What Could Possibly Be So Bad?

by digby

I did not get a chance to see the full Comey testimony until today and it is a doozy, all right. (If you haven't see it yet, check out the YouTube)

Glenn Greenwald says
most of what needs to be said in this piece, and The Muckraker and FDL also fill in some gaps.

I think the question has come back to something I was wondering about well over a year ago after watching this exchange:

SCHUMER: It's been reported by multiple news outlets that the former number two man in the Justice Department, the premier terrorism prosecutor, Jim Comey, expressed grave reservations about the NSA program and at least once refused to give it his blessing. Is that true?

GONZALES: Senator, here's the response that I feel that I can give with respect to recent speculation or stories about disagreements.

There has not been any serious disagreement -- and I think this is accurate -- there has not been any serious disagreement about the program that the president has confirmed. There have been disagreements about other matters regarding operations which I cannot get into.

I will also say...

SCHUMER: But there was some -- I'm sorry to cut you off -- but there was some dissent within the administration. And Jim Comey did express, at some point -- that's all I asked you -- some reservations.

GONZALES: The point I want to make is that, to my knowledge, none of the reservations dealt with the program that we're talking about today. They dealt with operational capabilities that we're not talking about today.

SCHUMER: I want to ask you, again, about -- we have limited time.

GONZALES: Yes, sir.

SCHUMER: It's also been reported that the head of the Office of Legal Counsel, Jack Goldsmith, respected lawyer and professor at Harvard Law School, expressed reservations about the program. Is that true?

GONZALES: Senator, rather than going individual by individual, let me just say that I think the differing views that have been the subject of some of these stories did not deal with the program that I'm here testifying about today.

SCHUMER: But you were telling us that none of these people expressed any reservations about the ultimate program, is that right?

GONZALES: Senator, I want to be very careful here, because, of course, I'm here only testifying about what the president has confirmed.

And with respect to what the president has confirmed, I do not believe that these DOJ officials that you're identifying had concerns about this program.

SCHUMER: There are other reports, I'm sorry to -- you're not giving me a yes-or-no answer here. I understand that.

Newsweek reported that several Department of Justice lawyers were so concerned about the legal basis for the NSA program that they went so far as to line up private lawyers. Do you know if that's true?

GONZALES: I do not know if that's true.


SCHUMER: OK. Well, whatever way we can, I'd be all for.

On privilege -- because that's going to be the issue, even if they come here, as I'm sure you will acknowledge, Mr. Chairman -- I take it you'd have no problem with them talking about their general views on the legality of this program, just as you are talking about those; not to go into the specific details of what happened back then, but their general views on the legality of these programs.

SCHUMER: Do you have any problem with that?

GONZALES: General views of the program that the president has confirmed, Senator, that's -- again, if we're talking about the general views of the...

That was in February of 2006 and it struck me as incredibly odd. Why was he being so explicit about "the program that the president has confirmed." Was there another program?

The exchange seemed so odd that I wondered if the Democrats didn't have some information that there was another domestic surveillance program that they couldn't discuss publicly.

It is indisputable that the admnistration has engaged in surveillance of political groups. We know this. It has been verified. We also know that they believe that political dissent gives aid and comfort to the enemy. The president says so himself.

Therefore, it is entirely reasonable to suspect that this administration would use this illegal surveillance program for purposes other than that to which they have admitted, particularly since they consider political dissent to be bordering on treason.

Today a knowledgeable TPM Muckraker reader wrote in with this:

When the warrantless wiretap surveillance program came up for review in March of 2004, it had been running for two and a half years. We still don't know precisely what form the program took in that period, although some details have been leaked. But we now know, courtesy of Comey, that the program was so odious, so thoroughly at odds with any conception of constitutional liberties, that not a single senior official in the Bush administration's own Department of Justice was willing to sign off on it. In fact, Comey reveals, the entire top echelon of the Justice Department was prepared to resign rather than see the program reauthorized, even if its approval wasn't required. They just didn't want to be part of an administration that was running such a program.

