Monday, January 02, 2006

"Approved at the highest levels of the Justice Department"

The White House has claimed that its illegal domestic wiretapping program was OK because it had been "approved at the highest levels of the Justice Department". Unfortunately, according to the New York Times, that turns out not to have been the case:

A top Justice Department official objected in 2004 to aspects of the National Security Agency's domestic surveillance program and refused to sign on to its continued use amid concerns about its legality and oversight, according to officials with knowledge of the tense internal debate. The concerns appear to have played a part in the temporary suspension of the secret program.

The concerns prompted two of President Bush's most senior aides - Andrew H. Card Jr., his chief of staff, and Alberto R. Gonzales, then White House counsel and now attorney general - to make an emergency visit to a Washington hospital in March 2004 to discuss the program's future and try to win the needed approval from Attorney General John Ashcroft, who was hospitalized for gallbladder surgery, the officials said.

The unusual meeting was prompted because Mr. Ashcroft's top deputy, James B. Comey, who was acting as attorney general in his absence, had indicated he was unwilling to give his approval to certifying central aspects of the program, as required under the White House procedures set up to oversee it.

Bush got the approval out of Ashcroft eventually, but even he appears to have doubts. And when a bunch of yes-men like those the President has appointed at the Department of Justice were saying that the wiretapping program was dubious, you really have to wonder how bad it is. You also have to wonder why, if they're going to the effort of getting DoJ approval, they didn't just decide to obey the law and go to the court as well...