Wednesday, January 04, 2006

New York Times Report On Ashcroft Vastly Deepens Wiretapping Scandal

The New York Times report over the weekend that White House officials may have failed to get then-Attorney General John Ashcroft's approval, while he was in a hospital for pancreatis in 2004, for warrantless wiretapping by the National Security Agency seems on the face of it to vastly deepen the scandal over the wiretapping.

The story in Sunday's paper by James Risen and Eric Lichtblau may signify that even one of the most reactionary officials in the Administration had doubts about the legality of the wiretapping, which President Bush has insisted was needed in the War On Terror.

Parenthetically, there is a report this morning that Risen may leave the New York Times to return to the L.A. Times to work under its new co-managing editor, Doug Frantz. Risen may have been impatient over the NYT's decision to hold the original wiretapping story for a year rather than buck Administration protests at its printing. This seems to confirm other published reports that the executive editor of the NYT, Bill Keller, is turning out to be a weak sister.

Even with a milquetoast Congress, agitation is growing in WAshington at Bush Administration highhandedness in the entire question of tactics in the War on Terror.

Now, the President has begun to squirm under an almost daily barrage of new allegations that he lied outright over the wiretapping, telling people on one hand that he needed a court order to do it, and others that he did not.

The term is overworked, but this could be an impeachable offense. make no mistake.

In their Sunday story, Risen and Lichtblau reported that in Ashcroft's absense in hospital, his top deputy, James P. Comey, first refused to give his permission for the wiretapping. Top White House aides, the story said, then went direct to Ashcroft, only perhaps to find him taking the same position.

Tensions between the White House and the Justice Department in the Watergate scandal three decades ago foreshadowed the eventual ouster of Richard M. Nixon.

We're a long way from that here, as yet, but it's no longer the tompletely outlandish possibility it once was.

Just when we find out the Administration has done something really stupid, it seems it has done something even more stupid.

A Congressional hearing on this increasingly sordid mess is necessary. Make no mistake, this actually may be an impeachable offense.

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