Newsweek adds a new troubling twist to the controversy over the Bush administration’s warrantless spying. It reports that even then-Attorney General John Ashcroft would not authorize the spying sought by the administration:

On one day in the spring of 2004, White House chief of staff Andy Card and the then White House Counsel Alberto Gonzales made a bedside visit to John Ashcroft, attorney general at the time, who was stricken with a rare and painful pancreatic disease, to try—without success—to get him to reverse his deputy, Acting Attorney General James Comey, who was balking at the warrantless eavesdropping. Miffed that Comey, a straitlaced, by-the-book former U.S. attorney from New York, was not a “team player” on this and other issues, President George W. Bush dubbed him with a derisive nickname, “Cuomo,” after Mario Cuomo, the New York governor who vacillated over running for president in the 1980s. (The White House denies this; Comey declined to comment.)

There’s a few things troubling in this paragraph from a piece that tries to present both sides (see below): (1) Because Comey wouldn’t go along with the President’s desires he was basically labeled by the President a Democrat within his heart. So, if you don’t agree with everything the President says you MUST be a closet Democrat? (2) It’s clear it was no dice when the Bush administration went to James Comey so the administration tried to end-run him and go higher up. (3) When even its ATTORNEY GENERAL REFUSED, the administration then did what what it sought to do anyway…without going to a court.

If this was so justified in doing as warrantless wiretaps, then, why did they bother to go to Comey or Ashcroft in the first place?

What is chilling is that it is, on a much smaller scale, reminiscent of Richard Nixon during the Watergate scandal during the Saturday Night Massacre. We are not pointing this out to draw parallels in this case between the two actual scandals. Rather, Nixon couldn’t get officials to fire Special Prosecutor Archibald Cox so he kept asking until found one who would. So the issue here is: was there truly an intent to seek an opinion and get permission or was it decided that, no matter what, the President and his closest advisors would decide what was legal?

What could this have been that even John Ashcroft — who could never be accused of being soft on terrorism and not striving to give the government any conceivable tool to combat it, even if existing laws had to be changed — refused to sign on to it? Newsweek fleshes this out:

In a perfect democracy trying to strike a balance between civil liberties and national security, there would be reasoned, open debate between representatives of the different branches of government. But human nature and politics rarely work in neat and orderly ways. In moments of crisis, presidents, if they believe in executive power (and most inevitably do), will do almost anything to protect the country. Only after the crisis ebbs does the debate begin over the proper means and ends, and by then the people and their representatives are often shocked to find out what the president has done in the name of protecting them. More than four years after September 11, America finds itself debating some of the oldest issues in our history: how to balance liberty and security, how much power we should cede to the White House and whether what the historian Arthur Schlesinger Jr. dubbed “The Imperial Presidency” amid Watergate is a good thing, a bad thing or something in between. That the war on terror is unconventional and seemingly endless adds to the difficulty and raises the stakes.

After 9/11, President Bush and his top advisers faced, they believed, a mortal yet invisible enemy. The mightiest armed forces in the world were not effective against such a shadowy foe. Nor were human spies much help. Movies and novels notwithstanding, the CIA had rarely (if ever) penetrated a terrorist cell. America’s one true weapon was technology. Spy satellites and the massive computers of the National Security Agency (so secret it was nicknamed “No Such Agency”) were able to pluck telephone and e-mail conversations out of the air and ether. The NSA could cock a giant ear to America’s enemies — and, ideally, overhear their plots.

The problem in 2006 is going to be this: this administration has so damaged its credibility on so many other issues that its protestations about “trust us” doesn’t cut it with many Americans anymore. It’s difficult for non-governmental, let alone government, individuals to regain credibility. It must be re-earned. And it’s hard to regain it if the answer is “trust me” or “we can’t tell you” or “if you ask any more you’ll be helping the terrorists.”

It’s no surprise that Democratic New York Senator Chuck Schumer would call for more Senate investigations. But now conservative William Safire has broken ranks with the Bush administration on this issue.

Is this the start of defections from Republican libertarians — the kind of Republicans who embraced the ideals of the late Barry Goldwater, versus the Bush wing that, despite its rhetoric, comes down on the side of big GOP government with expanded executive powers?

