Comey and the Rule of Law Versus the Cult of Cheney
For anyone who has doubted that there is, indeed, still some integrity left in the world, look no further. Newsweek has a story out today on James Comey and a band of conservative appointees in the DoJ and elsewhere throughout the intelligence legal community in the Bush Administration who stood up to what I’m going to call the "Cult of Cheney" — the VP, David Addington, John Yoo and others, who continuously pushed the envelope and the rule of law to get what they wanted in terms of overreach of Presidential power.
Comey is a boyscout, in the best of ways: straight shooter, dedicated to justice and truth, pal of Fitz, the whole package. And he respects the rule of law. Jane talked about Comey’s mindset in taking a job with lousy hours and lousy pay at the DoJ, compared to what his peers were making in their cushy big firm corner offices — and that Comey stayed on at the DoJ as long as he could to fight the good fight.
When Comey took the job of number two at the Justice Department, he no doubt thought he was opting for a life where he would have a great deal of discretion in choosing to pursue cases he felt passionately about, and was willing to make the financial sacrifice on behalf of himself and his family to do so. That most certainly did not happen as part of the Bush Junta and it is to his credit that he stuck around and fought them as agressively as he did.
This Cult of Cheney believed in one main thing — presidential power was the guiding force, and the Nixon Administration’s level of power and secrecy was their polestar.
What stood in their way? A group of folks at all levels of government who took their oath to serve the Constitution more seriously than their need to kiss Cheney’s butt to climb the political power ladder.
If the Senate Judiciary Committee wants an all-star witness list of patriots who were there at the time that all of these end-run around the Constitution and the law decisions were being made at the DoJ, at the White House and in the VP’s offices, look no further than James Comey. And add to that list Jack Goldsmith, now a professor at Harvard Law, but former head of the OLC. And apparently a long list of Republican appointees who were willing to risk the wrath of Cheney to defend the Constitution — the majority of whom have been cashiered out of the Administration. (Big freaking surprise, eh? Heaven forbid criticism be allowed in the hallowed halls of Bushworld.)
If Democrats are smart, they’ll be adding all these folks to the witness list for the Committee. In triplicate. And the Pool Boy and his pals in the steno pool can take their "this criticism is a political ploy" schtick and shove it. Here’s a clue: Republicans who respect the rule of law aren’t happy either. A lot of them. Just ask Bruce Fein. Or James Comey. Or any true conservatives whose lips aren’t glued to Karl Rove’s pasty ass.
The Newsweek story begins by highlighting the words in Comey’s exit speech from his Number 2 position at the DoJ.
James Comey, a lanky, 6-foot-8 former prosecutor who looks a little like Jimmy Stewart, resigned as deputy attorney general in the summer of 2005. The press and public hardly noticed. Comey’s farewell speech, delivered in the Great Hall of the Justice Department, contained all the predictable, if heartfelt, appreciations. But mixed in among the platitudes was an unusual passage. Comey thanked "people who came to my office, or my home, or called my cell phone late at night, to quietly tell me when I was about to make a mistake; they were the people committed to getting it right—and to doing the right thing—whatever the price. These people," said Comey, "know who they are. Some of them did pay a price for their commitment to right, but they wouldn’t have it any other way."
All of this makes so much sense in the context of everything we know today: the torture memos, the FISA end-run, the devotion to the Imperial Presidency that the Cult of Cheney seems to have.
The fact that there were evidently a number of lawyers within the Administration who were willing to stand up and say "enough!" is admirable — and it is a shameful statement that this Administration was consistently unwilling to listen to the voices of reason. (And the Administration picked their battleground on this carefully — matters of nation security and intelligence are kept very close to the vest by people who take them seriously, and as such, this has not been fertile ground for leaks in terms of the public finding out about the Preznit’s illegal power grab until recently.)
