First came revelations about the firing of US attorneys. Now Attorney General Alberto Gonzales is taking criticism from Congress for a second controversial subject: warrantless eavesdropping.
Specifically, key lawmakers want to know about Mr. Gonzales’s possible role in an alleged fierce battle within the Bush administration itself in 2004 over the wiretapping.
Gonzales has denied that such a fight took place. Yet on May 15, Deputy Attorney General James Comey riveted a Senate hearing with his tale of a race to the hospital room of then-Attorney General John Ashcroft, where White House officials – including Gonzales – tried to pressure an ailing Mr. Ashcroft to overrule his own department and reauthorize the program.
“That night was probably the most difficult night of my professional life, so it’s not something that I’d forget,” Mr. Comey told the Senate Judiciary Committee.
In March 2004, Ashcroft was hospitalized with a medical condition serious enough to have him sign over control of the Justice Department to his second-in-command, James Comey.
At the time, the National Security Agency’s warrantless eavesdropping program, which allowed the monitoring of the international electronic communications of people within the US suspected of links to terrorism, was up for renewal by the president. But the Justice Department’s Office of Legal Counsel had decided that the program as it stood was illegal.
Comey was a Bush appointee and by all accounts a staunch Republican. But as a career prosecutor he decided to stand by the Justice Department’s interpretation.