High Drama -- and High Crimes?
Wednesday, May 16, 2007; 1:04 PM
Former Deputy Attorney General James Comey's gripping testimony yesterday about his high-speed race to then-Attorney General John Ashcroft's hospital bedside -- and the ensuing standoff with senior White House aides over the administration's warrantless wiretapping program -- may turn out to be the political-scandal equivalent of the tune nobody can get out of their heads.
It might not stack up as the most momentous of the accusations against the Bush White House. But it features a compelling narrative, an irreproachable witness and a serious charge of wrongdoing. At heart, Comey's tale is about a White House that refused to stand down even when its own Justice Department determined that what it was doing was illegal.
Dan Eggen and Paul Kane write in The Washington Post: "On the night of March 10, 2004, as Attorney General John D. Ashcroft lay ill in an intensive-care unit, his deputy, James B. Comey, received an urgent call.
"White House Counsel Alberto R. Gonzales and President Bush's chief of staff, Andrew H. Card Jr., were on their way to the hospital to persuade Ashcroft to reauthorize Bush's domestic surveillance program, which the Justice Department had just determined was illegal.
"In vivid testimony to the Senate Judiciary Committee yesterday, Comey said he alerted FBI Director Robert S. Mueller III and raced, sirens blaring, to join Ashcroft in his hospital room, arriving minutes before Gonzales and Card. Ashcroft, summoning the strength to lift his head and speak, refused to sign the papers they had brought. Gonzales and Card, who had never acknowledged Comey's presence in the room, turned and left.
"The sickbed visit was the start of a dramatic showdown between the White House and the Justice Department in early 2004 that, according to Comey, was resolved only when Bush overruled Gonzales and Card. But that was not before Ashcroft, Comey, Mueller and their aides prepared a mass resignation, Comey said. The domestic spying by the National Security Agency continued for several weeks without Justice approval, he said."
Dana Milbank writes in The Washington Post: "In hair-raising testimony before a Senate committee yesterday, Jim Comey, the former No. 2 official at the Justice Department, described what might be called the Wednesday Night Massacre of March 10, 2004."
Andrew Zajac writes in the Chicago Tribune: "The committee's top Republican, Sen. Arlen Specter of Pennsylvania, compared the power struggle described by Comey with the 1973 so-called Saturday Night Massacre, when the attorney general and deputy attorney general resigned rather than obey President Richard Nixon's order to fire the special prosecutor investigating the Watergate scandal.
"Though his topic was bureaucratic infighting, Comey's account crackled with the kind of tension more often found in a suspense novel."
Jonathan S. Landay and Marisa Taylor write for McClatchy Newspapers: "The Bush administration ran its warrantless eavesdropping program without the Justice Department's approval for up to three weeks in 2004, nearly triggering a mass resignation of the nation's top law enforcement officials, the former No. 2 official disclosed Tuesday. . . .
"Comey's account was 'some of the most powerful testimony I've heard in 25 years as a legislator,' said Sen. Russ Feingold, D-Wis."