Alberto Gonzales Tells the Tale We've Been Waiting For

Alberto Gonzales did a long interview with NPR’s Michel Martin on his tenure as Bush’s Fredo. As part of it, he gave a long discussion of his actions on March 10, 2004 and thereafter, starting with his insistence that he was not trying to take advantage of Ashcroft when he was in ICU (my transcript–apologies in advance for any errors). 

AGAG: Neither and or I, and obviously, I can’t really speak for Andy, but I’m comfortable saying that neither Andy or I would have gone there to take advantage of someone who was sick. Um, Andy and I both, in fact, talked about the importance of satisfying ourselves as we talked with General Ashcroft that he was in fact competent. We talked about it over at the White House and talked about it in the sedan over to the hospital. We were concerned about that. We were sent there on behalf of the President of the United States. We had just left a very important meeting with the Congressional leadership about a very important intelligence program that the Congressional leadership agreed with the President should continue because it was a particularly heightened period of threats against the United States and against our allies. And I might remind your listeners that the very next morning, you had the Madrid train bombings. It was a very serious period of time, we had a very important program, and everyone–the Congressional branch leadership and the Executive branch leadership seemed to feel that this was something that should continue.

MM: Are you saying the President told you to go?

AGAG: What I’m saying is I was sent there on behalf of the President of the United States. The Chief of Staff, the Counsel to the President, we went to the hospital on behalf of the President to make sure that General Ashcroft had this information. That’s why we went to the hospital.

MM: You mean had information about the Madrid bombing or had information that this was of importance to the President and the Congressional leadership?

AGAG: The Madrid bombing had not happened yet. That would happen then the next morning. We went to the hospital to make sure that the Attorney General had information about the approval of the Congressional leadership. We felt that as a former Member of Congress that that would make a difference for him and as someone who had been involved in the reauthorization of the program for three years we felt that that would make a difference. And I would just say that if I were the Attorney General at the time, and the President was about to make a decision, over the objection of my Deputy, a decision that was consistent with the advice that I had given him for three years, a decision that was consistent with the approval of the Congressional leadership, I’d like to know about it.

MM: How did you feel though when you found out that Attorney General Ashcroft, Deputy Attorney General James Comey, FBI Director Mueller, all their aides were preparing to resign en masse over this? Did you know that at the time that they felt so strongly about this?

AGAG: What I’ll just say as a general matter is that sometimes people feel strongly about positions, and about decisions that are made within the Executive branch, sometimes people say things in the heat of the moment. At the end of the day what’s important is that we all came together and all came to a resolution that ensured the continued safety of our country.

MM: But I still want–you worked closely with these people. You worked closely with John Ashcroft, you worked closely with FBI Director Mueller obviously within the appropriate boundaries of your respective jobs. Did that not give you pause at all, when they all said, well, we’ll quit, we’ll all leave?

AGAG: Well, I don’t know who … Again, I can’t confirm that these people all were saying we’re all going to leave. Again, lawyers disagree. They often disagree about very controversial issues. They often disagree about tough legal analysis and legal questions. That’s what lawyers do. And I think we need to invite that kind of debate and that kind of discourse between lawyers on very very tough issues. But the fact that someone may have been unhappy, may have disagreed with a particular decision, legal analysis, that should not surprise anyone.

MM: How’d you react when this came out later, when that whole information came out sometime later in about 2006, about 2 years later? what was your reaction? You were out of time at the time that James Comey testified. Do you remember how you felt?

AGAG: I was disappointed that Mr. Comey had not had the courtesy to at least inform the Department of Justice or the White House that this testimony was coming. 

As background, remember what we learned from a DOJ IG report on Gonzales last year. After Comey told Bush that a number of people in DOJ would resign because Bush had reauthorized the program over DOJ objections, Bush instructed Gonzales to make notes of the Congressional meeting. Those notes appear to have been designed to create a cover story for the hospital visit and to do what the Gang of Eight couldn’t easily do, create a "record" of members of Congress approving the illegal wiretapping program.

With that said, here are some initial thoughts on this.

