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FDL Book Salon Welcomes Eric Lichtblau, Author of Bush’s Law

lichtblau.jpgLike a lot of people, I first really discovered Eric Lichtblau when he and James Risen exposed Bush’s warrantless wiretapping program. Not long after, when I learned that then DOJ Chief Press Flack Barbara Comstock had once blackballed Lichtblau and Mark Corallo once took his press pass away, I decided to take a closer look. (You may remember that Comstock and Corallo were Libby’s and Rove’s CIA Leak spokespeople.) After all, what better recommendation can a reporter get, than the fact that Comstock hated him?

When I reviewed Lichtblau’s work during the Ashcroft era, I realized Lichtblau had been writing a lot of the best stories exposing what was going on in Bush’s DOJ (back in 2003 and 2004, before everyone realized how corrupt Bush’s DOJ was): Katrina Leung (the GOP Chinese double agent), expanded domestic surveillance, National Security Letters, and FBI tracking of peace activists.

In his book, Bush’s Law: the Remaking of American Justice, Lichtblau complains that most of these stories appeared in "the back pages of the A section, lost among the obituaries and brassiere ads."

Eric, I’d like to assure you, those stories did not go unnoticed or unappreciated.

Lichtblau’s book draws together this reporting and provides a great deal of context that never made it into his NYT pieces. I found the profiles of lesser known key players particularly useful, people like Royce Lamberth (once the presiding judge in the FISA Court) and James Baker (the head of DOJ’s Office of Intelligence Policy and Review), who struggled to maintain some checks on the Administration’s power.

Lichtblau also does a terrific job of supplementing his reporting, based necessarily on anonymous sources, with public documents and statements (as a footnote wonk, I gotta say I loved Lichtblau’s endnotes). This allows Lichtblau a way to give voice to people who probably would never serve as an on-the-record source speaking about these issues: Jim Comey and John Ashcroft, but also John Yoo and Michael Hayden. As a result, the book offers much greater depth than Lichtblau was able to in his original newspaper stories reporting the same topics, without the kind of Alice in Wonderland quality you might find in a Woodward book based entirely on Woodward’s anonymous sources.

I will undoubtedly be citing from Lichtblau’s book over at emptywheel to make a bunch of very weedy points in the next several weeks–particularly about the way the book fleshes out the warrantless wiretapping program in ways that might explain the Administration’s more paranoid responses to the FISA amendment process in Congress. But since it’s a (where I am, anyway), sunny Saturday afternoon, I thought I’d list some of the more interesting tidbits about Bush dysfunction that haven’t, as far as I’ve seen, been mentioned in other discussions of Lichtblau’s book.

  • After Michael Hayden gave an intelligence briefing about the Administration’s more legal "expansive" NSA wiretapping programs on October 1, 2001, Nancy Pelosi wrote a letter to Hayden expressing concerns about those, less egregious programs (as compared to the warrantless wiretapping program). "Until I understand better the legal analysis … which underlies your decision on the appropriate way to proceed on this matter, I will continue to be concerned," Pelosi wrote. Hayden’s response, Lichtblau points out, revealed that Hayden hadn’t received any special authorization for these activities. And, by the time Hayden responded to Pelosi, the NSA had already started its illegal wiretap program. The incident reveals yet another level of dishonesty on the part of the Administration about its warrantless wiretapping program–as well as its lackadaisical approach to ensuring all of their programs’ legality.
  • Looseheadprop and I are not alone in wondering why John Yoo seems to have forgotten about Youngstown Steel. Yoo’s neglect of the seminal Youngstown Steel case discussing presidential authority during wartime was one of the reasons Jack Goldsmith and other DOJ lawyers were so shocked by the shoddiness of Yoo’s OLC opinions "authorizing" the warrantless wiretap program.
  • When the Administration was attempting to convince the NYT not to publish its big warrantless wiretapping story, they ended up revealing many new details about the program to Lichtblau and Risen. "Bush’s advisors had become, in effect, our best sources, telling us myriad new things about the program and filling in critical gaps in our understanding." Lichtblau and Risen didn’t use that information directly–but it’s nice to know their stories came with the understanding gained by talking to the players directly. And as always, the biggest leakers in this leak-paranoid Administration are the folks right at the top.
  • Harriet Miers had no idea why Lichtblau asked her–as a follow-up to Miers’ admission that she and other top Administration lawyers had had concerns about the warrantless wiretapping program–whether Bush had had similar concerns. "The president," Lichtblau notes, "had been authorizing the NSA to operate outside the normal boundaries for wiretapping Americans amid concerns from his own lawyers about the legality, but any questions about his own level of confidence or concerns were, in the view of his one-time Supreme Court nominee, irrelevant." Lovely, but thanks to Lichtblau for asking the question.

As you can tell, Lichtblau reveals many new levels of details about the Administration’s repeated use of paranoid levels of secrecy to hide the dubious nature of many of its counter-terrorism programs.

the book. Not only will you get vast new insights onto the Administration’s law-breaking and a good read, it’ll make Barbara Comstock mad!

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