The Iron Triangle

Tracking Power, Money and Influence in U.S. National Security

Must Read: Battle B/t Cheney/Addington & DOJ/NSA on warrantless wiretapping

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An amazing story. Excerpts from Barton Gellman’s new book, Angler, in The Washington Post:

Though the president had the formal say over who was “read in” to the domestic surveillance program, Addington controlled the list in practice, according to three officials with personal knowledge. White House counsel Alberto R. Gonzales was aware of the program, but was not a careful student of the complex legal questions it raised. In its first 18 months, the only other lawyer who reviewed the program was John Yoo.

By the time the NSA auditors came calling, a new man, Jack L. Goldsmith, was chief of the Justice Department’s Office of Legal Counsel. Soon after he arrived on Oct. 6, 2003, the vice president’s lawyer invited him to EEOB 268. Addington pulled out a folder with classification markings that Goldsmith had never seen [10].

“David Addington was doing all the legal work. All the important documents were kept in his safe [11],” Goldsmith recalled. “He was the one who first briefed me.”

Goldsmith’s new assignment gave him final word in the executive branch on what was legal and what was not. Addington had cleared him for the post — “the biggest presence in the room,” Goldsmith said, during a job interview ostensibly run by Gonzales.

Goldsmith did not have the looks of a guy who posed a threat to the Bush administration’s alpha lawyer. A mild-mannered law professor from the University of Chicago, he was rumpled and self-conscious, easy to underestimate. On first impression, he gave off a misleading aura of softness. Goldsmith had lettered in football, baseball and soccer at the Pine Crest School in Fort Lauderdale, Fla., [12] spending his formative years with a mob-connected Teamster who married his mother [13]. He was not a bare-knuckled brawler in Addington’s mold, but Goldsmith arrived at Justice with no less confidence and strength of will.

Addington’s behavior with the NSA auditors was “a wake-up call for me,” Goldsmith said. Cheney and Addington, he came to believe, were gaming the system, using secrecy and intimidation to prevent potential dissenters from conducting an independent review.

“They were geniuses at this,” Goldsmith said. “They could divide up all these problems in the bureaucracy, ask different people to decide things in their lanes, control the facts they gave them, and then put the answers together to get the result they want.”

Dec. 9, 2003, the day of the visit from Brenner and Potenza, was the beginning of the end of that strategy. The years of easy victory were winding down for Cheney and his staff.

* * *

Goldsmith began a top-to-bottom review of the domestic surveillance program, taking up the work begun by a lawyer named Patrick F. Philbin after John Yoo left the department. Like Yoo and Goldsmith, Philbin had walked the stations of the conservative legal establishment: Federalist Society, a clerkship with U.S. Circuit Judge Laurence H. Silberman, another with Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas.

The more questions they asked, the less Goldsmith and Philbin liked the answers. Parts of the program fell easily within the constitutional powers of the commander in chief. Others looked dicier.

Though the president had the formal say over who was “read in” to the domestic surveillance program, Addington controlled the list in practice, according to three officials with personal knowledge. White House counsel Alberto R. Gonzales was aware of the program, but was not a careful student of the complex legal questions it raised. In its first 18 months, the only other lawyer who reviewed the program was John Yoo.

By the time the NSA auditors came calling, a new man, Jack L. Goldsmith, was chief of the Justice Department’s Office of Legal Counsel. Soon after he arrived on Oct. 6, 2003, the vice president’s lawyer invited him to EEOB 268. Addington pulled out a folder with classification markings that Goldsmith had never seen [10].

“David Addington was doing all the legal work. All the important documents were kept in his safe [11],” Goldsmith recalled. “He was the one who first briefed me.”

Goldsmith’s new assignment gave him final word in the executive branch on what was legal and what was not. Addington had cleared him for the post — “the biggest presence in the room,” Goldsmith said, during a job interview ostensibly run by Gonzales.

Goldsmith did not have the looks of a guy who posed a threat to the Bush administration’s alpha lawyer. A mild-mannered law professor from the University of Chicago, he was rumpled and self-conscious, easy to underestimate. On first impression, he gave off a misleading aura of softness. Goldsmith had lettered in football, baseball and soccer at the Pine Crest School in Fort Lauderdale, Fla., [12] spending his formative years with a mob-connected Teamster who married his mother [13]. He was not a bare-knuckled brawler in Addington’s mold, but Goldsmith arrived at Justice with no less confidence and strength of will.

Addington’s behavior with the NSA auditors was “a wake-up call for me,” Goldsmith said. Cheney and Addington, he came to believe, were gaming the system, using secrecy and intimidation to prevent potential dissenters from conducting an independent review.

“They were geniuses at this,” Goldsmith said. “They could divide up all these problems in the bureaucracy, ask different people to decide things in their lanes, control the facts they gave them, and then put the answers together to get the result they want.”

Dec. 9, 2003, the day of the visit from Brenner and Potenza, was the beginning of the end of that strategy. The years of easy victory were winding down for Cheney and his staff.

* * *

Goldsmith began a top-to-bottom review of the domestic surveillance program, taking up the work begun by a lawyer named Patrick F. Philbin after John Yoo left the department. Like Yoo and Goldsmith, Philbin had walked the stations of the conservative legal establishment: Federalist Society, a clerkship with U.S. Circuit Judge Laurence H. Silberman, another with Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas.

The more questions they asked, the less Goldsmith and Philbin liked the answers. Parts of the program fell easily within the constitutional powers of the commander in chief. Others looked dicier….

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Written by schwellenbach

September 15, 2008 at 4:13 am

Posted in Uncategorized

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