At yesterday's 9/11 commission hearing, Attorney General John Ashcroft bitched and moaned about the rules separating intelligence and criminal investigations he inherited from the Clinton administration:
That memo, which Ashcroft said displayed "flawed legal reasoning," erected a wall between domestic intelligence and criminal investigations because [9/11 commission member and former Clinton administration deputy attorney general Jamie] Gorelick wrote that mixing the two types of probes could jeopardize prosecutors' chances for success.
Yet when challenged about why he didn't amend those rules (which was apparently within his, or at least the Bush administration's power), the Show Me Stater failed to show much of anything:
"If that wall was so disabling, why was it not destroyed in those eight months" between Bush's inauguration in January and the September attacks that killed about 3,000 people? [former Republican senator Slade] Gorton asked.
Ashcroft had little in the way of a response other than to say the Clinton-era rules were changing before the September attacks.
And going back to this retrospectively fascinating August 2002 Time story about administrative events leading up to the 9/11 attacks, Ashcroft comes across as equally useless (though both Clarke and Bush come out looking pretty good).
Update: I should add that George Tenet comes off looking useless too in the above.
Jean Bart's comment is interesting and is worth digging into. If policy changes were dictated by the courts, one wonders why Ashcroft didn't raise that point during his testimony.
I finally tracked down a Newsweek story I've been thinking about since Ashcroft's testimony. It's a May 27, 2002 piece titled "What Went Wrong?" and it includes this daming passage of our man Ashcroft:
Under Attorney General John Ashcroft, the department was being prodded back into its old law-and-order mind-set: violent crime, drugs, child porn. Counterterrorism, which had become a priority of the Clintonites (not that they did a better job of nailing bin Laden), seemed to be getting less attention. When FBI officials sought to add hundreds more counterintelligence agents, they got shot down even as Ashcroft began, quietly, to take a privately chartered jet for his own security reasons.
Whole thing here. It's a very useful overview of various fuck-ups and oversights by both Clinton and Bush administrations.