Gonzales: The Glorified Hit Man

This post originally appeared on The Huffington Post

Upon resigning as attorney general, in 2004, John Ashcroft wrote that he "believes the Department of Justice would be well served by new leadership and fresh inspiration." (Fox News) The irony of those words is not lost on anyone who has been following recent developments in the campaign to get at the truth behind what someday be called the purges of Al Gonzales.

Keeping in mind that his predecessor in the Justice Department, Mr. Ashcroft, is considered the point man behind the USA Patriot Act, recent revelations that Ashcroft, his deputy, James B. Comey, and then FBI Director Robert Mueller considered quitting in response to what they considered the dubious legality of the NSA program is stunning. Even more startling is the account of then White House counsel, and President Bush's chief of staff, Andrew H. Card, Jr., visit to the hospital bedside of the ailing Ashcroft in an attempt to strong arm him, and get him to sign off on a program that he would otherwise not approve, a program that allows this administration to bypass the need for warrants to intercept, and monitor, international telephone calls in violation of FISA, and the First Amendment. Mr. Comey made these extraordinary allegations, earlier this week, before the Senate Judiciary Committee as part of their investigation into another dubious activity, the authorization to fire nine U.S. attorneys.

Picture a dark hospital room, a heavily medicated patient, and the arrival of two high powered government officials, Gonzales and Card, not only asking that Ashcroft authorize the spy program, but in defiance of the fact that James Comey, his deputy, had now taken over as acting attorney general. According to Comey's testimony, Ashcroft had already decided that the program was dubious, and didn't want to renew it. Nevertheless, trying to slip in under radar, Gonzales was on a mission to get what the president wanted, a blessing from the Justice Department to monitor phone calls. "Mr. Comey said Mr. Ashcroft rose weakly from his hospital bed, but in strong and unequivocal terms, refused to approve the eavesdropping program." (NYT)

Despite what anyone tells you, Gonzales is, and has always been, a glorified hit man. He doesn't give the commands, he merely executes them. Getting what Mr. Bush wants is consistently at the top of the Gonzales agenda. Indeed, this president couldn't have conceived of a more submissive, and subordinate Justice Department; not exactly what the framers had in mind by the phrase "balance of power."

John Ashcroft, who was to the war on terror what Leonard Bernstein was to the Philharmonic yet, curiously, Mr. Ashcroft has been conspicuously silent on the events of that evening. One might expect him to acknowledge that not only was the executive branch on human growth hormones, but so was the Justice Department. More importantly, Justice was something more radical, a jihad of its own, the subversion, and subrogation, of our civil liberties.

Consider, for a moment, that the architect of a radical right wing, neo-conservative agenda stood up, barely conscious, from his hospital bed, and refused to go along with the program; what a defining moment for democracy. And, while the president agreed to Mr. Comey's demands to tweak the N.S.A. legislation so that it would at least have the illusion of legality, that doesn't lessen the statement Ashcroft made against a constitutional implosion, nor make his subsequent defection from the ranks of Bush loyalists any less significant.

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