Meanwhile, President George W. Bush defends his actions:

“This NSA program is an important program protecting Americans,” Bush said after visiting wounded troops at Brooke Army Medical Center in San Antonio, Texas. “We’re at war.”

Bush said the program limited to “a few numbers” called by known al Qaeda members outside the United States.

“If somebody from al Qaeda is calling you, we’d like to know why,” Bush said.

Fair enough: but it still doesn’t answer the core question as to the legality of what was done and WHY it was done…and why even Ashcroft wouldn’t sanction it.

Those who assume that this administration has had a great track record on its explanations to Congress, the American people, its own GOP elected representatives (not just on the war but during Hurricane Katrina), then what Bush is offering — an ASSURANCE is enough. Those who think the administration’s track record has been flawed or downright poor will demand assurances.

But someone can still care deeply about pulling-out-all stops in the war on terrorism and demand a better explanation — and expect a bipartisan clamor for some answers. There will be some who’ll now label Ashcroft, Safire (quoted profusely and favorably by conservative talk show hosts, pundits and bloggers for years), and Comey softies in the war on terrorism or — perhaps worse to them — disloyal or not really Republicans. Will that feeling be the majority stance within the GOP? Or will 2006 see the administration increasingly finding itself fighting two wars…in Iraq and on the home front…heatedly trying to shore up support within in its own party for what is clearly an expansion of executive power?

JOE GANDELMAN, Editor-In-Chief
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DougJ
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DougJ
10 years 8 months ago

I believe that Comey is the main NYT source and that he is thus guilty not only of disclosing classified info but possibly of outright treason. It’s clear that Comey had it in for the Bush administration — his opinions on NSA surveillance and his decision to appoint Fitzgerald are proof enough of that. He made a cold, calculated decision to get back at the Bush administration, national security be damned.

They used to hang people like James Comey. But I’d be perfectly happy if he just spent the rest of his life in jail.

K. Gregory
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K. Gregory
10 years 8 months ago

You have no proof. You don’t like what he did so you’re trying to discredit him. I think Santa Claus was the leak. My proof is as good as yours.

DougJ
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DougJ
10 years 8 months ago

I have no proof, obviously, but Comey had the info and he had the motivation. The press loves all the disgruntaled former WH employees: Clarke, O’Neill, Wilson, Wilkerson, Comey. Without them, the press would have make up their own anti-Bush lies.

Ron Beasley
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10 years 8 months ago

This is not a Republican or Democratic issue except in the sense that the Republican party has been hijacked by a bunch of cultists who worship the imperial George W. Bush and his keeper, Dick Cheney. The issue here is the constitution and the rule of law. You can see that in the “if you oppose anything Bush does you must be a Democrat” meme. I truly pray that the real Republicans can take their party back.

grognard
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grognard
10 years 8 months ago

An interesting view from Reason. Thanks “K”, I knew there was a reason to distrust Santa Claus.
http://www.reason.com/links/links122605.shtml

K. Gregory
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K. Gregory
10 years 8 months ago

Also make sure you count your silverware after he visits. He hocks the money and gives it to the Democrats.

DougJ
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DougJ
10 years 8 months ago

I truly pray that the real Republicans can take their party back.

I hope that RINOs like you don’t let the door hit you on your way out. We’re at war: you’re either for the commander-in-Chief or you’re for the other side. There’s no gray area, none of the “nuance” the left loves so much. Just two sides. Which one are you on?

K. Gregory
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K. Gregory
10 years 8 months ago
That’s right. Anyone who does not believe that every single decision George Bush does is a RINO. But wait: didn’t we therefore see a LOT of RINOS like William Kristol and others when he nominated Harriet Miers and said she was vital in the war against terrorism? Why didn’t that matter? And maybe your right. American demcracy has always been about the leader having the right to make all decisions, and anyone in wartime who questions them are traitors. So anything he does in 2006, no matter what, is for the good of the country and done in the very… Read more »
grognard
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grognard
10 years 8 months ago
Something for Doug “To announce that there must be no criticism of the President, or that we are to stand by the President, right or wrong, is not only unpatriotic and servile, but is morally treasonable to the American public.” – Theodore Roosevelt
K. Gregory
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K. Gregory
10 years 8 months ago

But Teddy Roosevelt was the ultimate RINO, and therefore a traitor. Don’t you get it? He was in league with Howard Dean’s great great grandfather (so let’s get him off the face of that mountain and put GBW up there).

