Newsweek just posted an interview with Jack Goldsmith, the Justice Department lawyer who was charged with advising the White House on the limits of executive power and who resigned in disgust after less than a year in the job. Excerpts from is new book “The Terror Presidency” have been stirring up controversy over recent days.
Here's his account of the infamous Ashcroft/Gonzales hospital confrontation:
Comey, Philbin and I went into the room a few minutes before Card and Gonzales arrived. It was the first time I’d seen [Ashcroft] since he went to the hospital 6 or so days [prior]. I was stunned at how changed he was, how terrible he looked. He’d had a series of operations and lost a lot of weight since I had seen him last. He was ashen, pale, looked very weak. He had the usual hospital tubes and wires coming out of his body. In walked Gonzales and Card and only Gonzales spoke and he asked the attorney general how he was doing and he asked him if he would consider authorizing the program in question. Gonzales’s questions didn’t get very far until color came into Ashcroft’s face and he kind of came to life and he kind of lifted himself a little bit off the bed and in an extraordinarily articulate and powerful 2-minute speech, he outlined the Department of Justice’s concerns with the matter. He said he did not appreciate the visit when he was so sick. And that, in any event, Jim Comey was the acting attorney general. And then they turned and walked out.Go read the rest and tell me what you think.
Mrs. Ashcroft had been standing beside her husband looking on, in what seemed to be in horror, because he was very sick and it was obviously a very stressful episode. And she was obviously very upset. She expressed this as they were walking out of the room by basically sticking her tongue out as an expression of disapproval as to what had just gone on.
I came away feeling that this was a man who believed the Bush administration had over-stpeed the mark in a way which will hurt the office of the President for years to come, but who is desperate to rebuild bridges to friends in conservative circles and in the administration - who did what he felt was right and doesn't want to be smeared and made a pariah by his former colleagues and their noise machine for doing so. Sorry, Mr. Goldsmith, but I think there's little chance of that.
Update Marty Lederman abstracts some crucial points from the interview.
Those who argue for virtually unilateral executive authority in modern wars, especially on issues of intelligence in the post-nuclear age, typically explain that only the Executive has the expertise, broad knowledge, and perspective that is necessary to address modern threats expeditiously and effectively, with an eye toward the long-term interests of the nation. Yet on issue after crucial issue in this Administration -- whether it be Iraq, or Al Qaeda, or Executive power, or military policy, the New Orleans levees, or science and public health, etc. -- the White House and the VP have ignored those very virtues of the Executive branch, by cutting the distrusted professionals and experts out of the loop altogether, or at least marginalizing or overruling them. When there was a virtually consensus -- such as Jack relates within DOJ and the intelligence community, or, e.g., among the JAGs -- Cheney, Addington, and ultimately the President would simply ignore it.and relates that to Goldsmith's own analysis of the short-comings of the Bush/Cheney method of government:
If issues and debates are too tightly drawn, and there’s too much secrecy, then two pathologies occur and we saw them occur in this administration. One is you don’t have the wide-range debate needed to help you avoid errors. Two is, it’s pretty well known that excessive secrecy leaves other people in the government to question what is going on when they get wind of it, and to leak it.Good stuff, as always, from Lederman.