First, note Gonzales’ description of who approved of the program. He uses the term "Congressional leadership" thoughout, and the one point where he says "everone," he seems to correct himself immediately to say "Congressional leadership."

everyone–the Congressional branch leadership and the Executive branch leadership

That’s notable for a few reasons. Gonzales is already in trouble for having asserted, under oath, that consensus had been reached at that meeting, a description that several participants at the meeting have disagreed with. (Nancy Pelosi, who has made the most public statement about this, has said a majority agreed, but she did not.) This formulation, "Congressional leadership" is pretty ambiguous. It could easily exclude the intelligence committee leadership. And depending on the duplicity of this very duplicitous figure, it might mean a subset of Congressional leadership (as in, just that is the majority?) Which is all the more interesting given that Tom DeLay was not at the March 10 briefing, but did receive a briefing on March 11, and that Dick Cheney (who is even more duplicitous than Gonzales) has claimed he briefed the Gang of Eight plus DeLay on March 10. I suspect that Gonzales settled carefully on "Congressional leadership," having determined with his attorney George Terwilliger that that’s a way to parse the truth such that he might get out of perjury charges but still claim Congress supported the program.

That said, I think the legally most interesting statement Gonzales made is this one:

the President was about to make a decision, over the objection of my Deputy

According to Gonzales, when he and Andy Card went to rough up Ashcroft, the President had already decided to override the objections of Comey. That’s not in the least bit surprising, of course. I suspect the final outcome was never in doubt. But it’s an admission that they were just making one last attempt to get cover for something they were going to do with or without legal sanction from DOJ.

Now look at how they intended to get that cover from Ashcroft.

We went to the hospital to make sure that the Attorney General had information about the approval of the Congressional leadership. We felt that as a former Member of Congress that that would make a difference for him and as someone who had been involved in the reauthorization of the program for three years we felt that that would make a difference.

I’m interested in this for two reasons. First, as I’ve shown, one problem with the program was undoubtedly that Jello Jay Rockefeller had communicated to Cheney that the program–which appeared to be TIA–violated the legal prohibition on funding TIA. That meant that the program was in direct violation of an amendment written solely to prevent it. If that was one of the biggest objections Comey had with the program, and if Gonzales was willing to claim that the Gang of Eight had told the Administration to ignore that law, then it might make a difference with Ashcroft.

But I’m also fascinated by Gonzales’ emphasis on Ashcroft’s approval of this program for three years. It sure sounds like he intended to tell Ashcroft, "We’ve told Congress we were breaking the law on your legal advice for the last three years. Now sign up or we’ll tell more people." As if they tried to use Comey’s objection as a way to expose Ashcroft (which might explain why Ashcroft’s Chief of Staff was so insistent Comey wait around for Ashcroft to resign).

Finally, Gonzales confirms something here I’ve long maintained. Chuck Schumer and Jim Comey pulled a fast one on the White House and DOJ to get his testimony on the hospital scene. I pointed out just after Comey’s testimony that Schumer made a point of saying that Comey had not been subpoenaed to testify. I suggested that that would have been a way to avoid giving the White House and DOJ a chance to object to Comey’s testimony. And, sure enough, at least according to Gonzales, they had no fucking clue.

 Mr. Comey had not had the courtesy to at least inform the Department of Justice or the White House that this testimony was coming.

Chuck? You still owe us–big time–for Mukasey. But for springing the hospital scene testimony on BushCo? You done good.

Update: here’s a transcript of the full interview. (h/t scribe)

    • BlueStateRedHead says:

      EW, be kind to your hair. Leave some for the futute. After all, aren’t we all hoping we get to hear alot of ex-AG AG in some witness box? we won’t hearing him literally, being outside of courtroom. But I guess you will be live blogging that voice for us. So keep lots of hair for those hoped for days.

    • prostratedragon says:

      Can you imagine a domestic conversation with him that begins, “Did you pick up the milk?”

      Thank you for your trouble.

    • bmaz says:

      If you had a 13 year old daughter that played Hanna Montana and the other little squeaky pop tarts de jour, you would be used to Gonzo’s voice. See, there are benefits to teenagers after all!

