May 17, 2007
James Comey told the Senate Judiciary Committee that on March 9, 2004, while Ashcroft was hospitalized, "we communicated to the relevant parties at the White House and elsewhere our decision that as acting attorney general I would not certify the program as to its legality." The following evening, according to Comey, he received a call from Ashcroft's chief of staff, David Ayers, that Andrew Card and Alberto Gonzales "were on their way to the hospital to see Mr. Ashcroft" about re-authorizing the NSA program. Comey testified that he immediately went to the hospital to intercept Card and Gonzales:
I sat down in an armchair by the head of the attorney general's bed. The two other Justice Department people stood behind me. And Mrs. Ashcroft stood by the bed holding her husband's arm. And we waited. And it was only a matter of minutes that the door opened and in walked Mr. Gonzales, carrying an envelope, and Mr. Card. They came over and stood by the bed. They greeted the attorney general very briefly. And then Mr. Gonzales began to discuss why they were there -- to seek his approval for a matter, and explained what the matter was -- which I will not do.
And Attorney General Ashcroft then stunned me. He lifted his head off the pillow and in very strong terms expressed his view of the matter, rich in both substance and fact, which stunned me -- drawn from the hour-long meeting we'd had a week earlier -- and in very strong terms expressed himself, and then laid his head back down on the pillow, seemed spent, and said to them, "But that doesn't matter, because I'm not the attorney general."
"I was very upset. I was angry. I thought I just witnessed an effort to take advantage of a very sick man, who did not have the powers of the attorney general because they had been transferred to me."
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