In Which I Vomit in My Mouth Just a Little
I suppose most of my readers are aware of this bizarre story by now, but I thought I'd bring it to your attention if not.
Back in 2004, Ashcroft, then still the Attorney General, was sick in the hospital, desperately ill. He'd turned over authority to then Deputy Attorney General James Comey. Well, the Bush regime was at that moment trying to get the Department of Justice to sign off on the NSA domestic wiretapping program, which, apparently unbeknownst to the White House, both Comey and Ashcroft had decided had crossed a line and become illegal.
Yes, you read that right, but to repeat (cue vomit): The Bush regime's domestic wiretapping program had gone so far over the line that true-believer John motherfucking Ashcroft thought it was over the line. The guy who is so conservative that he covered up the bare breasts of a statue of Justice was the one on the side of civil rights against the regime. That is just goddamned amazing to me. How far to the right do you have to be when both John Ashcroft is to the left of you? Somewhere between Hitler and Attilla the Hun, I think.
But the story gets even more bizarre. When Comey told the White House he wouldn't sign off on the wiretapping program, the White House sent Abu Gonzales and former White House Chief of Staff Andrew Card to Ashcroft's hospital bed to overrule Comey even though it wasn't clear at the time if Ashcroft was going to fucking live or not. That is to say, the White House wasn't satisfied that the Deputy Attorney General of the United States, the 2nd-ranking legal official in the US government, thought the wiretapping program was illegal, so they wanted a second opinion from the highest ranking official, even though he was in the hospital so incapacitated he'd handed over his authority to his deputy.
Which shows just exactly how much the Bush regime cares about the "rule of law" that conservatives like to crow about. They were so ideologically driven to violate the rights of Americans that they were willing to lean on a sick man to get the answer they wanted rather than accept the right answer.
Anyway, Comey heard about how Abu and Card were on the way to the hospital, so he hurried there and got there first. He had some FBI agents with him and when he entered Ashcroft's hostpital room to join Ashcroft's wife, he told the FBI agents not to let anyone from the White House remove him. That is to say, the acting Attorney General of the United States was worried the White House might bring guys (presumably Secret Service guys, since they're under Treasury and don't report to the Attorney General) to physically remove him from the room while they tried to do an end-run around his duly-delegated authority, worried enough that he was willing to order FBI agents to confront other government agents in order to prevent it.
Sort of like what happens in the Third World or a banana republic, not the US, no?
Anyway, basically, Ashcroft was totally out of it in pain, but when Abu and Card arrived and pressed him on the wiretapping issue, he first explained to them -- apparently coherently, despite being incoherent moments earlier -- why the wiretapping program was illegal, and then said, "But it doesn't matter what I think. I'm not the Attorney General. There's the Attorney General," and pointed at Comey before becoming incoherent again.
And then, when the regime showed its utter disregard for the rule of law by ignoring the opinion of the Department of Justice that the wiretapping program was illegal and renewing it anyway, Comey told Ashcroft he had to resign over the issue and Ashcroft decided to resign as well.
Yes, folks, the Bush regime is so wacked that an authoritarian nutjob like John Ashcroft decided he had to resign because the regime had gone too far in violating Americans' civil rights. John Ashcroft is a libertarian compared to these assholes.
This story, as crazy and movie-like as it is, which probably should depress me with its look into how close to a banana republic the US really is, and how easily it could become one, somehow gives me a little hope instead. If even extremist ideologues like John Ashcroft can be pushed far enough that they have to stand up for civil rights and the Constitution, then maybe there's hope. Maybe not everyone, even on the extreme religious right, is completely devoid of scruples like Bush, Cheney, Rove, and Gonzales are, and maybe this was just the perfect storm of utterly amoral people being in power at once. Maybe, as bad as another far-right administration would be, it won't be as bad as this one, because there just aren't enough completely amoral conservatives out there. I mean, Ashcroft sure looked and acted like one, but when the chips came down, he did the right thing, in at least this particular instance. Maybe there just won't be enough of the utterly amoral religious conservatives around to give us another Bush regime.
One can hope, right?