The Joint Inquiry and Mukasey’s Call

Alright. Glenn has me intrigued by Michael Mukasey’s story about an intercept that–if it had been disseminated–might have prevented 9/11. So I’m going to flog it for a couple more posts. As a reminder, here’s the story that Mukasey has apparently heard, Zelikow doesn’t recognize, and Conyers has not heard.

And before 9/11, that’s the call that we didn’t know about. We knew that there has been a call from someplace that was known to be a safe house in Afghanistan and we knew that it came to the United States. We didn’t know precisely where it went.

As I pointed out in this comment, Mukasey tells a similar (thought not exactly the same) story in his and Mike McConnell’s letter to Harry Reid listing which FISA amendments would have incurred a veto threat (I think this story was also actually used in the debate in the Senate, though that’s going to have to wait for a later post).

The Joint Inquiry has learned that one of the future hijackers communicated with a known terrorist facility in the Middle East while he was living the United States. The Intelligence Community did not identify the domestic origin of those communications prior to September 11, 2001, so that additional FBI inevstigative efforts could be coordinated.

Before moving on, note the key difference here: Mukasey’s weepy story has the person in the US receiving a call from an Afghan safe house. The Joint Inquiry was told the US person called the known terrorist facility. That may have import as we move forward–but for now, just keep in mind that little discrepancy.

Also note the reference is somewhat vague. When did this intercept come in? Which hijacker did it involve? Did the Joint Inquiry see the intercept itself, or did they just "learn" about it, as the passage implies?

To see if I could clarify those issues, I decided to look at the Joint Inquiry to see precisely what it said about this intercept that could have prevented 9/11 (see page 36 of the PDF). From the context, it is clear the members and staffers from both intelligence committees–who conducted this inquiry–believed that the NSA had all the legal authority it needed to collect this intercept.

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Another Possibility with Mukasey’s 9/11 Story

While we’re talking about Mukasey’s claim that Bush could have prevent 9/11 and didn’t, I want to raise one more possibility. Mukasey’s story, remember, is that the US had noted a phone call from an Afghan safe house to somewhere in the US–but the US couldn’t track the call because didn’t know where the phone call went.

And before 9/11, that’s the call that we didn’t know about. We knew that there has been a call from someplace that was known to be a safe house in Afghanistan and we knew that it came to the United States. We didn’t know precisely where it went."

Glenn Greenwald (who has been flogging this issue heroically), reviews the 9/11 Commission report and concludes that such an intercept didn’t happen.

Critically, the 9/11 Commission Report — intended to be a comprehensive account of all relevant pre-9/11 activities — makes no mention whatsoever of the episode Mukasey described. What has been long publicly reported in great detail are multiple calls that were made between a global communications hub in Yemen and the U.S. — calls which the NSA did intercept without warrants (because, contrary to Mukasey’s lie, FISA does not and never did require a warrant for eavesdropping on foreign targets) but which, for some unknown reason, the NSA failed to share with the FBI and other agencies. But the critical pre-9/11 episode Mukasey described last week is nowhere to be found in the 9/11 Report or anywhere else. It just does not exist. [emphasis Glenn’s]

And Glenn is not alone. Chairman Conyers says he doesn’t know anything about it.

And Philip Zelikow says he doesn’t know what Mukasey is talking about.

Not sure of course what the AG had in mind, although the most important signals intelligence leads related to our report — that related to the Hazmi-Mihdhar issues of January 2000 or to al Qaeda activities or transits connected to Iran — was not of this character. If, as he says, the USG didn’t know where the call went in the US, neither did we. So unless we had some reason to link this information to the 9/11 story ….

In general, as with several covert action issues for instance, the Commission sought (and succeeded) in publishing details about sensitive intelligence matters where the details were material to the investigative mandate in our law.

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I have a feeling (and I hope) things are going to snowball from here on out. With each new revelation, the things the Administration did while operating in secrecy get worse and worse. And, they make it easier for Democrats to push for still more revelations. For example, when the ACLU succeeds in liberating the Yoo Torture Memo, it makes everyone ask about that October 23, 2001 memo that claims the 4th Amendment is dead.

Second, in the March, 2003 Office of Legal Counsel (OLC) memorandum publicly released on April 1, 2008, the contents of a secret October, 2001 OLC memorandum were partially disclosed. Specifically, the 2003 memorandum explains that in an October 23, 2001 memorandum, OLC “concluded that the Fourth Amendment had no application to domestic military operations.”3 On two prior occasions – in letters of February 12 and February 20, 2008, – Chairman Conyers requested that the Administration publicly release the October 23, 2001, memorandum .4 The memorandum has not been received despite these specific requests.

