Monday, September 15, 2008

What Illegal 'Things' Was the Government Doing in 2001-2004?

Isn't that the million dollar question EVERYONE that cares about the rule of law and the Constitution in this country wants to have answered?

Let's remember, this was the time when the Bush Administration was running - and wanted to continue running - a surveillance program so egregiously illegal and unconstitutional that even ultra conservatives like John Ashcroft and James Comey (and a huge number of Justice Department many as 30 some say) were threatening to quite if it wasn't ceased and desisted.

The good news is we've just gotten a little closer to understanding what in fact was being done by the criminal syndicate running this White House to the American people during that time. A new book by Barton Gellman on the Cheney Vice Presidency is providing more details on the all out war that was underway between the Administration and Justice Department (and FBI) during a period of time that became so acrimonious that the threatened 'mass resignation" could have legitimately torpedoed the re-election of the President.

The obvious question then becomes just what kind of sick and twisted program was the administration advocating that a near mutiny by the FBI and Justice Department was just barely avoided as a result of their vehement opposition? We know this much already: the "compromise" program that appeased Ashcroft, Comey, Mueller and company was blatantly illegal in its own right, and ended up sparking a national debate, and most certainly is a crime worthy of impeachment (thanks to retroactive immunity for the telecoms we may never know the full truth). It should also be mentioned, that no criminal conspiracy of this magnitude could have succeeded with out - by the least - complicity and cowardice by leading Democrats.

In fact, we know that Pelosi, Hoyer, Harman, and Rockefeller WERE AWARE and were briefed multiple times on the "compromise" plan. While some apparently quietly voiced their disapproval, none had the integrity or courage to do ANYTHING to stop ir, and likewise, anything to expose it once it was discovered the press and public.

Everyone probably remembers the late night Cheney/Gonzales road trip to visit Ashcroft - a practical invalid at that time - to persuade him in his weakened state to give the go ahead for the program. Deputy Attorney General James Comey made it to Aschroft's bedside in time apparently and no coercion took place.

With that general intro, let's get to a great article by's Glenn Greenwald on the new book by Barton Gellman:

But whatever it was that the Bush administration was doing in spying on Americans for years prior to March, 2004 was so extreme, so patently illegal, so unconscionable that even these right-wing DOJ Bush appointees, who approved of the ultimate warrantless eavesdropping program, were ready to resign en masse if those spying activities continued.


Think about that: in order to persuade the DOJ officials not to resign, "the surveillance program stopped doing some things, and it did other things differently." What "things" did the NSA stop doing in March, 2004 -- and what "things" did it start doing differently -- in order to convince Ashcroft, Mueller and Comey to remain in their jobs? This is one of the greatest political scandals of the Bush era -- not merely the commission of these illegal acts but the fact that they remain concealed from the public-- and it's also one of the most illustrative episodes of how our Government now works, of the extreme secrecy and illegality that characterizes it at its core, and of the complicity of both parties in all of this.


Of course, we almost certainly would have learned the answers to these questions -- or, at the very least, obtained a judicial ruling that the Government broke the law -- had the telecom lawsuits been allowed to proceed. But thanks to the Congressional leadership of both parties, with the support of both major presidential candidates (though over the opposition of the Democratic Vice Presidential nominee), those lawsuits were killed, stopped in their tracks, when the telecom industry was retroactively immunized for their lawbreaking.

At this point, it is extremely easy to understand why not only the White House and Congressional Republicans, but also the Democratic leadership, was so eager to ensure that this law-breaking remain concealed from the public and that there are never any consequences for it. It's because, as is true for so much of the Bush radicalism and lawbreaking over the years, top Democrats were fully aware of what was taking place and either explicitly endorsed the lawbreaking or, with full complicity, allowed it to continue.


This specific meeting described by Gellman, and the briefings generally, included Nancy Pelosi, Jane Harman, Steney Hoyer, and Jay Rockefeller -- all of whom voted to put an end to the telecom lawsuits (and thereby ensure that these crimes remain concealed), and the latter two of whom were, far and away, the key forces behind the new law that killed the lawsuits looking into these spying activities (and then joined Bush and Cheney at a festive, bipartisan White House signing ceremony to celebrate their joint victory).

If we had an even minimally transparent and open government, or an even theoretically extant opposition party, it would be unthinkable that these crimes would remain concealed, uninvestigated and unpunished. Instead, we have deeply corrupt and complicit leadership in both parties that act in unison to protect the culpable actors (i.e., themselves), while neither reporters nor citizens seem particularly interested in learning about the illegal "things" our Government did for years in spying on us and our communications. Did they listen in on our exclusively domestic calls, read our emails, do physical searches by breaking into our homes all without warrants, engage in other types of equally intrusive and illegal surveillance?


As former DOJ official Marty Lederman wrote last year in the wake of the Comey revelations -- after detailing how extraordinary were these threats to resign from these right-wing DOJ officials -- in a post entitled: "Can You Even Imagine How Bad it Must Have Been?":

If that's the narrow version of the NSA program, just how broad and indiscriminate was the surveillance under the program that Ashcroft, et al. would not approve? . . . This is the real heart of the Comey story -- What happened between September 2001 and October 2003, before Comey and Goldmsith came aboard? Just how radical were the Administration's legal judgments? How extreme were the programs they implemented? How egregious was the lawbreaking?

I would argue that perhaps the greatest tragedy of all this isn't just the crimes - both the known and unknown - but it's the public apathy and the complete disinterest by the corporate media in a story that has such far reaching consequences. Just what we do know could easily qualify for an Oliver Stone political thriller, in which a President is committing felonies against the American public with the aid of a Justice Department that has long since turned the word "Justice" in its title into a cruel joke that no one in this country takes seriously anymore.

And these are just the crimes we know about...even Director Stone might have a hard time envisioning just what kind crimes against the people and the constitution were really underway during those fateful few years between 2001 and 2004.

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