Did Bush Orchestrate Ashcroft Hospital Bed Visit? « The Washington Independent
Murray Waas reports for the Atlantic that George W. Bush told Alberto Gonzales to make the now-infamous March 2004 hospital bed visit to John Ashcroft to convince the attorney general to sign off on a secret domestic surveillance program.
Waas uses his scoop to build the case that contrary to the perception of Bush as a detached figure, the president ran the show when it came to the spying program:
According to people familiar with statements recently made by Gonzales to federal investigators, Gonzales is now saying that George Bush personally directed him to make that hospital visit….Gonzales has also told Justice Department investigators that President Bush played a more central and active role than was previously known in devising a strategy to have Congress enable the continuation of the surveillance program when questions about its legality were raised by the Justice Department, as well as devising other ways to circumvent the Justice Department’s legal concerns about the program, according to people who have read Gonzales’s interviews with investigators.
The hospital visit revelation adds a new wrinkle to a story now part of Bush administration lore: Gonzales and Card presented an envelope to Ashcroft to sign off on a then-secret spying program the AG found legally suspect. However, Ashcroft’s wife and chief of staff had alerted Deputy Attorney General James Comey what was afoot and Comey raced to the hospital and successfully prevented Ashcroft from re-authorizing the program.
The reason Gonzales is talking to federal investigators is that the Justice Dept. is looking into whether the former AG lied under oath to Congress about the process in approving the spy program.
What Gonzales is saying will surely lead to another explosive inspector general report on Justice Dept. corruption. But by tying himself to the president, Gonzales has increased the possibility of using a presidential claim of executive privilege in order to avoid cooperating with subsequent investigations.
On the other hand, Gonzales’s statements to investigators could mark a breakthrough in probing the White House. “What began as investigations narrowly focused on Gonzales’s conduct,” Waas writes, “could easily morph into broader investigations leading into the White House, and possibly leading into the appointment of a special prosecutor.”