  1. BlueStateRedHead says:

    Can you explain to the IANALs

    Schumer made a point of saying that Comey had not been subpoenaed to testify. I suggested that that would have been a way to avoid giving the White House and DOJ a chance to object to Comey’s testimony.

    object when and to what? then, or or in some future trial?

    • emptywheel says:

      If you recall, the USAs who testified before Congress–and Comey, when he testified before HJC–all demanded that Congress subpoena them first. It gets around questions of separation of powers and gives them political cover for testifying. But as I understand it, a subpoena requires formal notification of the WH and DOJ.

      So shortly after Comey testified before HJC, he was VERY quietly scheduled for SJC. Had he been subpoenaed (if I’ve got this right), then they would have had notice. But instead, they just brought him in, apparently told the committee, we barely found out about it (we were about the only people covering it live). So Chuckie and Comey were basically able to spring this huge political headache on BushCo, under the cover of Comey testifying about the USA firings.

      • BlueStateRedHead says:

        got it.

        (we were about the only people covering it live). /blockquote>

        meaning? FDL? if so, chapeau (french for congratulations for the hat tip/scoop, etc.)

  2. Leen says:

    So why did Comey, Mueller and others threaten to resign?
    So why did AG try so hard to block James Comey from testifying?…../15/comey/

    James Comey sure seemed concerned about them being more than willing to take advantage of a very ill man during his testimony in front of our Reps

    Comey ” that was the most difficult night of my professional life”
    Schumer “Am I correct that the conduct of Mr. Gonzales and Mr. Card troubled you greatly”
    Comey “yes”

    Comey’s testimony had me glued to the screen

  3. SaltinWound says:

    It would be interesting if DeLay was brought in to make some sort of false majority, after the eight split. But Pelosi makes it sound like there was already a majority–unless her “majority” includes DeLay, which would be buying into the White House’s weird idea of who should/should not be briefed.

  4. drational says:

    EW, I don’t recall you commenting on the coincidence of the Comey testimony and the FISA trouble on May 15, 2007; the day they had to track down AGAG in Texas to sign off on using the program to try to “help abducted soldiers in Iraq”. I think the events are related and give details about the nature of “the program” they continued to use after January 2007 when they came back to the FISA court with “everything”. I think the surprise testimony may have triggered another round of CYA revolts in the DOJ.

  5. Leen says:

    Comey, Mueller, Ashcroft, Comey’s chief of staff etc were going to resign.
    Watching that Comey testimony again gives me hope in the integrity of some in our government

    AG continues to dig his hole to hell and back. Hope they nail him

  6. scribe says:

    2 things I come away with:
    1. “Three years” over and over. Three years from March 10-11, 2004 puts us back to pre-9/11. Mayhaps they were doing the warrantless wiretapping pre-9/11.

    2. The way he refers to the Madrid bombings seems (to me, anyway) to imply some level of foreknowledge of them taking place. I know – maybe I’m reading too much into the way this idiot speaks, but sometimes an idiot trying to be smart lets the truth out.

    I, for one, cannot conceive of a terra cell putting together something as extensive as the Madrid operation without there having been electronic communications which likely were picked up – remember, all that happened overseas, so domestic restrictions would not apply.

    Also, courtesy of the Chicago Tribune and How Appealing (the link), the whole transcript of Fredo is at this place. So, EW, now you don’t have to listen to teh screech and stupid any more.

    • emptywheel says:

      I had the same thought about the Madrid stuff.

      But remember that they lost a critical ally to it. (Of course, the PP tried to blame the bombing on ETA.)

      • scribe says:

        My bet is that they knew from their own polling in Spain that the ally government was going to go down b/c the war was already seriously unpopular. The bombing only looked like the causative factor for the government’s fall; I’d bet daily trackers showed it was already pretty well decided.

        Cui bono, then, a terra attack? Maybe Bushie’s re-elex. Lump the Spaniards in with the cheese-eatin’ surrender monkey Frenchies and point at what happens when you go on a rioja and manchengo diet. Look at what happens when you go soft. Jus think how bad it will be if you elect that wussy [Generic Dem].