Based on the title of the October 23, 2001 memorandum, and based on what has been disclosed and the contents of similar memoranda issued at roughly the same time, it is clear that a substantial portion of this memorandum provides a legal analysis and conclusions as to the nature and scope of the Presidential Commander in Chief power to accomplish specific acts within the United States. The people of the United States are entitled to know the Justice Department’s interpretation of the President’s constitutional powers to wage war in the United States. There can be no actual basis in national security for keeping secret the remainder of a legal memorandum that addresses this issue of Constitutional interpretation. The notion that the President can claim to operate under “secret” powers known only to the President and a select few subordinates is antithetical to the core principles of this democracy. We ask that you promptly release the October 23, 2001, memorandum.

And, when the Attorney General makes bogus assertions to justify his calls for FISA reform, it makes everyone want to know why George Bush didn’t prevent 9/11 if he had the opportunity to.

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Mukasey Wasn’t Bluffing

Well, at least he complied with my request that he make his decision quickly. I’m sure you’re not surprised that he said no?


By ordering the U.S. Attorney to take no action in response to congressional subpoenas, the Bush Administration is continuing to politicize law enforcement, which undermines public confidence in our criminal justice system.

Anticipating this response from the Administration, the House has already provided authority for the Judiciary Committee to file a civil enforcement action in federal district court and the House shall do so promptly. The American people demand that we uphold the law. As public officials, we take an oath to uphold the Constitution and protect our system of checks and balances and our civil lawsuit seeks to do just that.


Our investigation into the firing of United States Attorneys revealed an Administration and a Justice Department that seemed to put politics first, and today’s decision to shelve the contempt process, in violation of a federal statute, shows that the White House will go to any lengths to keep its role in the US Attorney firings hidden. In the face of such extraordinary actions, we have no choice but to proceed with a lawsuit to enforce the Committee’s subpoenas.

Pelosi to Mukasey: Tag. You’re It.

The Speaker writes letters to the Attorney General.

In accordance with 2 U.S.C. § 194 and the attached House Resolution 979 (adopted on February 14, 2008), I have today sent a certification to the United States Attorney for the District of Columbia, Jeffrey Taylor, advising him of the failure of former White House Counsel, Harriet Miers, to appear, testify and produce documents in compliance with a duly issued subpoena of a subcommittee of the House Judiciary Committee and of the failure of Joshua Bolten, White House Chief of Staff and custodian of White House documents, to produce documents in his custody as required by a duly issued subpoena of the House Judiciary Committee.

Under section 194, Mr. Taylor is now required "to bring the matter before the grand jury for its action." The appropriate grand jury action is a criminal charge for violation of 2 U.S.C. § 192, which provides: "Every person who having been summoned as a witness by the authority of either House of Congress to give testimony or to produce papers . . . willfully makes default . . . shall be deemed guilty of a misdemeanor" and shall be subject to a fine and "imprisonment in a common jail for not less than one month nor more than twelve months."

According to the testimony of your predecessor, former Attorney General Alberto Gonzales, and your recent testimony before the House Judiciary Committee, the Justice Department intends to prevent Mr. Taylor from complying with the statute and enforcing the contempt citations against Ms. Miers and Mr. Bolten. You claimed that "enforcement by way of contempt of a congressional subpoena is not permitted when the President directs a direct adviser of his… not to appear or when he directs any member of the executive not to produce documents." Hearing on Oversight of the Dep’t of Justice Before the H. Comm. on the Judiciary, 110th Cong. 87-88 (Feb. 7, 2008). You purported to base your view on a "long line of authority," but cited no court decision that supports this proposition.

There is no authority by which persons may wholly ignore a subpoena and fail to appear as directed because a President unilaterally instructs them to do so. Even if a subpoenaed witness intends to assert a privilege in response to questions, the witness is not at liberty to disregard the subpoena and fail to appear at the required time and place. Read more

Conyers Has Gotten Cranky

Just a quick post (I promise, I’ll catch up tomorrow) to observe that Conyers seems to be getting fed up. Yesterday he was handing long "to do" lists to Fred Fielding. Today, it’s taking the next step in ratcheting the pressure on the Bush Adminsitration.

Recommending that the House cite someone for contempt of Congress is a step that the Committee, and I as Chairman, take with great reluctance. Unfortunately, it is a step that is clearly necessary to preserve the role and constitutional prerogatives of Congress as an institution, in addition to getting to the bottom of the U.S. Attorney controversy.

The Judiciary Committee voted on July 25 to recommend the contempt resolution because, despite months of effort to secure voluntary compliance, the White House has refused to provide access to crucial information requested by the Committee. In fact, as of today, I have written nine letters over more than eight months trying to resolve this matter. But despite duly issued subpoenas, the White House has determined that it has the unilateral authority to prevent Mr. Bolten from providing us with a single piece of paper and to prevent Ms. Miers from even showing up at a Committee hearing.

If the executive branch can disregard Congressional subpoenas in this way, we no longer have a system of checks and balances. That is the cornerstone of our democracy, and it is our bipartisan responsibility to protect it. As our former colleague, Republican Mickey Edwards, has explained, taking action is crucial in order to defend Congress "as a separate, independent, and completely equal branch of government."

