NDN Blog

Presidential Internventions and Bedside Negotiations

That's what former Deputy Attorney General James B. Comey (not one of the ones forced to quit over the USAT scandal) told Congress about yesterday.  According to Comey, there was a lot more drama and potential wrongdoing then we initially knew about the decision to authorize warrentless wiretapping without Justice Department approval.  Dana Milbank has an excellent summary:

"The door opened and in walked Mr. Gonzales, carrying an envelope, and Mr. Card," Comey told the spellbound senators. "They came over and stood by the bed." They wanted Ashcroft to sign off on an eavesdropping plan that Comey and others at the Justice Department had already called legally indefensible.

Ashcroft "lifted his head off the pillow and in very strong terms expressed his view of the matter" -- that Comey was right. "And as he laid back down, he said, 'But that doesn't matter, because I'm not the attorney general. There is the attorney general.' And he pointed to me."

Gonzales and Card "did not acknowledge me," Comey testified. "They turned and walked from the room..."

"I thought I just witnessed an effort to take advantage of a very sick man," Comey told the quiet chamber. His voice grew thick and he cleared his throat as he explained how he prepared to resign. "I couldn't stay, if the administration was going to engage in conduct that the Department of Justice had said had no legal basis..."

Even the White House declined to counter Comey, who has a reputation for honesty. "You've got somebody who has splashy testimony on Capitol Hill -- good for him," presidential press secretary Tony Snow dodged.

In truth, nothing Snow could have said would have matched Comey's testimony. Comey recounted how, while driving home at 8 p.m. on that day in 2004, he got word that Mrs. Ashcroft had received a call -- possibly from President Bush himself -- to say Gonzales and Card were coming.

"I told my security detail that I needed to get to George Washington Hospital immediately. They turned on the emergency equipment and drove very quickly," Comey testified. "I got out of the car and ran up -- literally ran up the stairs with my security detail. . . . I raced to the hospital room, entered." The room was dark, and Ashcroft was "pretty bad off."

In Comey's account, he got FBI Director Robert Mueller to tell his agents guarding Ashcroft not to let Card and Gonzales evict Comey from the room. A few minutes after the bedside confrontation, Card called the hospital. He "demanded that I come to the White House immediately," Comey testified. "I responded that, after the conduct I had just witnessed, I would not meet with him without a witness present."

"He replied, 'What conduct? We were just there to wish him well.' " After Card demanded to know if Comey was "refusing to come to the White House," Comey, with the solicitor general, finally arrived at the West Wing at 11 p.m. His narrative covered the next two days, ending when Bush intervened and avoided a spate of resignations.

The senators had some trouble finding words for what they had heard. "This story makes me gulp," Schumer said.

Specter invoked the firing of the Watergate prosecutor. "It has some characteristics of the Saturday Night Massacre," he said. And the senator left little doubt about whom he blamed.

"Can you give us an example of an exercise of good judgment by Alberto Gonzales?" he asked.

This time, Comey had no narrative. "Let the record show a very long pause," Specter said.

Or you can watch the testimony yourself:

And TPM raises important questions about just whose idea it was to send then White House Counsel Alberto Gonzalez and Chief of Staff Andrew Card to lobby a very sick and heavily sedated John Ashcroft to sign off on a proposal he had already signaled his strong opposition to.

Rep. Ric Keller is puttin' suckas in fear...

That's right, the GOP Congressman from Orlando didn't just drop a regular jam on the floor of the US House of Representatives yesterday.  Instead, he decided to take this itty bitty world by storm by quoting rapper LL Cool J: "Don't call it a comeback I've been here for years," Keller said, in defense of his long-standing support for a police funding bill.  What Rep. Keller may not know, is that LL is a Democrat and close friends with Congressman Patrick Kennedy.  You could say that the competition's paying the price.  

Immigration: progress on Senate Bill

The New York Times reports on progress among ten Senators working behind closed doors on an immigration bill. From the lede:

With the new Congress poised to take its first vote on immigration, senators from both parties stepped up the pace of negotiations on Tuesday in hopes of cutting a deal on a comprehensive bill that would increase enforcement at the border and offer legal status to millions of undocumented workers.

McCain sets it straight on immigration stance

(via Chris Cilizza from The Fix) Last night during the Republican presidential debate, Senator John McCain addressed questions about where he stands on the immigration debate. McCain said:

"What the American people expect us to do is to sit down and work this issue out...We have to have a comprehensive solution and it has to be bipartisan."

"I intend to lead; I don't intend to follow. I don't intend to block things."

McCain also responded to criticism from Mitt Romney that he worked in a bipartisan manner (how terrible?!) on McCain-Kennedy, a bill that Romney feels conservatives oppose, even though Senator Sam Brownback was a cosponsor. McCain responded:

"I haven't changed my position in even-numbered years or ... because of the different offices that I may be running for."

As you know, McCain was intimately involved in past discussions and lead the debate on comprehensive immigration reform. Yet recently, many feel as if he's walked away from the table, instead delegating to Senators Kyl and Graham to get the job done.

