Former Deputy Attorney General James Comey told the Senate Judiciary Committee May 15 that he, as well as then-Attorney General John Ashcroft, FBI Director Robert Mueller and other senior Justice Department officials, threatened to resign en masse in 2004 to protest the National Security Agency’s domestic spying program which they viewed as illegal and unconstitutional.

Comey told a riveting story of getting a call March 10, 2004, that then-White House Counsel Alberto Gonzales and White House Chief of Staff Andrew Card were on their way to the hospital where Ashcroft was recuperating, half-conscious, following gall bladder surgery. Comey said he raced in a squad car with siren wailing, arriving just minutes before Gonzales and Card.

Gonzales and Card demanded that Ashcroft reverse his position and support the NSA warrantless wiretap program. According to Comey, Ashcroft, barely conscious, refused to approve the program.

But then, said Comey, President Bush stepped in. Following a White House meeting on terrorism a few days later, Comey said Bush took him aside for a 15-minute meeting in his private study. Bush also met with Mueller. The upshot was that Bush approved the NSA spy program without the advice and consent of the Justice Department. Ashcroft, Mueller and Comey kept silent and the program went forward.

Comey’s testimony throws light on an appalling abuse of power by George W. Bush, a flagrant effort to circumvent even his own right-wing Justice Department as well as congressional oversight. What it boils down to is this: Bush arrogated to himself the authority to spy on innocent people in flagrant violation of the U.S. Constitution and without Justice Department approval. Bush rewarded his hatchet man Gonzales by appointing him to replace Ashcroft as the nation’s chief law enforcement officer. Gonzales’ main qualification was his loyalty to Bush, demonstrated by his willingness to put the squeeze on a man lying in pain in a hospital bed. If Gonzales won’t resign, he should be impeached. Yet Comey’s testimony proves that it is Bush, himself, who committed impeachable offenses.

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