Because the White House has refused to reconsider its confrontational position, I believe we have no choice but to bring this contempt resolution to the floor promptly and to ask that this Committee adopt a rule to facilitate doing so. [my emphasis]

I’m particularly interested in the degree of specificity in Conyers’ letter:

Along with the contempt resolution, .I ask the Committee to include in its rule the appropriate process for consideration of H. Res. 980, a privileged resolution authorizing the Judiciary Committee to initiate or intervene in civil litigation to enforce these two subpoenas. The need for this resolution became clear just last week, when the Attorney General unfortunately testified before our Committee that he is inclined to follow the White House’s view and forbid enforcement of the contempt resolution.

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Mukasey Oversight: HJC Edition, Part Two

Delahunt: You said if an opinion was rendered, that would insulate him from any consequences.

MM: We could not investigate or prosecute somebody for acting in reliance on a justice department opinion.

Delahunt: If that opinion was inaccurate and in fact violated a section of US Criminal Code, that reliance is in effect an immunity from any criminal culpability.

MM: Immunity connoted culpability.

Delahunt: This is brand new legal theory.

MM: Disclosure of waterboarding was part of CIA interrogation and permitted by DOJ opinion, would and should bar investigation of people who relied on that opinion.

Delahunt: Let’s concede that waterboarding is in contravention of international obligation. If opinion rendered that amounted to malpractice, whoever employed that technique, simply by relying on that opinion would be legally barred from criminal investigation.

MM: If you’re talking about legal mistake, there is an inquiry regarding whether properly rendered opinions or didn’t. But yes, that bars the person who relied on that opinion from being investigated.

Delahunt: I find that a new legal doctrine. The law is the law.

MM: If it comes to pass that somebody at a later date that the opinion should have been different the person who relied on the opinion cannot be investigated.

Delahunt: Is there a legal precedent.

MM: There is practical consideration. I can’t cite you a case.

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Mukasey Refuses to Say Whether He Was Instructed Not to Enforce Subpoenas

This was stunning stuff. I’m going to hunt down a YouTube. But for now, understand that AG Muksey refused to answer Robert Wexler’s question of whether or not the AG had been instructed not to enforce the subpoenas of Harriet Miers and Josh Bolten. Here’s the liveblog excerpt:

Wexler: Failure to reply to Congressional subpoenas. Refusal of Bolten and Miers to even appear. Have you been instructed by POTUS to enforce or not to enforce subpoenas.

MM: I can’t say.

Wexler: Can you tell me the individual that Clinton instructed not to appear?

MM: Dellinger wrote an opinion.

Wexler: I didn’t ask opinions. I asked about the President instructing someone not to appear. Have you been instructed to enforce or not to enforce contempt citations.

MM: That’s privileged.

Wexler: Should Congress pass a contempt citation would you enforce it?

MM: If you’re talking about a contempt citation based on Bolten’s failure to appear–he can’t violate the President’s request.

Wexler: Are you the people’s lawyer or the President’s?

MM: AG of US.

Shouldn’t Mukasey be able to say, "it would be inappropriate for me to discuss these subpoenas with my superiors, Bush, Dick, and Addington"?

Mukasey Oversight: HJC Edition

Coming in at the end of the opening statements. Conyers’ emphasis is on questions on torture and voting rights. Lamar Smith says crack dealers who have already served longer than coke dealers should stay in jail. And Mukasey says the telecoms need [ut oh, he’s got his talking points wrong] retroactive immunity and those crack dealers need to stay in jail.


Any additional comments about waterboarding now that Hayden confirmed it?

MM: Do you have a particular question?

JC: Are you ready to start a criminal investigation?

MM: That’s a direct question. No, I am not. Whatever was done as part of the CIA program, was part of DOJ opinion, through OLC, permissible under law as it existed then. For me to use occasion of disclosure that that was once an authorized part of the CIA program would be for me to tell that they will now be subject to criminal investigation. That would put into question not only that opinion, but also any other opinion from DOJ. That’s not something that would be appropriate and not something I would do.

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Feingold Slaps Down Bond’s, Mukasey’s, and McConnell’s “Tired Accusations”

Senator Feingold noticed the same thing I noticed today: Republican opponents of his amendments are mischaracterizing his amendments.

[Bond] referred to our concerns that somehow the rights and privacy could be affected by this bill as "tired accusations." I object to that characterization. I think that this is clearly the kind of thing we should be worried about and debating, but I’ll tell you what is a "tired accusation"–the notion that somehow our amendment would affect the ability of the government to listen in on Osama bin Laden–that is a tired and false accusation. The Senator from Missouri said that if Osama bin Laden or his number three man–whoever that is today, after the last number three man in al Qaeda was just wiped out–calls somebody in the United States, we can’t listen in on that communication unless we have an independent means of verifying that it has some impact on threats to our security from a terrorist threat. That’s what he claims. That’s what he claims, that we wouldn’t be able to listen in on that kind of conversation. That is absolutely false.

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