What Addington Wrought
Wednesday, September 5, 2007; 2:14 PM
At the center of the Bush White House's most extreme overreaches -- its assertions of unfettered executive power in wartime, its backing of brutal treatment of detainees, its bulldozing of legal limits on government eavesdropping -- lies one man.
And it's not Vice President Cheney -- at least not directly. It's David S. Addington, Cheney's longtime legal counsel and, ever since I. Lewis "Scooter" Libby's indictment and resignation, his chief of staff.
A startling new book from a disillusioned former Justice Department official sheds new light on just how extremist, bullheaded and -- for a long time -- unstoppable Addington was.
The author of the book is Jack Goldsmith, the former head of the Office of Legal Counsel and the subject of a profile in this Sunday's New York Times Magazine by Jeffrey Rosen.
Goldsmith apparently was sympathetic to many of Addington's goals. But not the means. Because the means were illegal. And ultimately self-defeating.
Rosen writes: "Instead of reaching out to Congress and the courts for support, which would have strengthened its legal hand, the administration asserted what Goldsmith considers an unnecessarily broad, 'go-it-alone' view of executive power. As Goldsmith sees it, this strategy has backfired. 'They embraced this vision,' he says, 'because they wanted to leave the presidency stronger than when they assumed office, but the approach they took achieved exactly the opposite effect. The central irony is that people whose explicit goal was to expand presidential power have diminished it."
Goldsmith's book also includes an unforgettable image: Of John Ashcroft's wife sticking her tongue out at two top White House aides as they left her husband's hospital room after unsuccessfully trying to browbeat Ashcroft into approving a surveillance plan that Goldsmith and others had concluded was illegal.
Dan Eggen and Peter Baker report on the book's main points in a front-page story in The Washington Post this morning: "Vice President Cheney's top lawyer pushed relentlessly to expand the powers of the executive branch and repeatedly derailed efforts to obtain congressional approval for aggressive anti-terrorism policies for fear that even a Republican majority might say no, according to a new book written by a former senior Justice Department official. . . .
"Goldsmith said in the book that he did not question the motives or integrity of Addington or others, and he portrayed them as sincerely concerned about the nation's security. But he depicted Addington, who served as 'Cheney's eyes, ears, and voice' on counterterrorism matters and with whom he was present at roughly 100 meetings on the topic, as having little patience for views contrary to his own.
"'After 9/11, they and other top officials in the administration dealt with FISA the way they dealt with other laws they didn't like: they blew through them in secret based on flimsy legal opinions that they guarded closely so no one could question the legal basis for the operations,' Goldsmith wrote, referring to the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act, which governs spying by U.S. agencies within the United States.
"Goldsmith described Addington as 'the chief legal architect of the Terrorist Surveillance Program,' which bypassed the secret court that administers FISA and allowed the National Security Agency to spy on communications between the United States and overseas without warrants. In a February 2004 meeting, Addington said sarcastically: 'We're one bomb away from getting rid of that obnoxious [FISA] court.'"
Rosen writes: "In a new book, 'The Terror Presidency,' which will be published later this month, and in a series of conversations I had with him this summer, Goldsmith has recounted how, from his first weeks on the job, he fought vigorously against an expansive view of executive power championed by officials in the White House."