'I couldn't stay if the Administration was going to engage in conduct the Dept. of Justice said had no legal basis. I just couldn't stay.'...
By Brad Friedman on 5/30/2013, 6:45pm PT  

AP and others are reporting that President Obama plans to nominate, for FBI Director, Republican James Comey, former Deputy Attorney General under then AG John Ashcroft, during some of the darkest days of the George W. Bush Administration.

The news offer a moment to revisit what a real White House scandal looked like --- back when Republicans had no interest in them and back when there were real investigative Congressional hearings and no need to create pretend "whistleblowers" in order to gin up political "outrage" and "scandal"!

For those of you who believe Benghazi is an actual scandal, or even that the IRS idiocy has anything to do with "tyranny" or "abuse of power", you need only look back to Comey's riveting, could-hear-a-pin-drop, 2007 testimony before the U.S. Senate Judiciary Committee, as he described publicly, for the first time, a very real Executive over reach and astonishing abuse of power that concerned not only the federal government spying on all Americans without warrant or cause, but a White House willing to secretly take advantage of a critically ill Attorney General in order to get approval for a program by having it "certified as legal", even when it clearly was not.

That's what Comey described in his May 15, 2007 testimony --- during hearings on the U.S. Attorney Scandal (another very real one) --- about a remarkable event that took place on the night of Wednesday, March 10, 2004, which threatened to result in the mass resignation of the Attorney General, his Deputy AGs, much of their top-level staff, as well as the Director of the FBI. When asked during the hearing why he had determined to submit his resignation after what he saw and what had happened on that fateful night, he responds to Sen. Chuck Schumer: "I believed that I couldn't stay if the Administration was going to engage in conduct that the Department of Justice said had no legal basis. I just couldn't stay."

His testimony describes the night that the Bush's NSA warrantless eavesdropping program was set to expire, as then AG Ashcroft lay in a hospital Intensive Care Unit with a critical case of pancreatitis. Comey, designated as Acting AG during the AG's illness, had refused the White House demands to certify the NSA program as "legal", as was needed for it to continue. The White House was said to have been furious about it, so Dubya, reportedly, personally called Ashcroft's wife to inform her that his own legal adviser Alberto Gonzalez (who was not yet AG) and Chief of Staff Andy Card, were on their way over to the hospital to have the ailing AG personally sign off on the program.

What happened next, as Comey describes it in his testimony below, was an astonishing moment in a very real Constitutional crisis...

He describes the ensuing late-night chain of events --- from speeding in his redirected limosine, to an ICU confrontation and an astounding "moment of clarity" from the ailing AG, to a midnight White House showdown over all of this. I'd describe the testimony as "must watch" if you've never seen it, and a great refresher for those of us who saw it at the time. It offers an instructive moment about where nomination hearings for Comey could go if, in fact, he is nominated to replace Robert Mueller as FBI Director. Along with Comey, Mueller performed as one of the "good guys", at least in this particular moment of history.

AP calls Comey's testimony "stunning", Paul Kane at WaPo describes it as "the most riveting 20 minutes of congressional testimony. Maybe ever."...

Yes, for those of who you think "Fast & Furious" and "Benghazi" and the IRS nonsense are real White House scandals and outrages, please see above. That's what a real scandal looks like. (The Obama DoJ's war on journalists and journalism, by the way, is also very real.) It's a pity that nobody was ever held accountable for any of it. That's a disgrace to both Republicans who didn't give a damn, and Democrats who were too cowardly to take real action. Instead, Bush was allowed to serve four more years, and Gonzalez was eventually named to replace the very man who he had tried to, in Comey's words, "take advantage of" while "very sick" in a hospital bed in the middle of the night.

Lest you get the idea, after all of this, that we're lauding Comey for anything more than the seemingly heroic behavior he describes on the night in question and concerning the matter discussed in his testimony, here is a cautious reminder about who Comey is, from the ACLU's Executive Director Anthony D. Romero, in response to reports of Comey's nomination to FBI Director:

As the second-highest ranked Justice Department official under John Ashcroft, Comey approved some of the worst abuses committed by the Bush administration. Specifically, the publicly available evidence indicates Comey signed off on enhanced interrogation techniques that constitute torture, including waterboarding. He also oversaw the indefinite detention without charge or trial of an American citizen picked up in the United States and then held for years in a military brig. Although Comey, despite tremendous pressure from the Bush White House, deserves credit for courageously stopping the reauthorization of a secret National Security Agency program, he reportedly approved programs that struck at the very core of who we all are as Americans.
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