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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. Read more

The al-Haramain Dates

Before you read this post, go read this post and this post for background about Judge Vaughn Walker’s order yesterday that the government must give him a document accidentally given to al-Haramain years ago that the Muslim charity claims proves they were wiretapped using the illegal wiretap program. Those posts explain that Walker will finally assess the warrantless wiretap program itself to determine whether it violated FISA. The second post goes on to suggest that this decision will likely impact Walker’s pending decision on whether or not the retroactive immunity passed by Congress is legal.

In this post I’m going to wallow in some delightful weeds, because they show that al-Haramain is going after Bush personally.

Recall that, back in July, Walker told al-Haramain that, before he would review the document itself to determine whether or not the program was illegal, they would have to use unclassified material to prove they are aggreived persons–that they had been wiretapped. A central part of their response to that direction was a description of a series of phone calls which they assert the government used to classify al-Haramain as a super-duper terrorist group, one with direct ties to Al Qaeda. Walker cites those calls in his opinion.

Soon after the blocking of plaintiff Al-Haramain Oregon’s assets on February 19, 2004, plaintiff Belew spoke by telephone with Soliman al-Buthi (alleged to be one of Al-Haramain Oregon’s directors) on the following dates: March 10, 11 and 25, April 16, May 13, 22 and 26, and June 1, 2 and 10, 2004. Belew was located in Washington DC; al-Buthi was located in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia. During the same period, plaintiff Ghafoor spoke by telephone with al-Buthi approximately daily from February 19 through February 29, 2004 and approximately weekly thereafter. Ghafoor was located in Washington DC; al-Buthi was located in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia. (The FAC includes the telephone numbers used in the telephone calls referred to in this paragraph.)

In the telephone conversations between Belew and al-Buthi, the parties discussed issues relating to the legal representation of defendants, including Al-Haramain Oregon, named in a lawsuit brought by victims of the September 11, 2001 attacks. Names al-Buthi mentioned in the telephone conversations with Ghafoor included Mohammad Jamal Khalifa, who was married to one of Osama bin-Laden’s sisters, and Safar al-Hawali and Salman al-Auda, clerics whom Osama bin-Laden claimed had inspired him. Read more

Rationalizing the Hospital Visit

As promised, I wanted to say a few more things about Murray Waas’ articles from yesterday. Murray reports two new details that weren’t in the IG report on Gonzales’ notes or in Barton Gellman’s reporting on the events of March 10, 2004. His first story adds to Gellman’s earlier report that George Bush was the one who called John Ashcroft’s hospital room to alert Mrs. Ashcroft that Gonzales and Andy Card were coming; Murray notes that Gonzales "recently" told federal investigators that Bush was the one who sent him to the hospital. Murray’s second story reveals that DOJ investigators are trying to determine whether, on Bush’s orders, Gonzales created a false record of the March 10, 2004 briefing of the Gang of Eight to justify Bush’s reauthorization of the warrantless wiretap program after Comey and Ashcroft refused to reauthorize it.

The Justice Department is investigating whether former Attorney General Alberto Gonzales created a set of fictitious notes so that President Bush would have a rationale for reauthorizing his warrantless eavesdropping program, according to sources close to the investigation.

[snip]

In reauthorizing the surveillance program over the objections of his own Justice Department, President Bush later claimed to have relied on notes made by Gonzales about a meeting that had taken place the day before (March 10), in which Gonzales and Vice President Cheney had met with eight congressional leaders—also known as the “Gang of Eight”—who receive briefings about covert intelligence programs. According to Gonzales’s notes, the congressional leaders had said in the meeting that they wanted the surveillance program to continue despite the attorney general’s refusal to certify that it was legal.

But four of the congressional leaders present at the meeting say that’s not true; they never encouraged the White House to sidestep the objections of the attorney general and continue the program without his approval.

I have no doubt that Gonzales fictionalized his notes so as to invent a rationale for reauthorizing the program in spite of Comey’s disapproval. But I think something else is going on, as well–a desire to invent a rationale for Gonzales and Card’s March 10 hospital visit itself. Read more

Main Core

I don’t know about the track record of Christopher Ketcham, the author of this Radar piece explaining the "big thing" that that made Jim Comey object to the warrantless wiretapping program so aggressively in March 2004. But it sounds like a plausible explanation.

Ketcham describes a database of Americans who, in case the government ever implements its Continuity of Government program in a time of national emergency, can be rounded up and jailed.

… a number of former government employees and intelligence sources with independent knowledge of domestic surveillance operations claim the program that caused the flap between Comey and the White House was related to a database of Americans who might be considered potential threats in the event of a national emergency. Sources familiar with the program say that the government’s data gathering has been overzealous and probably conducted in violation of federal law and the protection from unreasonable search and seizure guaranteed by the Fourth Amendment.

According to a senior government official who served with high-level security clearances in five administrations, "There exists a database of Americans, who, often for the slightest and most trivial reason, are considered unfriendly, and who, in a time of panic, might be incarcerated. The database can identify and locate perceived ‘enemies of the state’ almost instantaneously." He and other sources tell Radar that the database is sometimes referred to by the code name Main Core. One knowledgeable source claims that 8 million Americans are now listed in Main Core as potentially suspect. In the event of a national emergency, these people could be subject to everything from heightened surveillance and tracking to direct questioning and possibly even detention.

[snip]

Another well-informed source—a former military operative regularly briefed by members of the intelligence community—says this particular program has roots going back at least to the 1980s and was set up with help from the Defense Intelligence Agency. He has been told that the program utilizes software that makes predictive judgments of targets’ behavior and tracks their circle of associations with "social network analysis" and artificial intelligence modeling tools. [my emphasis]

Ketcham goes on to explain that the Bush Administration was cross-referencing Main Core with its warrantless wiretap program. Read more

Not Even John Yoo Approved of the Illegal Wiretap Program

I do hope that Eric Lichtblau’s book gets enough coverage this week to further stall Jello Jay’s attempts to ram through telecom immunity. The excerpt in the NYT today reveals that when the illegal wiretap program started in 2001, it had no specific legal authorization–not even from the compliant John Yoo!

Robert S. Mueller III, the F.B.I. director, assured nervous officials that the program had been approved by President Bush, several officials said. But the presidential approval, one former intelligence official disclosed, came without a formal legal opinion endorsing the program by the Office of Legal Counsel at the Justice Department.

At the outset of the program in October 2001, John Ashcroft, the attorney general, signed off on the surveillance program at the direction of the White House with little in the way of a formal legal review, the official said. Mr. Ashcroft complained to associates at the time that the White House, in getting his signature for the surveillance program, “just shoved it in front of me and told me to sign it.”

Aides to Mr. Ashcroft were worried, however, that in approving a surveillance program that appeared to test the limits of presidential authority, Mr. Ashcroft was left legally exposed without a formal opinion from the Office of Legal Counsel, which acts as the legal adviser for the entire executive branch.

At that time, the office had already issued a broad, classified opinion declaring the president’s surveillance powers in the abstract in wartime, but it had not weighed in on the legality or the specifics of the N.S.A. operation, officials said.

The nervousness among Justice Department officials led the administration to secure a formal opinion from John Yoo, a deputy in the Office of Legal Counsel, declaring that the president’s wartime powers allowed him to order the N.S.A. to intercept international communication of terror suspects without a standard court warrant.

Read more