But after his resignation and as time passed, new information began to emerge. Despite the rep, and despite the public image, it turns out Ashcroft was one of the chief internal critics of Bush's radical expansion of executive powers in the wake of 9/11. And so in that vein, we get an interesting story from CNN, about how the Bush Administration tried to get Ashcroft to sign off on a domestic spying program while he was hospitalized recovering from gall bladder surgery. Former Deputy Attorney General James Comey described the events:
In his testimony Tuesday, Comey recounted Ashcroft's wife calling a Justice Department official that night informing her [White House Chief of Staff Andrew] Card and [then White House Counsel Alberto] Gonzales were on their way to see Ashcroft. She had banned all outside phone calls and visitors, Comey said.
He immediately headed to the hospital and soon after he got there, the White House officials entered. He said Ashcroft, who had been weak from gall bladder surgery, "very strongly expressed himself" regarding his objections to a classified program, but added that his views didn't matter because he was, temporarily, not the attorney general.
Comey said Card and Gonzales then left the hospital room without acknowledging him.
"I was very upset. I was angry. I thought I had 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. I thought he had conducted himself -- and I said to the attorney general -- in a way that demonstrated a strength that I had never seen before, but still I thought it was improper," Comey told the committee.
Comey said the program was reauthorized the next day without a Justice Department signature, and he then prepared a letter of resignation. However, he said he did not hand that letter in because the Justice Department's chief of staff asked him to delay it until Ashcroft could also resign.
This was in March of 2004, Ashcroft resigned that November, and Comey followed suit in March of 2005.
Certainly a classy move by Gonzalez and Card, no?