Brian Angliss
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10 years 8 months ago
I love how the GOP leadership has redefined what it means to be a Republican. The GOP used to stand for fiscal conservatism and a balanced budget, limited involvement in international treaties, military strength, and a small government. The GOP leadership (aka the Repugnicans) stands for none of these things any more. If you have the audacity to believe in true Republican ideals, you’re a RINO. The GOP rank and file do need to retake their party from the Repugnicans before a moderate, independent centrist Democrat or independent figures out how to appeal to the mass of disaffected Republicans.
DougJ
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DougJ
10 years 8 months ago

The GOP used to stand for fiscal conservatism

It still does. If you think Kerry would have cut the budget as much as Bush has, you must be smoking some of the good stuff Kerry was getting in Cambodia.


military strength

Do I even have to answer this one? I’ll leave it to Zell: “the democrats want to protect the country with spitballs.”

To put it simply, the Republican party stands for faith and strength. The Dems stand for weakness and secularism. And people wonder who will win the elections. LOL.

K. Gregory
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K. Gregory
10 years 8 months ago

Yes, only ONE PARTY and people who think parrot the party’s line represent faith and strength.

Elrod
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Elrod
10 years 8 months ago

DougJ nails it. The Republican Party stands for a faith-based defense policy. Oh, and a faith-based economic policy.

grognard
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grognard
10 years 8 months ago

“Faith-based economic policy”.. Elrod that was good.

AustinRoth
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AustinRoth
10 years 8 months ago

DougJ –

Um, I am fairly well known on this board for giving a remarkable amount of latittude to Bush and the current Republican administration, but wow, you must be a ROD (Republican on Drugs) to claim this administration has ‘cut the budget’ in ANY way.

Would you like to buy a bridge or two in Alaska? Oh, wait, you already have!

Brian Angliss
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10 years 8 months ago
Please, tell me how offering tax cuts during wartime is fiscally responsible? How is deficit spending fiscally conservative? The only way it makes sense is for a Grover Norquistian “starve the beast” strategy, and that’s not even remotely fiscally conservative. Radically libertarian, sure, and if you qualify as one yourself, fine. But don’t try to snow me (or anyone else) by saying it’s fiscally conservative. As for military strength, the army and all the reserves and national guards have failed to meet their recruiting quotas. Generals have stated outright that the conflicts in Iraq and Afghanistan with long tours of… Read more »
DougJ
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DougJ
10 years 8 months ago

Looks like the RINOs and leftists are ganging up on me here. I don’t like an unfair fight, so I’ll be leaving now.

bigdaddy
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bigdaddy
10 years 8 months ago

I don’t have any more insight than anyone else into who “leaked”, but covering sins through compartmentation is a time-honored tradition in the Intelligence Community. Until we see more than W saying ‘trust me, and the guys who work for me, it really was/is legal’, then the “leaker” should receive whistleblower protection. And, yes, I am a Republican (maybe disenfranchised Republican is more accurate right now).

AustinRoth
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AustinRoth
10 years 8 months ago
Elrod – BTW – as new revolations come out, and as I have had more time to consider this, I think I have to change my original position on this issue. The fact that neither Ashcroft of his Deputy would sign off on this is very troubling. Neither of them can be called leftist, RINO’s, or soft on the War on Terrorism. And from the bigger picture of civil liberties in general, I think I was wrong there as well. I read a good item last night (http://www.commondreams.org/views05/1229-35.htm) via Hit-and-Run by T.J Rodgers, founder and CEO of Cypress Semiconductor, and… Read more »
K. Gregory
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K. Gregory
10 years 8 months ago

