From the transcripts published on the Washington Post site, a chilling story of the Bush Administration’s effort to strongarm him into breaking the law.
Cutting to the chase: Mr. Comey was asked to authorize and extend a classified program he did not believe was legal:
COMEY: In the early part of 2004, the Department of Justice was engaged — the Office of Legal Counsel, under my supervision — in a reevaluation both factually and legally of a particular classified program. And it was a program that was renewed on a regular basis, and required signature by the attorney general certifying to its legality.
And the — and I remember the precise date. The program had to be renewed by March the 11th, which was a Thursday, of 2004. And we were engaged in a very intensive reevaluation of the matter.
And a week before that March 11th deadline, I had a private meeting with the attorney general for an hour, just the two of us, and I laid out for him what we had learned and what our analysis was in this particular matter.
And at the end of that hour-long private session, he and I agreed on a course of action. And within hours he was stricken and taken very, very ill…
SCHUMER: (inaudible) You thought something was wrong with how it was being operated or administered or overseen.
COMEY: We had — yes. We had concerns as to our ability to certify its legality, which was our obligation for the program to be renewed.
COMEY: David Ayers.
That he had gotten a call from Mrs. Ashcroft from the hospital. She had banned all visitors and all phone calls. So I hadn’t seen him or talked to him because he was very ill.
And Mrs. Ashcroft reported that a call had come through, and that as a result of that call Mr. Card and Mr. Gonzales were on their way to the hospital to see Mr. Ashcroft.
(Note, John Ashcroft is in the ICU in critical condition at this point)
COMEY: I have some recollection that the call was from the president himself, but I don’t know that for sure. It came from the White House. And it came through and the call was taken in the hospital.
So I hung up the phone, immediately called my chief of staff, told him to get as many of my people as possible to the hospital immediately. I hung up, called Director Mueller and — with whom I’d been discussing this particular matter and had been a great help to me over that week — and told him what was happening. He said, “I’ll meet you at the hospital right now.”
Told my security detail that I needed to get to George Washington Hospital immediately. They turned on the emergency equipment and drove very quickly to the hospital.
I got out of the car and ran up — literally ran up the stairs with my security detail.
SCHUMER: What was your concern? You were in obviously a huge hurry.
COMEY: I was concerned that, given how ill I knew the attorney general was, that there might be an effort to ask him to overrule me when he was in no condition to do that.
SCHUMER: Right, OK.
COMEY: I was worried about him, frankly.
And so I raced to the hospital room, entered. And Mrs. Ashcroft was standing by the hospital bed, Mr. Ashcroft was lying down in the bed, the room was darkened. And I immediately began speaking to him, trying to orient him as to time and place, and try to see if he could focus on what was happening, and it wasn’t clear to me that he could. He seemed pretty bad off.
And it was only a matter of minutes that the door opened and in walked Mr. Gonzales, carrying an envelope, and Mr. Card. They came over and stood by the bed. They greeted the attorney general very briefly. And then Mr. Gonzales began to discuss why they were there — to seek his approval for a matter, and explained what the matter was — which I will not do.
And Attorney General Ashcroft then stunned me. He lifted his head off the pillow and in very strong terms expressed his view of the matter, rich in both substance and fact, which stunned me — drawn from the hour-long meeting we’d had a week earlier — and in very strong terms expressed himself, and then laid his head back down on the pillow, seemed spent, and said to them, “But that doesn’t matter, because I’m not the attorney general.”
What happened after Mr. Gonzales and Card left? Did you have any contact with them in the next little while?
COMEY: While I was talking to Director Mueller, an agent came up to us and said that I had an urgent call in the command center, which was right next door. They had Attorney General Ashcroft in a hallway by himself and there was an empty room next door that was the command center.
And he said it was Mr. Card wanting to speak to me.
COMEY: I took the call. And Mr. Card was very upset and demanded that I come to the White House immediately.
I responded that, after the conduct I had just witnessed, I would not meet with him without a witness present.
Read the whole transcript. This is such a blatant example of the typical thuggery which is the calling card of the Bush Administration…chilling stuff. Here’s the punchline:
SCHUMER: Let me ask you this: So in sum, it was your belief that Mr. Gonzales and Mr. Card were trying to take advantage of an ill and maybe disoriented man to try and get him to do something that many, at least in the Justice Department, thought was against the law? Was that a correct summation?
COMEY: I was concerned that this was an effort to do an end-run around the acting attorney general and to get a very sick man to approve something that the Department of Justice had already concluded — the department as a whole — was unable to be certified as to its legality. And that was my concern.
The end-runner is now the Attorney General of the United States. Gonzales must resign or be prosecuted.