A couple of days ago I stirred from my August
laziness indifference to discuss an uproar ginned up over the notes of FBI director Robert Mueller. Said notes, according to Democratic Rep. John Conyers and the NY Times, backed up the story of James Comey and contradicted Alberto Gonzales regarding the hospital visit to AG John Ashcroft.
I hadn't intended to write anything more about the topic. Clearly Mr. Mueller's notes indicate that a) he wasn't there during the meeting, and in fact both Mr. Card and Mr. Gonzales had left prior to his arrival, and b) the description of the meeting consisted entirely of information fed him by Mr. Comey. Mr. Mueller's notes also discuss Mr. Ashcroft's condition, and have him looking "feeble" sitting up in a chair an hour after the meeting in question, but also show that Mr. Comey told Mr. Mueller that "AG then reviewed for them the legal concerns relating to the program," which would demonstrate a greater degree of coherence, even "lucid" perhaps. I know how patients are after surgery, and there can be significant hour-to-hour fluctuations in their status and energy.
I was certain that this is so straightforward that, given a day to digest the notes and think about them, surely all those currently certain that the notes were damning to Gonzales would slap their foreheads and realize that this gun wasn't smoking. It wasn't even warm.
What do Mr. Mueller's notes show about Mr. Ashcroft's condition that evening? "Saw AG. Janet Ashcroft in the room. AG in chair; is feeble, barely articulate, clearly stressed."
Trying to take advantage of a hospitalized man is despicable. That the behavior was exhibited by the future attorney general in an effort to circumvent the chain of command to get approval for a surveillance program the administration's top lawyers had already said was unacceptable is nothing less than disgraceful.
The problems that I pointed out aside, the Post editorial takes another couple of low shots. The future AG was not circumventing the chain of command; he was going to the guy at the top of that chain who had temporarily transferred the powers of his office to a subordinate. Mr. Ashcroft, had he felt up to it, could clearly have reclaimed his authority. Was it "taking advantage of a hospitalized man," or was it giving that hospitalized man an opportunity to have his voice heard on a matter or national security? It depends on whose ox is being gored, I guess.
To be "cool" in Washington these days you have to take shots at Mr. Gonzales. There are plenty of things to pick on, and the sloppiness demonstrated in the US Attorney situation is just one. I don't think this hospital visit is another.