January 29, 2006


Palace Revolt: They were loyal conservatives, and Bush appointees. They fought a quiet battle to rein in the president's power in the war on terror. And they paid a price for it. A NEWSWEEK investigation (Daniel Klaidman, Stuart Taylor Jr. and Evan Thomas, Feb. 6, 2006, Newsweek)

James Comey, a lanky, 6-foot-8 former prosecutor who looks a little like Jimmy Stewart, resigned as deputy attorney general in the summer of 2005. The press and public hardly noticed. Comey's farewell speech, delivered in the Great Hall of the Justice Department, contained all the predictable, if heartfelt, appreciations. But mixed in among the platitudes was an unusual passage. Comey thanked "people who came to my office, or my home, or called my cell phone late at night, to quietly tell me when I was about to make a mistake; they were the people committed to getting it right—and to doing the right thing—whatever the price. These people," said Comey, "know who they are. Some of them did pay a price for their commitment to right, but they wouldn't have it any other way."

One of those people—a former assistant attorney general named Jack Goldsmith—was absent from the festivities and did not, for many months, hear Comey's grateful praise. In the summer of 2004, Goldsmith, 43, had left his post in George W. Bush's Washington to become a professor at Harvard Law School. Stocky, rumpled, genial, though possessing an enormous intellect, Goldsmith is known for his lack of pretense; he rarely talks about his time in government. In liberal Cambridge, Mass., he was at first snubbed in the community and mocked as an atrocity-abetting war criminal by his more knee-jerk colleagues. ICY WELCOME FOR NEW LAW PROF, headlined The Harvard Crimson.

They had no idea. Goldsmith was actually the opposite of what his detractors imagined. For nine months, from October 2003 to June 2004, he had been the central figure in a secret but intense rebellion of a small coterie of Bush administration lawyers. Their insurrection, described to NEWSWEEK by current and former administration officials who did not wish to be identified discussing confidential deliberations, is one of the most significant and intriguing untold stories of the war on terror.

These Justice Department lawyers, backed by their intrepid boss Comey, had stood up to the hard-liners, centered in the office of the vice president, who wanted to give the president virtually unlimited powers in the war on terror. Demanding that the White House stop using what they saw as farfetched rationales for riding rough-shod over the law and the Constitution, Goldsmith and the others fought to bring government spying and interrogation methods within the law. They did so at their peril; ostracized, some were denied promotions, while others left for more comfortable climes in private law firms and academia. Some went so far as to line up private lawyers in 2004, anticipating that the president's eavesdropping program would draw scrutiny from Congress, if not prosecutors. These government attorneys did not always succeed, but their efforts went a long way toward vindicating the principle of a nation of laws and not men.

The rebels were not whistle-blowers in the traditional sense. They did not want—indeed avoided—publicity. (Goldsmith confirmed public facts about himself but otherwise declined to comment. Comey also declined to comment.) They were not downtrodden career civil servants. Rather, they were conservative political appointees who had been friends and close colleagues of some of the true believers they were fighting against. They did not see the struggle in terms of black and white but in shades of gray—as painfully close calls with unavoidable pitfalls. They worried deeply about whether their principles might put Americans at home and abroad at risk.

Tough to see a bureaucratic turf battle by lawyers as a defense of the broad principles of the Constitution.

Posted by Orrin Judd at January 29, 2006 11:03 AM

Newsweek has not hesitated to stick it to this President on this and many occasions.

Nontheless, they do us a service. We probably should, within reason, know and understand this kind of story.

But what Newsweek and the MSM simply cannot grasp is the number of Americans who are in this fight, and in this case happen to agree with those "hard-liners in the VP's office".

When the catchy poster, "We have met the enemy and he is us" becomes imprinted at a DNA level to the media and Democratic Party, for them to actually, in their hearts, accept that there IS in fact and enemy that is NOT us, and wants to see us and our children dead or enslaved, is akin to an evangelical accepting that Christ had a brother who was equally divine, or some such.

There is simply and utterly no room, no capability, no paradigm for them to accept the new and glaring reality of the WOT and maintain their worldview, until they meet and understand the reality of an enemy who is "not us". And with that, whole foundational edifices of the Left ideology come crashing down.

Hence the frightening rage, impotence, and dissonance. I am ever more reminded of the Easter Islanders that spent hundreds of years building ever larger stone gods, and then went utterly mad and toppled them all.

Posted by: Andrew X at January 29, 2006 11:52 AM

When is the book coming out?

Posted by: erp at January 29, 2006 12:29 PM

A book? Why not a deadly serious documentary narrated by Stacy Keach? These people need to lighten up.

Posted by: RC at January 29, 2006 12:44 PM

Hey! This is serious. In fact, it's "one of the most significant and intriguing untold stories of the war on terror."

Posted by: David Hill, The Bronx at January 29, 2006 2:36 PM

"...their efforts went a long way toward vindicating the principle of a nation of laws and not men."--That's not reporting the news, it's an op-ed. Thanks, Op-EdWeek.

Posted by: Noel at January 29, 2006 2:39 PM

The rebels were not whistle-blowers in the traditional sense. They did not wantindeed avoidedpublicity. (Goldsmith confirmed public facts about himself but otherwise declined to comment. Comey also declined to comment.)

Man, these guys are going to be tougher to avoid hearing and seeing in the media for the next week than pre-Super Bowl hype.

Posted by: John at January 29, 2006 2:58 PM

"[The President] may require the Opinion, in writing, of the principal Officer in each of the executive Departments..."

And then again, he may not. His call, not theirs.

Posted by: Noel at January 29, 2006 6:12 PM

Books are more profitable.

It would be interesting to tally up how many anti-Bush books have been published in the past five years or so and figure out just what effect, if any, they had on Bush or the course of events.

Posted by: erp at January 29, 2006 6:48 PM

What "price" was paid? Cushy law firm jobs, Harvard Law. No cells or firing squads.

Posted by: Bob at January 29, 2006 7:54 PM