10 years ago: Comey testifies about confrontation with Bush White House

comey describes ashcroft hospital visit_00005701
comey describes ashcroft hospital visit_00005701

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Story highlights

  • Bharara asked Comey to testify about a 2004 incident when Comey and other Justice and FBI officials threatened to resign
  • Comey gave 20 minutes of riveting congressional testimony

(CNN)Ten years ago, a crisis that had hung over the Justice Department and Attorney General Alberto Gonzales was easing.

Democrats in Congress were investigating the firings of US attorneys and allegations of politicization of the department. They had drawn blood, but by May 2007, Gonzales seemed to have weathered the worst.
Then, James Comey showed up.
Preet Bharara, then counsel to Sen. Chuck Schumer, had called Comey, then general counsel at Lockheed. The two knew each other from their days when Bharara was a prosecutor in the Manhattan US attorney's office and Comey ran the office, the Justice Department's most prominent.
He asked Comey: Would you tell the story of the 2004 incident when Comey and other Justice and FBI officials threatened to resign in a showdown with Gonzales and George W. Bush's White House. Gonzales was the White House counsel in 2004.
The dispute centered on a surveillance program ordered by the President.
Attorney General John Ashcroft was in the hospital, and Comey was acting attorney general, and he had refused to reauthorize the program because of concerns over its legality.
Gonzales and Andy Card, Bush's chief of staff, raced to the hospital to try to get Ashcroft to sign a new authorization. Comey, notified of their efforts, raced to the hospital to stop them.
When Bharara called a few years later, Comey quickly agreed to tell what happened.
Comey had told no one in the Bush administration what he would say. He had appeared days earlier in the House and wasn't asked about the 2004 events.
Many Republicans didn't even bother showing up for the Senate subcommittee hearing on May 15, 2007. Many Democrats had no idea what was coming. It turned into 20 minutes of riveting congressional testimony.
When it was over, the scandal over the US attorney firings was revived. Gonzales never recovered. He resigned over Labor Day weekend.
This event may have been on the mind of President Donald Trump when he threatened Comey on Friday to keep his mouth shut.
If past is prologue, Comey will speak when he chooses.