That’s right DougJ. Anyone who disagrees with you MUST be a RINO and Leftist. I suppose Barry Goldwater would be a RINO too, today…well, no he’d be a dinosaur by your standards. You are the sole person (minus George Bush, perhaps) who knows what it means to be an authentic Republican.

bigdaddy
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bigdaddy
10 years 8 months ago

To add to AustinRoth’s note, I saw this quote lead off an article about the recent events, just can’t recall which one precisely:

“As nightfall does not come at once, neither does oppression. In both instances, there’s a twilight where everything remains seemingly unchanged, and it is in such twilight that we must be aware of change in the air, however slight, lest we become unwitting victims of the darkness.”
William O. Douglas

Mark A.
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Mark A.
10 years 8 months ago

Has anyone else noticed that most Republicans think that laws are for other people, and not for them?

alan
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alan
10 years 8 months ago

I think “Doug” is a Democratic troll. Let’s ask him his opinion on states rights and unconstitutional federal intervention with lynching.

Brian Angliss
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10 years 8 months ago
Now, let’s be fair – there are a LOT of Republicans who think that the party has gone off the rails. I know a good many of them myself. That’s why I make a distinction between the GOP rank-and-file and the Repugnican leadership. The rank-and-file are being lied too by people like Frist, DeLay, et al just as much as the rest of the country is, and many of them despise the lack of fiscal conservatism, the big government tendencies, etc. of the Bush administration. These folk voted AGAINST Kerry, not for Bush, just as I voted against Bush as… Read more »
Craig R.
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Craig R.
10 years 8 months ago
(1) the CiC violating his oath to defend and uphold the constitution is not (or at least should not) be a GOP/Democrat issue (2) Since the White House knew about this “leak” before the election, why is it only *now* that NSA is calling for the investigation by DoJ? (3) to “Doug:” *You* may be happy living in a nation where you “have to watch what you say,” and who you say it to, no matter who you are, but I’m not. I’m also not happy that *my* government has seen fit to act as some South Amarican satrapy where… Read more »
Fubar
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Fubar
10 years 8 months ago
It doesn’t matter who you vote for. It didn’t matter in 2000. It didn’t matter in 2004. It doesn’t matter now. Bush lost Florida in 2000 and Ohio in 2004. Even if Kerry had got in, he’d only be another Yale puppet for foreign masters. The USA is crashing down around our ears – its economy is one big bubble, its foreign policy is self-defeating, and Bush directed the NSA ti open a file on anyone upholding its constitution. Civil rights are just trash here. On top of this we have 8 trillion dollars of government debt, another 40 trillion… Read more »
AustinRoth
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AustinRoth
10 years 8 months ago
Hey Fubar, a few words of wisdom for you: Some things in life are bad They can really make you mad Other things just make you swear and curse. When you’re chewing on life’s gristle Don’t grumble, give a whistle And this’ll help things turn out for the best… And…always look on the bright side of life… Always look on the light side of life… If life seems jolly rotten There’s something you’ve forgotten And that’s to laugh and smile and dance and sing. When you’re feeling in the dumps Don’t be silly chumps Just purse your lips and whistle… Read more »
RLegro
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RLegro
10 years 8 months ago
> If you think Kerry would have cut the budget as much as Bush has … Wouldn’t have been hard, since Bush HASN’T cut the federal budget. Since he took over, federal spending has INCREASED from about $2 trillion annually to around $2.5 trillion, despite heavy cuts in domestic social spending. A goodly chunk of that increase reflects higher interest on the national debt since he’s been running record deficits. Is the “war on terrorism” the cause of those deficits? Are the lousy economy or higher oil prices the causes? To a certain degree, yes. But mostly, the cause is… Read more »
Mike Heinz
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Mike Heinz
10 years 8 months ago
Joe, you really haven’t been paying attention. The article says that Bush went to the AG’s office to get approval and you want to know why?!? Well, golly, it’s because, just like the FISA law requires, wiretaps that don’t have a warrant must be approved by the AG. Ashcroft apparently had been approving other wiretaps in the past; but changed his mind during 2004 – and according to the NYT, What is known is that in early 2004, about the time of the hospital visit, the White House suspended parts of the program for several months and moved ahead with… Read more »
Mike Heinz
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Mike Heinz
10 years 8 months ago

Golly, I seem to have overused “golly” in that previous post. I’ll have to work on broadening my collection of euphemisms.

