. Gonzales later told two confidants that he had broken with David S. Addington, Cheney's lawyer, urging Bush to find common ground with Justice. Card, too, told colleagues that he had urged restraint.

"My job was to communicate with the president about the peripheral vision, not just the tunnel vision of the moment," he said, deflecting questions about the details [14].

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