  7. plunger says:

    So the urgency was tied to the Administration’s foreknowledge that the Madrid bombing was scheduled for the following morning?

    That’s what I read.

    • scribe says:

      Also, you have to keep in mind that the way the numbers worked out was really strange and spooky.
      9/11/01 to 3/11/04 was exactly 2 1/2 years, true. But, strangely enough, it was also like the same number of days (I remember counting) as the time between Pearl Harbor and D-Day. So, I could see some weird historical mirroring argument being made on a number of sides of this argument. I remember buttonholing a Congresscritter and reaming him out but good at a different time b/c at that time we had been fighting in Iraq longer than we’d been in WWII from beginning to end, and unarmored Hummers were still killing crews on a daily basis.

  8. plunger says:

    How much proof do we all need to admit that our own shadow government, in concert with its globalist allies, committed the original WTC bombing, Oklahoma City, Lockerbie, 9/11, 7/7 and Madrid (to name a few)? I mean Jesus Christ, there is so much evidence, both actual and circumstantial, including live witness testimony – it’s just absurd to dance around this stuff as “conspiracy theory” any longer.

    Read this deposition of Andy Card’s Cousin, a CIA asset whom he allowed to let rot in prison for her role in trying to prevent the Iraq war:

    Can we talk? Can we please stop talking about “Al Qaeda” as though it actually exists independently from US black ops?

  9. plunger says:

    Here’s Andy Card’s Cousin, CIA asset Susan Lindauer, interviewed in depth, at length, after having just been released from prison at the end of the Bush Administration:

    Who are you more inclined to believe than her?

  10. prostratedragon says:

    One wonders whether the Sp. govt. of the time, not appreciating the intended use of the gift they were offered, made a lame response to avoid having their “willingness” blamed —responses that insular game theorists elsewhere might not have node could happen.

  11. LabDancer says:

    Good news: Al’s memory problem appears to have cleared up!

    Number of times the word “forget” appears: zero.

    Number of times the word “forgot” appears: zero.

    Number of times the word “memory” appears: zero.

    Number of times the word “recall” appears: one – from Martin.

    Number of times the word “recollect” appears: zero.

    Number of times the word “recollection” appears: one – from Gonzales, in the course of relating his positive recollection [Get a load of this.] that “the INTELLIGENCE OFFICIALS gave a contradictory testimony”.

    Number of times the word “remember” appears: one – from Martin, in posing a question as “Do you remember [This is rich.] how you FELT?”

    And he did! He remembers feeling “DISAPPOINTED” – – with COMEY!


  12. freepatriot says:

    We went to the hospital to make sure that the Attorney General had information about the approval of the Congressional leadership

    now lets add the parts that abu gonzo left out:

    We went to the hospital (where the Attorney general who had recused himself due to medical
    INCAPACITY lay incapacitated)
    to make sure that the Attorney General (who had NO CLUE what we we saying DUE TO MEDICAL INCAPACITY) had information (THAT HE WAS IN no shape to understand DUE TO MEDICAL INCAPACITY) about the approval of the Congressional leadership

    did ya notice how the words “RECUSED” and “INCAPACITATED” never appear in gonzo’s accout ???

    if you believe him, abu gonzo was just visiting a friend with a mild cold, not somebody who had RECUSED HIMSELF FROM OFFICE DUE TO MEDICAL INCAPACITATION

    I’m thinking the medical incapacitation and the recusal had a little more to do with this than gozo lets on …

    jus sayin, is all

  13. Mary says:

    31 – but you failed to notice that AG has someone who can vouch for the fact that AG specifically discussed not taking advantage Ashcroft and being satisfied that he was competent.

    Andy Card.

    That was my LOL moment – like that didn’t come out rehearsed and re-rehearsed.

    • freepatriot says:

      well, I guess andy card can testify that abu gonzo doesn’t understand what the word “Recusal” means

      so abu gonzo might have an out that way …

  14. MadDog says:

    So, Fredo was being considerd for SCOTUS?