AOL buys Mobile Media Network

AOL expanded its network with the purchase of Third Screen Media, a marketing company that "enables advertising for mobile phones and wireless devices." According to AdAge, Third Screen primarily sells mobile banner ads and is likely well-positioned for video, although it says it can also manage and deliver ads in downloadable applications, SMS/text messaging and MMS/multimedia messaging.

The CEO of AOL, Randy Falco, announced the acquisition which comes two weeks after Microsoft acquired Screen Talk, a European mobile advertising firm.

This isn't shocking to our New Politics Institute, and NPI Fellow Tim Chambers, both of which have long understood the benefits of mobile media.

Social Networking's role in 2008

CNN takes a glimpse at the role of social networking sites like Facebook and MySpace could play in 2008. As the article suggests:

...it's not just about broadcasting to a hard-to-reach demographic. In order to recruit voters online, candidates must appear to engage with potential supporters on a far more personal level, on their terms, in their environment.

These sites tear down the traditional barriers between those in power -- be they celebrities or politicians -- and their fanbase or supporters, providing the semblance -- if not the reality -- of personal involvement and a forum for discussion.


And that's where the real power in the Internet lies. Far from being a one-way broadcast, the medium allows people to engage with each other, get involved and focus on the issues they care about most. Most of all, it allows people to take a campaign and evolve it themselves.

While this will terrify traditional campaign managers and PRs, who can see quality assurance flying out of the window along with their approved, on-message briefing sheets, is it really a bad thing that the Internet gives regular Joes the chance to broadcast alongside the big guns -- and the potential to beat them at their own game?

Edwards' College Opportunity Agenda

John Edwards released his College Opportunity Agenda. His "College for Everyone" initiative "would pay for one year of public-college tuition, fees, and books for any student who is willing to work hard and stay out of trouble." According to the release, the initiative is based on the College for Everyone pilot program in Greene County, North Carolina, that helps pay for the first year of college for young people who agree to work at least 10 hours a week.

Edwards also discussed a few other initiatives as part of his Agenda. Those include:

  • Help simplify the application process for student aid and would help every low-income high school eligible for Title I hire a new college counselor, helping students choose college-track courses and navigate the admissions and financial aid process.
  • Require all students to borrow directly from the Department of Education, which would eliminate bank subsidies on student loans and free up almost $6 billion a year to make college more affordable.

UPDATE: Barack Obama released his plan to change student loans. In short, he "wants to eliminate federal subsidies for banks that provide student loans."

For those students (or anyone interested in higher education reform) who read our blog, I'd be interested in your comments. 

For more information on NDN's coverage of the 2008 Presidential election, click here.

Safety of the Green Zone Called Into Question

U.S. Embassy employees in Iraq are growing increasingly angry over what they say are inadequate security precautions in the heavily fortified Green Zone, where recent mortar and rocket attacks have claimed the lives of six people, including two U.S. citizens.

In spite of the attacks, embassy employees complain, most staff members still sleep in trailers that one described as "tin cans" that offer virtually no protection from rocket and mortar fire. The government has refused to harden the roofs because of the cost, one employee said.

A second official called it "criminally negligent" not to reduce the size of the embassy staff, which a year ago was estimated at 1,000, in the face of the increasing attacks and blamed the administration's failure to respond on concerns that doing so might undermine support for President Bush's Iraq policy.

"What responsible person and responsible government would ask you to put yourself at risk like that? We don't belong here," the employee said, adding, "They're not going to send us home because it's going to be another admission of failure."

More from McClatchy...

More bad news for Wolfowitz

The special committee set-up to look into allegations against Paul Wolfowitz at the World Bank has issued its report to the Board of Directors and it's not good for Wolfowitz, who appears pretty disconnected from the rules and reality in his tenure as World Bank President:

The report charged that Mr. Wolfowitz broke bank rules and the ethical obligations in his contract, and that he tried to hide the salary and promotion package awarded to Shaha Ali Riza, his companion and a bank employee, from top legal and ethics officials in the months after he became bank president in 2005.

Citing what it said was the “central theme” of the matter, the report said Mr. Wolfowitz’s assertions that what he did was in response to the requests of others showed that “from the outset” of his tenure he “cast himself in opposition to the established rules of the institution.”

“He did not accept the bank’s policy on conflict of interest, so he sought to negotiate for himself a resolution different from that which would be applied to the staff he was selected to head,” the committee said, adding that this was “a manifestation of an attitude in which Mr. Wolfowitz saw himself as the outsider to whom the established rules and standards did not apply.”

“It evidences questionable judgment and a preoccupation with self-interest over institutional best interest,” it said.

Redstate.com goes after corrupt GOP Congressmen

Leading conservative blog www.redstate.com has announced a major campaign to block Rep. Ken Calvert (R-CA) from taking Rep. John Doolittle's (R-CA) seat on the House Appropriations Committee.  Doolittle is being investigated by the FBI and Calvert's been accused of similar corruption problems, and Red State has had enough of the House GOP Steering Committee that is filling Doolittle's spot: "The House GOP Steering Committee will either embrace reform or reject it,” he wrote. “And we will encourage them to embrace it."

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