These are the voices that the Judiciary Committee needs to call before them — the lawyers with the integrity to risk their jobs, their livelihoods, their futures, to do the right thing. Jane highlighted that aspect of Comey’s personality at New Year’s — and as I re-read her article today, it rings all the more true.
I have no idea whether or not 2006 will be the year the power of the despots in this country will be checked, but if it happens it will be due to people like James Comey who after only three weeks on the job as the number two man in the Justice Department went to John Ashcroft in December of 2003 and told him he had to recuse himself from the CIA leak investigation.
It was also James Comey who appointed his good friend, the godfather to his son, Patrick Fitzgerald as Special Counsel and gave him the power to do the job without interference.
According to the New York Times, it now appears that when John Ashcroft was hospitalized for a gall bladder operation in March of 2004, Andy Card and Abu Gonzales had to go his hospital bed and ask for approval of key parts of the warrantless wiretapping program because his acting deputy refused to certify it.
The deputy’s name? James Comey.
Additionally, Newsweek highlights an aspect of the OLC (Office of Legal Counsel — a department within the DoJ) which needs much further discussion before things continue tomorrow with the Alito vote. It also brings to light what an asshole David Addington is — that seems to be the personality of personnel that Dick Cheney chooses to hire for his Chief of Staff. I’m recalling all those descriptions of Scooter Libby’s scathing wit and his penchant for gathering every piece of information he could to hamstring an opponant of his boss, and it looks like Addington is Scooter’s clone in that regard, having carried a list of items to call out Goldsmith on in his suit pocket, so they were handy at all times. Not exactly the sort of guy you have over to liven up your Friday mixer, eh?
In any case, Newsweek describes Addington and his relationship with Yoo in the OLC thusly:
Addington was just getting started. Minimizing dissent by going behind the backs of bureaucratic rivals was how he played the game. A potentially formidable obstacle, however, was the Justice Department’s Office of Legal Counsel. The OLC is the most important government office you’ve never heard of. Among its bosses—before they went on the Supreme Court—were William Rehnquist and Antonin Scalia. Within the executive branch, including the Pentagon and CIA, the OLC acts as a kind of mini Supreme Court. Its carefully worded opinions are regarded as binding precedent—final say on what the president and all his agencies can and cannot legally do.
Addington found an ally in an OLC lawyer whose name—John Yoo—would later become synonymous with the notion that power is for the president to use as he sees fit in a time of war. Shortly after 9/11, Yoo wrote, in a formal OLC opinion, that Congress may not "place any limits on the President’s determinations as to any terrorist threat, the amount of military force to be used in response, or the method, timing, and nature of the response."
It’s instructive about Cheney and Addington, but I found this to be even more on point regarding Judge Alito. As I recall, all of those controversial opinions regarding there being no legal support for Roe or there being ample legal support for the unitary executive — weren’t those all written by a younger version of Alito working for the OLC? Any doubts as to whether a lifetime appointment for Alito would mean a substantial shift in things for America — for the next 30+ years? Nope, none for me either.
It’s quite a read. One that I recommend.
And a short note to Dems on the Judiciary: please, read the article and put together a witness list. There are quite a few people who would likely give you some meaty answers — and a few folks, like Dick Cheney and David Addington who owe you a hell of a lot of explanations. (Not that I think they’ll give you any, but subpoena their asses anyway. They work for the American public. It’s time to remind them of that fact.)
(Hat tip to reader lilnubber for the link on this story.)
PS — I’ve just noticed that they’ve added some prizes to the list for the Bloggies, including a George W. Bush puppet. And I have just the dachshund to whom it shall be introduced if Firedoglake wins (unless, of course, Kobe wants first dibs — he’s earned it!). It’s never been my practice to whore for votes, but if you’d like to vote for us, I won’t turn it down. We’re in the Best Political Blog category. (And a note from my junior high self: OMG! That blows my mind! That so totally rocks! Now back to our regularly scheduled attempt at intellectual banter. Sometimes you can’t help but regress when met with overwhelming surprise news.)