DougJ
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DougJ
10 years 8 months ago

Since he took over, federal spending has INCREASED from about $2 trillion annually to around $2.5 trillion, despite heavy cuts in domestic social spending.

911 changed everything. Most of those increases are related to defense and national security.

Fubar
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Fubar
10 years 8 months ago
Hi AustinRoth, That’s one of the cancers at the core of our culture – everything’s a joke to us. The deaths of millions of innocents, the systematization of torture, our own bankruptcy – haha, oh boy, that is funny, bud. I haven’t laughed so much since I cut my own nuts off with a potato peeler. Hoo! Did I cry! We got here by making everything a joke, all of us just kids laughing while the school burns down. We chuckleheads have a whole lot of yucks ahead of us, plenty of them in 2006 and a regular laugh riot… Read more »
AustinRoth
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AustinRoth
10 years 8 months ago
Oh, lighten up Fubar. You don’t know irony when it kicks you hard in the ass. I could have just made a direct comment on the paranoia leaking around the edges (and middle) of your post (foreign masters, China, World War coming, and they will take your children away, too!) I guess you will next be telling us that the UN white tanks will be coming any day, our Bilderberg masters will declare the New World Order, and the Illuminati will openly rule us all! Given the obvious depth of your doom and gloom pessimism making like chicken little here,… Read more »
Kaboom
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Kaboom
10 years 8 months ago

Dougie boy… Be patriotic…sign up to fight in the Iraq war…

Fubar
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Fubar
10 years 8 months ago
Hi AustinRoth, Irony. Yes, that’s the way to look at it. By gum you’re right, sir. The scales have dropped from my eyes. Irony. Why didn’t I think of that before? Now we Americans can have 3 communities: the faith based community, recognized by their symptoms of clinical paranoia, the reality based community, marked by large holdings of gold and foreign currency, and the irony based community. You can tell members of the irony based community by their one permanently arched eyebrow. I think they use botox to keep it that way. I’m one of those fellows with the foreign… Read more »
realistic one
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realistic one
10 years 8 months ago
To say that if you dissagree with the president during a time of war is completely ludicrous. Did you ever dissagree with a democrat president? I’m sure you did as have I, but wait!!!! Before the war on terror were we not in a war on drugs. Oh man, that would then make us all traitors and should be punished by, as one said in his post, by hanging. Ummmm ok to suggest that disagreeing with the current president makes you a traitor against our free country makes you not only stupid, but a facist. The plain and simple truth… Read more »
realistic one
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realistic one
10 years 8 months ago

And another thing: sorry I’m on a roll. Does anyone remember all those guys who died in everyother fight America has been involved in. Yeah, we used to call em patiots and hero’s. Seems to me we used to fight and die to protect our freedom. Now alot of us seem to be so willing to give up our basic rights, why? Are you that afraid? I am afraid, afraid the terrorists won already. You dont give up your freedom and rights for anything, especially one mans poor, poor interpretation of whats good for you and our country.

Mike Heinz
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Mike Heinz
10 years 8 months ago

I sure am glad you guys know how to conduct a rational discussion about the issues related to this thread instead of randomly wandering off into name-calling and straw-man beating.

Does anyone have anything actually relevant to say about the possibility that Bush was actually complying with FISA and that’s why he was trying to get the AG’s approval?

DougJ
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DougJ
10 years 8 months ago

Be patriotic…sign up to fight in the Iraq war…

Service does not make you a patriot. Look at Murtha. Look at Kerry. They served, and even won medals, and now they’re stabbing the president in the back and urging us to cut and run.

