Responding to pressure from the press for answers to the accusation that President Bush was personally responsible for the late night visit by Gonzales and Card to Attorney General Ashcroft’s sickbed, White House press secretary Tony Fratto has replied with attacks on Deputy Attorney General James Comey:
Q. Let me just follow up on that. Yesterday, Kelly asked the President straight up about the report of when Gonzales was counsel and sending Andy Card down to the hospital. The President refused to answer, saying it was a national security issue. No part of her question had anything to do with national security issues.
MR. FRATTO: No, there are two points there. One is the discussion of classified programs; and the second is deliberative discussions among and between advisors to the President — and neither of which is an open window for us to look into and talk about. Now, I think the President — I think that’s the point that the President was making. It puts us in a difficult communications position, because we understand there are questions out there and it’s difficult for us from the podium. But that’s not something that we can get into, and we’re not going to get into . . .
Q How does it jeopardize the safety and security of Americans, to say whether —
MR. FRATTO: Any time we talk about —
Q — to say whether he ordered those guys to go to the hotel room?
MR. FRATTO: The hospital room —
Q I’m sorry, hospital room.
MR. FRATTO: — according to the reports.
Q — former acting Attorney General . . .
Q — in relation to some unnamed, unspecified program, these two White House aides sought out the Attorney General — who was ill and had passed his powers over to his acting — sought him out instead of going to the Attorney General. Do you guys deny that took place?
MR. FRATTO: Let me say very clearly: I am not addressing any particular report, okay. But I will say that ultimate authority rests with the President of the United States.
This reflects a now typical White House maneuver: invoke national security concerns to cut off discussion of anything that might prove embarrassing to you. Accuse those who raise the issue of violating national security concerns in order to cast an aura of inappropriate conduct about them.
It’s doubly ironic here. There clearly was nothing wrong with Comey testifying, under a Congressional subpoena, as to the nighttime visit that Gonzales and Card paid to Ashcroft to coerce his signature on an illegal surveillance scheme. On the other hand, Card’s and Gonzales’s conduct was illegal on several fronts – both as further steps in a conspiracy to implement an unlawful surveillance regime, and, as Time magazine has noted, in their public discussion with Ashcroft of highly compartmentalized national security information relating to signals intelligence – which violated national security guidelines. As usual, the law is made to stand on its head and the irony of the situation seems lost on most of the audience.