Dan Eggen of the Washington Post churns out another misleading hit-piece on Alberto Gonzales. This time, he claims that the notes of FBI Director Robert Mueller contradict Gonzales’ account of his famous visit to Attorney General Ashcroft at the hospital in March 2004. Eggen begins:
Then-Attorney General John D. Ashcroft was “feeble,” “barely articulate” and “stressed” moments after a hospital room confrontation in March 2004 with Alberto R. Gonzales, who wanted Ashcroft to approve a warrantless wiretapping program over Justice Department objections, according to notes from FBI Director Robert S. Mueller III that were released yesterday. . . .
Mueller’s description of Ashcroft’s physical condition that night contrasts with testimony last month from Gonzales, who told the Senate Judiciary Committee that Ashcroft was “lucid” and “did most of the talking” during the brief visit. It also confirms an account of the episode by former deputy attorney general James B. Comey, who said Ashcroft told the two men he was not well enough to make decisions in the hospital
But here Eggen omits an important detail — Mueller wasn’t at the hospital during Gonzales’ conversation with Ashcroft (the reader must turn to page 5 of the print edition to learn this). Thus, Mueller was not in a position to opine about Ashcroft’s ability to articulate while Gonzales was present. And since Gonzales (naturally enough) has said nothing about Ashcroft’s state after Gonzales left the hospital, Mueller’s statements on this subject can’t and don’t contradict anything Gonzales has said.
Eggen, then, is simply fabricating a contradiction (he uses the word “contrast” instead of “contradict,” but they mean the same thing and the Post’s headline uses the latter word). Mueller does not (and could not, because he wasn’t present) deny that Ashcroft was lucid during the visit or that Ashcroft did most of the talking. Moreover, Comey himself has confirmed that Ashcroft did, in fact, speak coherently about the issue Gonzales came to discuss, becoming too exhausted to continue only after he had said his piece. And Gonzales hasn’t claimed that Ashcroft expressed the ability or willingness to make a decision on whether to continue the surveillance program at issue. Thus, even if Mueller could confirm what Ashcroft told Gonzales on the subject (which he cannot, because he wasn’t present) this would not contradict anything Gonzales has said.
Anyone who has made frequent visits to hospitals or who has been around very old people knows that someone can be in bad physical shape yet talk lucidly about complicated subjects for short (and sometimes extended) periods of time. The accounts of both Gonzales and Comey indicate that this was the situation with respect to Ashcroft during the visit of Gonzales and Andrew Card. Indeed, Mueller’s own notes of what Comey told him shortly after the visit also confirm this. The notes say (and again this is Mueller recording what Comey told him), “The AG then reviewed for them the legal concerns relating to the program. The AG also told them that he was barred from obtaining the advice he needed on the program by the strict compartmentalization rules of the WH.” That seems lucid enough.
Since Gonzales did not ask Ashcroft to do push-ups, but instead briefly discussed a legal issue with him, Ashcroft’s physical condition has little relevance to the question of whether Gonzales acted improperly. And since Gonzales didn’t testify that Aschcroft was in good physical condition, it is also irrelevant to the veracity of Gonzales’ testimony.
By now, it should be apparent to the Post’s editors that Dan Eggen is too invested in attacking Gonzales to provide honest coverage of matters relating to him. But maybe this state of affairs is what the Post wants.
JOHN adds: I think Eggen also misdescribes the program that was involved in these conversations. He calls it a “warrantless wiretapping program,” but I think the record indicates that it was the NSA’s data mining program, which had nothing to do with “wiretapping” or otherwise accessing the content of communications. This kind of mischaracterization of intelligence programs has been constant, as when the Post and other newspapers refer to the NSA’s interception of international communications as “domestic surveillance.”
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