Thursday, August 16, 2007

The Ashcroft hospital thing, revisited

Today's WaPo had a feature on the notes written by FBI Director Mueller about the March 10, 2004 Ashcroft hospital escapade, dramatized by James Comey.

The WaPo used the term "sickbed visit" to describe the event, but notice how Mr. Mueller characterized it:
"Saw AG," Mueller writes in his notes for 8:10 p.m. on March 10, 2004. "Janet Ashcroft in room. AG in chair; is feeble, barely articulate, clearly stressed."
Which is correct? If he was 'in (the) chair' does that qualify for 'sickbed'?

Mueller said the AG was feeble and barely articulate when he arrived, which was after Gonzales and Card had left. But Comey admitted to being surprised at the strength Ashcroft summoned in dealing with the two men when they entered the room and began asking him to sign the documents. That seems consistent with sitting in a chair.

Admittedly, it appears Gonzo and Card might have put some pressure on the AG but a few other things appear possible. We know Ashcroft had signed off on the TSP dozens of times before Comey arrived a few months earlier (December 2003). The Deputy's first job was to analyze the legal status of the program. After looking at the legality did he embarrass the AG over those past sign-offs? Why does it appear both Comey and Mueller are over-dramatizing the hospital event? What's in it for them? For that matter, why is Mueller still running the FBI?

MORE 8/16/07

We already know there is media bias. It was pointed out today in spades with the Seattle Times and NBC stories. We may have another example here. Notice the blockquoted text above about the AG being in a chair. Now, here's how Yahoo News covered that same AP story:
"Saw AG," Mueller wrote in his timed log of the events on the evening of March 10, 2004. "Janet Ashcroft in the room. AG is feeble, barely articulate, clearly stressed." Ashcroft was in the hospital with pancreatitis.
Was that an AP omission or a Yahoo hatchet job? Apparently it was the AP because the MyWay News version is the same. Assuming Dan Eggen from the WaPo didn't invent that from whole cloth one might think such a thing would be considered derelict or at the least, quite curious. Hopefully one of the big bloggers will catch this and expand upon it.

UPDATE 8/17/07

Here's a story on it but with no mention of the chair nor any comment on the AP's removal of that part of Mueller's notes. The Captain also has a post, which includes a link to the notes and more details but still doesn't mention the chair. However, the notes contain a very interesting phrase:
The AG also told them that he was barred from obtaining the advice he needed on the program by the strict compartmentalization rules of the WH.
The circle of knowledge was indeed small enough to not include Ashcroft, which might explain why the AG was frustrated and perhaps drawing a line in the sand by handing the responsibility to the new guy (Comey). What would cause the circle of knowledge to be so small?

MORE 8/18/07

In talking with some friends about the AP's failure to include "AG in chair" in their version of Mueller's notes they said such an omission did not change the character of the story--he was still quite sick and Gonzales still came with documents in hand. They pointed out that sometimes nurses transfer patients to a chair for various reasons, which doesn't make them less sick. I agree that could explain things.

My point was that the Associated Press or users of their stories have no business erasing part of Mueller's characterization. Such an editorial decision clearly suggests they believed referring to the AG as sitting in a chair might give the impression he wasn't that sick, which would hurt the Senate Democrats' case. That may not be the case, but it certainly seems possible.

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