    MS. MARTIN: I was just wondering, when you came to Washington id you say to yourself, you are obviously an ambitious guy and did you say to yourself, “Gee, that’s the job I want to have, at some point”?

    MR. GONZALES: I don’t think so. Quite frankly, during the first term, most of the attention on me was whether I was going to go onto the Supreme Court, but I stayed focus on my job. I liked, loved working in the White House, I loved seeing the President every day, and so that was, again, there was a lot to do just in charge of my responsibilities of the White House counsel. No, I didn’t think about becoming Attorney General.

    We all, even us agnostics, should say a prayer in relief that Fredo is unemployed.

  15. MadDog says:

    And this ought to be a case study for every law school student on what a lawyer is NOT supposed to do:

    MS. MARTIN: I think what Mr. Holder and those who agree with his position are saying, though, is that it wasn’t worth it – that these practices did not yield important information and that, in fact, even if they did, that they damaged America’s standing abroad to such a degree that it wasn’t worth it. What do you say to that?

    MR. GONZALES: Well, I think as a lawyer, we need to be careful in saying that it didn’t produce valuable intelligence, because my recollection is that the intelligence officials gave a contradictory testimony – or have made contradictory statements. They come to the lawyers – intelligence officials come to lawyers – and say we lack this information. In order to get this information, this is what we believe we need to do. As lawyers, we don’t say, at that point, well, no, we disagree with you; you can get that information a different way. That’s not our job.

    Our job as lawyers is to say, okay, we will tell you whether or not this can be done lawfully. And so if the intelligence officials are saying that the information gathered helped protect America, I think we need to take – we need to believe them as opposed to believing the lawyers who say, oh, I don’t think that’s going to be as effective.

    (My Bold)

    Bullshit, bullshit, bullshit!!!

    That is exactly what lawyers are supposed to tell their clients! Committing crimes is a no-no!

    Lawyers are NOT supposed to tell their clients how to commit crimes.

    Fredo, you disgrace everything about the law! You deserve to spend some quality time behind bars! May you learn from that experience, but that would be highly unlikely.

    • Hmmm says:

      Lawyers are NOT supposed to tell their clients how to commit crimes.

      As you know, he’s from the corporate practice world. Whole other perspective with some of those guys.

  16. Citizen92 says:

    Again and again he says it. And again and again he won’t say who sent him.

    “…We were sent there on behalf of the President of the United States…”

    Gonzales said it in his 2007 testimony
    Gonazales is saying it now.


    • Dismayed says:

      Yeah, that’s just it, who? Fucking who? Ve haf veys of mageing you tawk.

      Any bets? Cheney, Rove?? WOOOOO?

      Fredo’s gonna crack. Juat a matter of time.

  17. siri says:

    Could it be that long term unemployment and a vast consensus agreeing that the situation won’t be changing any time soon is somehow, say “psychologically conducive” to memory, recall and the like? Someone should alert anyone interested in, studying, or investing in R&D on amnesia-like disorders?

  18. JohnLopresti says:

    For the Comey hearing, viewed here thru nearly freeze-frame internet video feed, but seen and heard withal, my take was the divergence from announced purpose of hearing was patently obviously premeditated, even Schumer’s vocalization of his “surprise” at Comey’s eerie tale of the ICU; I thought there had been a prehearing agreement what revelation would occur in the witness chair. Also from a comment in a Mukasey thread long ago, perhaps the recoil Schumer’s off-mike utterances on the torcha question evasion by Mukasey was Schumer’s recognition of an equal political payback, given the Senate’s custom of seeking prenomination concurrence from nominee’s own state senator.

    I was online that evening, and, evidently, one of the first to read of the Madrid Atocha event. It occurred very close to the time of the ICU visit, but I believe about 2:00 a.m. eastern time. Having visited that parallel of Grand Central, and accustomed to reading the press from that country occasionally, and aware of the close race Zapatero had conducted, I followed happenings as the late nite proceeded, and communicated those to some key people in the US campaign of MA’s senator. They notified me next day appreciation for the timeliness of their receiving that news, as it allowed them to communicate with Zapatero’s campaign in a timely way that same morning.