Simon Review Paper #8

Published in St. Louis University Law Journal, Volume 52.


If my friend Tom Eagleton had lived a few more months, I’m sure he would have been amazed – and amused in a Tom Eagleton sort of way - by the astonishing story of Alberto Gonzales’ late night visit to John Aschroft’s hospital bed in 2004 to persuade the then attorney general to reauthorize a questionable intelligence operation related to the president’s warrantless wiretapping program. No vignette better encapsulates President George W. Bush’s perversion of the rule of law. Not since the Saturday Night Massacre during Watergate has there been a moment when a president’s insistence on having his way resulted in such chaos at the upper reaches of the Justice Department. James Comey, the deputy attorney general and a loyal Republican, told Congress in May, 2007 how he raced to George Washington hospital with sirens blaring to beat Gonzeles to Ashcroft’s room.1 Comey had telephoned FBI Director Robert S. Mueller to ask that he too come to the hospital to back up the Justice Department’s view that the president’s still secret program should not be reauthorized as it then operated.2 Ashcroft, Comey and Mueller held firm in the face of intense pressure from White House counsel Gonzales and Chief of Staff Andrew Card. Before the episode was over, the three were on the verge of tendering their resignations if the White House ignored their objections; the resignations were averted by some last-minute changes in the program – changes still not public.