Wednesday, September 05, 2007

Thoughts on Goldsmith

Another blockbuster Bush bash has rattled off the NY Times press with a few more secrets spilled out for good measure. This time it's native Memphian Jack Goldsmith, a lawyer picked to head the Office of Legal Counsel at Justice during the same time James Comey was at Justice, and who later became a part of the now-legendary truth to power confrontation in Ashcroft's hospital room.

He's writing a book of course, but it's not going to be entirely below-the-belt, since he was basically nice to Gonzales. But he did some damage to Cheney's office, which is where the finger keeps pointing. His villain was David Addington, Cheney's current Chief of Staff, a person not exactly showered with praise in Steve Hayes's book on Cheney, either. It's not certain whether these portrayals are anywhere close to fair since they're provided by others, but they are what they are.

Before overloading on verbosity I'd like to focus on one oddity in his account of the hospital encounter, which begins on page 6:
As he recalled it to me, Goldsmith received a call in the evening from his deputy, Philbin, telling him to go to the George Washington University Hospital immediately, since Gonzales and Card were on the way there. Goldsmith raced to the hospital, double-parked outside and walked into a dark room. Ashcroft lay with a bright light shining on him and tubes and wires coming out of his body.
Here's how FBI Director Mueller described the AG just moments after Card and Gonzales left:
"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."
I remain a tad anal on this point. Goldsmith and Comey seem to say the AG was deathly sick with tubes coming out of him, while the FBI Director says he was "in chair". What does that mean? Has Schumer asked?

Goldsmith goes on to say:
He actually gave a two-minute speech, and I was sure at the end of it he was going to die. It was the most amazing scene I’ve ever witnessed.”
It must have been more amazing after Goldsmith left and the AG got up and sat in a chair. Why digress? It goes to credibility and whether this event is being turned into a bit of a fish story, which this sure-to-be money quote seems to support:
After a bit of silence, Goldsmith told me, Gonzales thanked Ashcroft, and he and Card walked out of the room. “At that moment,” Goldsmith recalled, “Mrs. Ashcroft, who obviously couldn’t believe what she saw happening to her sick husband, looked at Gonzales and Card as they walked out of the room and stuck her tongue out at them. She had no idea what we were discussing, but this sweet-looking woman sticking out her tongue was the ultimate expression of disapproval. It captured the feeling in the room perfectly.”
Surely there will be some applause in major newsrooms over that one. Interestingly, we've seen no trace of Mr. Ashcroft through any of this drama.

Mr. Goldsmith is like many other ex-administration officials who've written books or granted critical interviews--they don't pull the full monty and say Bush is wrong. Matter of fact, Goldsmith says the Hamdan case (SCOTUS on terrorist rights) was wrong. He believes the terrorists pose a great threat and agrees with Bush's proactive war against them. He just doesn't agree on how to get there, his main problem being Cheney's bold view of strong executive powers.

If you're thinking this guy might be a good candidate for the leaker of the TSP (which he agrees with Bush caused great harm) and perhaps even the Yoo terrorist document, well you're not alone. He addresses that very thing at the end by retelling his encounter with FBI agents in Harvard Square, sent to serve a subpoena in the investigation. Hard to believe he'd be the leaker then have the balls to write a book, too.

But his main conclusion isn't necessarily anti-Bush, it's anti-tactics. His conclusion is that the White House overplayed a winning hand, not that the cards were marked. One might assume they overreacted to threats, probably exacerbated by the anthrax attacks and what Tenet described in his book as a possible AQ nuclear threat. It wouldn't be surprising. But Americans are resilient. As occurred with Lincoln, we managed to recover from his attack on the Constitution without much of a lasting black mark on the nation. His legacy hasn't fared that poorly, either.

UPDATE 9/13/07

Law professor Glenn Reynolds interviewed Jack Goldsmith at length. If you're here, and interested in his views, check it out. His book seems to be a discussion of how lawyers have impacted our fight against terrorism. He was concerned with the surveillance and interrogation, but not to the point of putting on a tin foil basher hat, simply as a man of the law.

He made a very good point regards charges that the Bush administration has no regard for the law--why would they send administration officials to Ashcroft's hospital room if they didn't care about squaring the legal side?

He also makes the great point that as time goes by and the 9/11 attack fades from memory Americans in general are losing the sense we're really in a war, therefore it's harder to justify the tools and methods Bush says he desperately needs to fight the battles. The enemy is not uniformed and visible like it was in World War II. He mentions the old saw that "democracy can't fight a seven year war" to which I agree--we don't do long wars very well. The terrorists know this all too well.

His recommendation for the next president? Maybe reveal a little more of the threats and decriminalize some of the laws surrounding the presidency. Give the president discretion to defeat the enemy, then go back later and audit his actions, punishing as needed.

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