Sunday, September 14, 2008

Clash of the Titans

The WaPo has posted excerpts from a new book to be released this week called "Angler: The Cheney Vice Presidency". Their excerpt goes into detail (yet another leak) about the events that led up to the now infamous Ashcroft hospital drama regarding his refusal to renew the terrorist surveillance program Bush enacted after 9/11.

The suspense builds as the WaPo's Barton Gellman describes the 11th hour clash of the titans meeting between Cheney and his assistant David Addington and messers Comey, Goldsmith, Gonzales, Mueller, McGlaughlin, Hayden, and Card. The fly on the wall described it as a contentious meeting where Comey and Goldsmith came out on top, putting Addington down a few pegs while refusing to be convinced on the legal merits of the program as a critical re-authorization approached.

Shallow thinkers will see this as more evidence of Cheney trying to take over the government, starting with a secret program to monitor Aunt Isabel's calls to the motherland based on terrorism paranoia.

But, since that seems to require a belief that 9/11 was an inside job to set up the spying, most clear-thinking folks will be left with two options--one, that Cheney was an evil opportunist, or two, that Cheney was very scared of something, going so far as to risk an illegal operation to combat it. This paragraph provides a clue:
This program, Cheney said, was vital. Turning it off would leave us blind. Hayden, the NSA chief, pitched in: Even if the program had yet to produce blockbuster results, it was the only real hope of discovering sleeper agents before they could act.
We've known all along about the close compartmentalization of this program, which seems to either heighten the threat itself or the nefariousness of Cheney's actions. If it's the former, has that threat now passed?

Harken back to the Addington/Yoo hearings at the judiciary a few months ago. The takeaway moment was Addington's confrontation with William Delahunt when he reminded the Congressman that "AQ may be listening" to their hearings, and indeed, when looked at from an existential threat perspective (as opposed to a Bushitler perspective) it's a bit unnerving to ponder what might have spooked these guys. Ironically or not, FBI Director Mueller is scheduled to testify this week about the FBI's role in the anthrax letters case.

Regardless of outcome the story illustrates the nature of the Vice Presidency, at least under the Bush administration. Trying to imagine Sarah Palin at that level is pretty fuzzy in the ole Viewmaster, but on the other hand perhaps somebody 'closer to the people' would provide a useful voice in such proceedings. Or perhaps no voice at all--VPs aren't always active. A "change", no doubt. More Monday..


Here we go. Back to the bedside scene where AJ Ashcroft apparently summoned the power of the Lord to defeat evil in our time:
Mueller arrived just after Card and Gonzales departed. He shared a private moment with Ashcroft, bending over to hear the man's voice.

"Bob, I'm struggling," Ashcroft said.

"In every man's life there comes a time when the good Lord tests him," Mueller replied. "You have passed your test tonight."
Before continuing let's return to a previous post questioning Director Mueller's notes on this incident, which stated:
"Saw AG," Mueller writes in his notes for 8:10 p.m. on March 10, 2004, only minutes after Gonzales and White House chief of staff Andrew H. Card Jr. had visited Ashcroft. "Janet Ashcroft in the room. AG in chair; is feeble, barely articulate, clearly stressed."
Was he in the bed or in a chair? This was deleted by Yahoo and other news outlets at the time--conveniently those stories have disappeared from the web.

The drama continued to the White House meeting between Comey and Bush (which Comey refused to detail during his testimony):
"I think you should know that Director Mueller is going to resign today," Comey said. Bush raised his eyebrows. He shifted in his chair. He could not hide it, or did not try. He was gobsmacked.
Gobsmacked. Nice.

A couple of things seem likely here. One, Cheney had compartmentalized a program that was designed to finger sleeper attack cells in the United States. He shielded the president. Two, Comey and Goldsmith saw the program, assessed the legality based on current law at the time, and deemed it unlawful. Cheney and others felt it was within a president's constitutional power to protect the nation during war and in order to maintain operational security of the program, it had to be held in a tight circle. Based on the leaks we've seen in the past few years this was not an unreasonable assumption.

Comey and his brethren, including Ashcroft, were worried they were being scapegoated for future prosecutions because they weren't a part of the tight circle, meaning their rears were too exposed. This is common in government.

Perhaps this whole kerfuffle was best summed up by Ashcroft himself in his recent testimony in front of Congress, where he characterized the whole thing as "robust debate" that eventually led to the right decision being made. Once again, the Democrats approach these matters as if there was never an attack, or that it should have no bearing on any Commander-in-Chief's decision making. The 64K question is whether they'll remain curious about any of this should Obama win the White House. Just guessing--it will go the way of the removed W keys on White House computers.

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