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Bush Personally Ordered Visit to Ashcroft’s Hospital Bed

One warrantless surveillance mystery solved. My friend Marcy Wheeler beat me to this: George W. Bush personally ordered White House Counsel Alberto Gonzales and Chief of Staff Andy Card to visit an ailing Attorney General John Ashcroft in the hospital in March 2004 after Ashcroft’s deputy Jim Comey refused to certify the warrantless surveillance program. Just look at this profile in courage:

According to notes from Ashcroft’s FBI security detail, at 6:20 p.m. that evening Card called the hospital and spoke with an agent in Ashcroft’s security detail, advising him that President Bush would be calling shortly to speak with Ashcroft. Ashcroft’s wife told the agent that Ashcroft would not accept the call. Ten minutes later, the agent called Ashcroft’s Chief of Staff David Ayers at DOJ to request that Ayers speak with Card about the President’s intention to call Ashcroft. The agent conveyed to Ayers Mrs. Ashcroft’s desire that no calls be made to Ashcroft for another day or two. However, at 6:45 p.m., Card and the President called the hospital and, according to the agent’s notes, “insisted on speaking [with Attorney General Ashcroft].” According to the agent’s notes, Mrs. Ashcroft took the call from Card and the President and was informed that Gonzales and Card were coming to the hospital to see Ashcroft regarding a matter involving national security.

Jack Goldsmith remembers that after a seriously-ill Ashcroft told Gonzales and Card to follow Comey’s legal advice, Goldsmith seriously thought Ashcroft might actually die right then and there. Ashcroft earns himself a place in the patriot’s pantheon just for that. I truly can’t wait to see how Bush’s presidential library treats this incident.

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