Brian Delaney
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Brian Delaney
10 years 8 months ago
Mike, You notice the President hasn’t been using this defense? The reason: because it has a lot of flaws. The largest of which is that the attorney general has to certify under oath the following: A) the electronic surveillance is solely directed at— (i) the acquisition of the contents of communications transmitted by means of communications used exclusively between or among foreign powers, as defined in section 1801 (a)(1), (2), or (3) of this title; or (ii) the acquisition of technical intelligence, other than the spoken communications of individuals, from property or premises under the open and exclusive control of… Read more »
Amy Sasser
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Amy Sasser
10 years 8 months ago
the adminstrastion leaked this story. the NYtimes held on to the story for 18 months .. why? cause the Bush adminstration asked them to.. anyone knows that the guvemmet’ has been spying for ages on the american people, don’t know why you are all shocked. There is a reason this came out now… The plame gate it much deeper. distraction dour jour.. now all the constitution people will be blamed for another false flag attack on the american people.. man people smells of rovie and Cheney, bush ain’t that smart. Insiders of the adminstration have already warned about another false… Read more »
blaze
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blaze
10 years 8 months ago

Mike,

“Does anyone have anything actually relevant to say about the possibility that Bush was actually complying with FISA and that’s why he was trying to get the AG’s approval?”

Bush didn’t need the AG’s approval, he only needed a FISA warrant (even retroactively).

If any permission was requested from Ashcroft, it was Justices’ support in a circumvention of the law and the Constitution. Ashcroft must have been very sick because it actually seems that he stood tall for the principle of law.

blaze
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blaze
10 years 8 months ago

DougJ,

If anyone is a RINO, it is the Bush administration gangsters and anyone who chooses their criminality over the principles of a Republican Party that is truly committed to the welfare of the United States.

This is not a political party, it is a cult of personality.

RLegro
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RLegro
10 years 8 months ago
DougJ tells us Bush has cut federal spending, yet when I point out that actually, spending is up about 25% since the Clinton era (adjusted for inflation), DougJ says, well, yeah, but that drunken-sailor spending authorized by the GOP Congress and signed into law by Bush is all explainable by the need for an increased defense budget. No it isn’t. According to the Economic Policy Institute: Data in the Administration’s own Mid-Session Budget Review indicated that the Bush tax cuts have played a larger role than all other legislation enacted since the start of 2001 in the emergence of the… Read more »
Progressaurus Rex
Guest
10 years 8 months ago
DougJ said: It’s clear that Comey had it in for the Bush administration — his opinions on NSA surveillance and his decision to appoint Fitzgerald are proof enough of that. He made a cold, calculated decision to get back at the Bush administration, national security be damned. So, DougJ, you’re basically accusing Comey of doing what the Bush admin has done countless times in the last five years: making a cold, calculated decision to get back at a perceived enemy, national security be damned (see: Paul O’Neill, Eric Shinseki, Richard Clarke, Robert Wilson, Major General John Riggs, Army Spc. Thomas… Read more »
Mike Heinz
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Mike Heinz
10 years 8 months ago
Brian said: You notice the President hasn’t been using this defense? The reason: because it has a lot of flaws. The largest of which is that the attorney general has to certify under oath the following: Brian, Actually, I have noticed that Bush has repeatedly stated that he has done nothing illegal under FISA. After carefully reading the NYT articles to see what the facts are (as opposed to the various spins people place on them) I think that may be true – the only evidence we have that Bush violated FISA is anonymous claims published by a reporter who,… Read more »
danlewis
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danlewis
10 years 8 months ago

Funny how John Walker Lindh had no problem “penetrating” al-qaeda. Neither did the government informant who met two of the 911 hijackers at a California airport and rented an apartment for them. Even though the US governement created al-qaeda to fight the Soviets in Afghanistan, now, for some reason, they’re inpenetrable. Can’t find Bin Laden. Can’t penetrate al-quada. Must collect all the data on who calls who in the US. It all makes sense now.

Smarter than you
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Smarter than you
10 years 8 months ago

Doug, are you still lol? How much do the Murder Inc. people pay you to spout off all the time? Hope it’s a lot.

PING:
TITLE: Safire and Taylor on wiretaps–and my radical wish for 2006
BLOG NAME: Fruits and Votes
William Safire was on Meet the Press today. I did not see it, just like I missed the drop kick (though maybe I will catch both later). Safire is not exactly a fire-breathing radical–or maybe he is (more on that later). I recommend Steven Taylor&…

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