This wasn't an emergency program; more than two years had elapsed, ample time to correct any initial deficiencies. It wasn’t a last minute crisis; Ashcroft and Comey had both been saying, for weeks, that they would withhold
approval. But at the eleventh hour, the President made one final push, dispatching his most senior aides to try to secure approval for a continuation of the program, unaltered.

Keep in mind that Comey's "Enzo the Baker" scene took place just eight months before the presidential election.

I have believed from the get-go that this surveillance was being used for political purposes. The FISA court is a rubber stamp court that will allow virtually anything that could remotely be construed as necessary for national security. After 9/11 they would have been even more lenient. And if they weren't, the administration could easily have gone to the Republican congress and requested changes to the law and they would have gotten it.

How over-the-top must this have been for staunch Republican John Ashcroft to have risen from his ICU bed to argue against it and the entire top echelon of the DOJ were preparing to resign? These are not ordinary times and the law enforcement community has not been particularly squeamish about stretching the Bill of Rights. None of those people are bleeding heart liberals or candidates for the presidency of the ACLU. For them to be this adamant, it must have been something completely beyond the pale.

My suspicion has always been that there was some part of this program --- or an entirely different program --- that included spying on political opponents. Even spying on peace marchers and Greenpeace types wouldn't seem to me to be of such a substantial departure from the agreed upon post 9/11 framework that it would cause such a reaction from the top brass, nor would it be so important to the president that he would send Gonzales and Card into the ICU to get Ashcroft to sign off on it while he was high on drugs.

As I pointed out last year:

From Bush's Brain:

At a seminar in Lexington, Kentucky, in August 1972, Rove and Robinson recounted the Dixon episode with considerable delight. They talked about campaign espionage, about digging through an opponent's garbage for intelligence --- then using it against them. Robinson recounted how the technique had worked well for him in the 1968 governor's race in Illinois when he "struck gold" in a search of an opponent's garbage. He found evidence that a supporter had given checks to both sides in the race, but more to the Democrat, Sam Shapiro.

"So one of our finance guys calls the guy up the next day and told him there was a vicious rumor going around," Robinson said, according to a tape recording of a seminar. "The guy got all embarrassed and flew to Chicago that day with a check for $2,000 to make up the difference," he said.

This was the summer of the Watergate break-in, with the first revelations of a scandal that unraveled the Nixon presidency.The Watergate burglars broke in to the Democratic National Committee offices on June 17 and the whole business of political dirty tricks was rapidly becoming a very sensitive subject. Both Rove and Robinson recognized that. They even specifically mentioned the Watergate break-in at the seminars, not as a reason to avoid campaign espionage, but as a reason to keep it secret.

"While this is all well and good as fun and games, you've really got to use your head about who knows about this kind of thing." Robinson warned.

"Again in those things, if it's used sureptitiously in a campaign, it's better off if you don't get caught. You know, those people who were caught by Larry O'Brien's troops in Washinngton are a serious verification of the fact that you don't get caught."

Remember: Watergate was about bugging the Democratic National Committee. The "3rd rate burglary" was to replace an illegal bug that had been planted on the telephones of prominent Democrats.

The lesson of Watergate for the chagrined Republicans was that they needed to be more forceful in assuming executive power and they needed to be more sophisticated about their campaign espionage. This is what they've done.

Anybody who even dreams that these guys are not using all their government power to spy on political enemies is being willfully naive. It is what they do. It is the essence of their political style. This is Nixon's Republican party and they have finally achieved a perfect ability to carry out his vision of political governance: L'etat C'est Moi. If the president does it that means it's not illegal.

After what we now know about the politicization of the DOJ by Karl Rove himself, this seems even more obvious to me.

After all, as Greenwald pointed out in his post, it's awfully odd that in all these meetings, the FBI was involved but the NSA wasn't. The FBI does domestic surveillance. Why were they involved in this at all?

Update: I've been busy, so I missed this. Peter Swire at CAP has been speculating about this very thing for a while.