What Did the President Know, and When Did He Know It? | Harper's Magazine

Sign in to access Harper’s Magazine

Need to create a login? Want to change your email address or password? Forgot your password?

  1. Sign in to Customer Care using your account number or postal address.
  2. Select Email/Password Information.
  3. Enter your new information and click on Save My Changes.

Locked out of your account? Get help here.

Subscribers can find additional help here.

Not a subscriber? Subscribe today!

Get Access to Print and Digital for $23.99.
Subscribe for Full Access
Get Access to Print and Digital for $23.99.
[No Comment]

What Did the President Know, and When Did He Know It?

Adjust

The ultimate question of the Watergate era is posed today in an editorial by the newspaper whose modern reputation was cut on Watergate, the Washington Post.

Yesterday at a press conference with Tony Blair, a reporter asked President Bush the question of the day: Did you direct Alberto Gonzales and Andrew Card to seek out John Ashcroft in his hospital room to get him to override the advice given by the Justice Department on a controversial surveillance program?

And the president’s answer? We’re still waiting for it. He refused to answer the question.

James Comey’s own testimony made clear that he believed that the Gonzales-Card nighttime visit to Ashcroft was been undertaken at a presidential direction.

It doesn’t much matter whether President Bush was the one who phoned Attorney General John D. Ashcroft’s hospital room before the Wednesday Night Ambush in 2004. It matters enormously, however, whether the president was willing to have his White House aides try to strong-arm the gravely ill attorney general into overruling the Justice Department’s legal views. It matters enormously whether the president, once that mission failed, was willing nonetheless to proceed with a program whose legality had been called into question by the Justice Department. That is why Mr. Bush’s response to questions about the program yesterday was so inadequate…

The administration, it appears from Mr. Comey’s testimony, was willing to go forward, against legal advice, with a program that the Justice Department had concluded did not “honor the civil liberties of our people.” Nor is it clear that Congress was adequately informed. The president would like to make this unpleasant controversy disappear behind the national security curtain. That cannot be allowed to happen.

Once again, the testimony of James Comey has pulled back the curtain and allowed the country a deep glimpse of the inner workings of the Bush White House. What appears is frightening to anyone who cares about our Constitution and values. A lot of questions have been left unanswered. If this nation is a mature democracy, it will not stand for the issue being swept under the carpet, which is exactly what Bush wants to do. It’s time to be more aggressive with the questions and les accepting of the brush-offs. High time.

More from

More