With Friends Like These

Add another name to the list of former Bush officials who have publicly turned on the administration. Jack Goldsmith, a Harvard law professor who headed the Office of Legal Counsel from October 2003 to June 2004, has written a book in which he criticizes the administration’s efforts to drastically expand executive power in the war on terror. The book will not be published until later this month, but it is described at length in this forthcoming Times Magazine article by Jeffrey Rosen, which is available online now.

Goldsmith’s complaints are depressingly familiar. The administration has a “go-it-alone” mentality that disdains cooperation with Congress or compliance with the law. It has an unjustifiably broad view of the president’s constitutional power and seeks to remove all external constraints on his authority. Perhaps most distressing, administration officials seem willing to vilify anyone who scrutinizes their decisions, even if the person was hired specifically for that purpose, as Goldsmith was. Goldsmith says that when he questioned one of the administration’s legal interpretations, David Addington, the vice president’s legal counsel (and now chief of staff) told him, “If you rule that way, the blood of the hundred thousand people who die in the next attack will be on your hands.”

Although none of this is surprising, the book contains several interesting revelations. Goldsmith reports that he resigned on the same day he withdrew OLC’s endorsement of the famous torture memos so that the administration would be forced to accept the withdrawal. If it did not, he says, he was prepared to make clear that he was resigning over his disagreement with the memos. He also says that Alberto Gonzales acknowledged the poor legal reasoning of the torture memos during his departure interview, telling Goldsmith, “I guess those opinions really were as bad you said.”

The best material comes from Goldsmith’s account of the famous hospital scene, in which Gonzales and Andrew Card visited an ailing John Ashcroft in an attempt to obtain approval for the administration’s domestic wiretapping program. Goldsmith, who was present during the visit, praises Ashcroft’s refusal to cave in to their pressure and says Ashcroft was “unbelievably magnanimous” when Goldsmith later resigned. He also reveals that as Gonzales and Card left the hospital room Ashcroft’s wife stuck her tongue out at them. What I would pay to see that on YouTube!