John Ashcroft (Briefly) Defends Our Civil Liberties

John Ashcroft is the unlikely hero of former Deputy Attorney General James Comey's story about how Justice Department officials bravely refused to sign off on a 2004 reauthorization of the National Security Agency's warrantless domestic surveillance program. The climax came when Ashcroft, recovering from emergency gall bladder surgery and perhaps hallucinating phantoms of lost liberty, stood up to the White House:

Mr. Comey said he arrived first in the darkened [hospital] room, in time to brief Mr. Ashcroft, who he said seemed barely conscious. Before Mr. Ashcroft became ill, Mr. Comey said the two men had talked and agreed that the program should not be renewed.

When the White House officials appeared minutes later, Mr. Gonzales began to explain to Mr. Ashcroft why they were there. Mr. Comey said Mr. Ashcroft rose weakly from his hospital bed, but in strong and unequivocal terms, refused to approve the eavesdropping program.

After some unspecified tweaks to the program that somehow made it legal without making it conform to the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act, Ashcroft relented. White House spokesman Tony Snow says the confrontation was much ado about nothing:

[Snow] deflected questions about Mr. Comey's testimony, but defended the N.S.A. program. Mr. Snow also noted that the Justice Department placed the program under the supervision of a special intelligence court earlier this year, which department officials said placed the program on an even firmer legal footing.

"Jim Comey can talk about whatever reservations he may have had, but the fact is that there were strong protections in there," Mr. Snow said. "This is a program that saved lives, that is vital for national security, and furthermore has been reformed in a bipartisan way that is in keeping with everybody."

So the administration's position is that the program was always legal, became a little more legal after the changes demanded by Ashcroft, and is even more legal now.

Editor's Note: We invite comments and request that they be civil and on-topic. We do not moderate or assume any responsibility for comments, which are owned by the readers who post them. Comments do not represent the views of Reason.com or Reason Foundation. We reserve the right to delete any comment for any reason at any time. Report abuses.

  • VM||

    Mr. Comey said he arrived first in the darkened [hospital] room, in time to brief Mr. Ashcroft, who he said seemed barely conscious



    So... what. Ashcroft was channeling Gerald Ford?

  • ||

    I like the part where Ashcroft's wife tells Card and Gonzo to leave him alone over the phone, they ignore her, and she has to call Comey to come and help her fend them off from her sick husband's hospital bed.

    This is going to be a big problem for the White House. The Republican base has no problem with that sort of thuggishness targetted at you or me, but this was John Ashcroft - a Real American.

    You can't treat Real Americans the way you'd treat some lowly Democrat or aging second wife.

  • ||

    He can't be a Real American joe. Real Americans don't take off work for gall bladder surgery. They just cut it out with their own pocket knife while standing at their desk. A shot of straight whiskey, a couple of staples and you're good to go.

  • ||

    Okay, so how scarily unconstitutional was the program before the "tweaks" that a authoritarian shitbag like Ashcroft wouldn't sign off on it?

  • ||

    Warren,

    You joke.

    What are the odds we're going to start seeing White House surrogates slandering John Ashcroft as a result of this?

    Hey, terrorists don't take the day off, we need an Attorney General who's tough...that sort of thing.

  • ||

    Cut me, Mick!

  • ||

    I don't want to do it, Pro Libertate!

  • ||

    Go on, cut me. Cut me.

  • Sal Paradise||

    From now on, John Ashcroft should be kept in a delirious and semi-conscious state.

  • ||

    I would love to see someday a tell-all book about how the Bush administration functioned. Not one of those corny slanderous "let's nudge facts to take Bush down a peg" books, but an actuall wel-written book about who these people really are, what would make them do things that are considered to be questionable behavior and how they justified it in their minds.
    Even still, I don't think of these guys as bad people, I just want some confermation that, even though they do shitty things, they don't go home at night and drink from skulls filled with blood or something

    Hey, terrorists don't take the day off, we need an Attorney General who's tough...that sort of thing
    Agreed, as always, the pundents are more likely to side-step the issue then ever adress the moral wrong doings. Oh, and blame the driveby media somehow. ("This law is here to protect us from the terrorists!")

  • ||

    Kind of reminds one of the stories told to show that Albert Speer was "the good Nazi".

  • ||

    Sal wins

  • ||

    Paging Mr. Godwin, Mr. Michael Godwin.

  • ||

    "so how scarily unconstitutional was the program before the "tweaks" that a authoritarian shitbag like Ashcroft wouldn't sign off on it?"

    It must have been insanely illegal considering Comey claims he, Ashcroft, and several others were planning to resign if it continued as it was.

  • ||

    scandalrag--

    Get a clue about what you purport to invoke.

  • ||

    I have taken class taught by Mike Godwin. Con Law II. Advanced Legal Writing. I think I know what he has to say. Metaphorically comparing an asshat to the man who designed all official buildings for the National Socialists would probably qualify as an example of Godwin's Law. The thread got longer. You brought up the Nazi's. Ergo, the probablity of someone making a comparison to the Nazi's or Hitler approached and equaled one. Here's the link where Mike discusses his reasoning behind the misquoted law in Wired.

    http://www.wired.com/wired/archive/2.10/godwin.if_pr.html

  • ||

    I met Godwin briefly back in the 90s (at a CFP conference maybe?--can't remember). Anyway, I wish I'd called him a Nazi.

  • ||

    This story is so astounding. It turns out, after all these years, that Ashcroft was the SANE one in that gang of psychopaths who have taken over our government.

    Who woulda thunk it?

  • Jim Lippard||

    Jonathan Hohensee: "I would love to see someday a tell-all book about how the Bush administration functioned. Not one of those corny slanderous "let's nudge facts to take Bush down a peg" books, but an actuall wel-written book about who these people really are, what would make them do things that are considered to be questionable behavior and how they justified it in their minds.
    Even still, I don't think of these guys as bad people, I just want some confermation that, even though they do shitty things, they don't go home at night and drink from skulls filled with blood or something"

    It's already been written, at least about most of Bush's first term. _Rise of the Vulcans_, by James Mann, which is essentially a group biography of Rumsfeld, Cheney, Rice, Wolfowitz, Powell, and Armitage.

GET REASON MAGAZINE

Get Reason's print or digital edition before it’s posted online

  • Video Game Nation: How gaming is making America freer – and more fun.
  • Matt Welch: How the left turned against free speech.
  • Nothing Left to Cut? Congress can’t live within their means.
  • And much more.

SUBSCRIBE

advertisement