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Cheney’s and Gonzales’ CYA Libraries

On March 12 or 13, 2004, after Jim Comey threatened to quit because George Bush had reauthorized warrantless wiretapping over Comey’s objections, Bush ordered Alberto Gonzales to write up notes of his March 10, 2004 meeting with members of Congress; the congressional meeting would serve as Gonzales’ excuse for having visited John Ashcroft in the ICU ward. Gonzales would go on to carry those notes around with him in a briefcase, thereby violating rules on treating classified information. After moving to DOJ in 2005, Gonzales did not feel safe leaving the documents in one of the DOJ safes accessible by–among others–Jim Comey (there was also one in the AG office that would presumably not be accessible to Comey).

On June 1, 2005, the day after Alberto Gonzales claims to have passed on Jim Comey’s warning to the NSC Principals Committee of the fallout that would come from their continuing to approve torture, the CIA produced a document that purported to tell the benefits of the torture program. That is one of two documents Cheney requested from the National Archives earlier this year to prove that torture worked. It is a document Cheney kept in his "immediate office files" in a file called "detainees."

And if that doesn’t make you suspect Cheney and Gonzales got worried enough to start building up their own little CYA libraries to protect themselves from the torture (and wiretap) fallout, consider some of the other document included in Alberto Gonzales’ briefcase of highly classified documents.

The classified materials that are the subject of this investigation consist of notes that Gonzales drafted to memorialize a classified briefing of congressional leaders about the NSA surveillance program when Gonzales was the White House Counsel; draft and final Office of Legal Counsel opinions about both the NSA surveillance program and a detainee interrogation program;


The envelope containing the documents relating to a detainee interrogation program bore classification markings related to that program. Each document inside the envelopes had a cover sheet and header-footer markings indicating the document was TS/SCI. The documents related to the NSA surveillance program discussed in Gonzales’s handwritten notes as well as to a detainee interrogation program. The documents included Office of Legal Counsel opinions that discuss the legal bases for various aspects of the compartmented programs, memoranda summarizing the operational details of the programs, [my emphasis]

Now, as I understand it, only the 2005 memos–and not the 2002 or 2003 memos authorizing torture–bear the markings of the compartment of that program (the middle redacted phrase, as I understand it, would be the compartment). The 2005 memos are also the only ones with both header and footer markings indicating they were TS/SCI *Bybee Two appears to be stamped in lieu of a header). While not definitive, it suggests those OLC memos on torture may have been the 2005 memos, and not the 2002 memo addressed to Alberto Gonzales directly (which has no classification markings whatsoever).

Jim Comey may have been doing a great deal of CYA in his emails to Chuck Rosenberg. But Gonzales and Cheney were just as busy doing CYA.

Update: Let me correct myself on two points. First, arguably the Bybee Two memo has both header and footer for classification. Also, Gonzales could have been keeping the later 2006 and 2007 torture memos, which presumably had the same classification/compartment markings. We know Bellinger was pushing back against those pretty hard, so there are probably reasons he’d want to CYA on that front, too.

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