By Dan Froomkin
Special to washingtonpost.com
Wednesday, September 5, 2007; 2:14 PM
At the center of the Bush White House's most extreme overreaches -- its assertions of unfettered executive power in wartime, its backing of brutal treatment of detainees, its bulldozing of legal limits on government eavesdropping -- lies one man.
And it's not Vice President Cheney -- at least not directly. It's David S. Addington, Cheney's longtime legal counsel and, ever since I. Lewis "Scooter" Libby's indictment and resignation, his chief of staff.
A startling new book from a disillusioned former Justice Department official sheds new light on just how extremist, bullheaded and -- for a long time -- unstoppable Addington was.
The author of the book is Jack Goldsmith, the former head of the Office of Legal Counsel and the subject of a profile in this Sunday's New York Times Magazine by Jeffrey Rosen.
Goldsmith apparently was sympathetic to many of Addington's goals. But not the means. Because the means were illegal. And ultimately self-defeating.
Rosen writes: "Instead of reaching out to Congress and the courts for support, which would have strengthened its legal hand, the administration asserted what Goldsmith considers an unnecessarily broad, 'go-it-alone' view of executive power. As Goldsmith sees it, this strategy has backfired. 'They embraced this vision,' he says, 'because they wanted to leave the presidency stronger than when they assumed office, but the approach they took achieved exactly the opposite effect. The central irony is that people whose explicit goal was to expand presidential power have diminished it."
Goldsmith's book also includes an unforgettable image: Of John Ashcroft's wife sticking her tongue out at two top White House aides as they left her husband's hospital room after unsuccessfully trying to browbeat Ashcroft into approving a surveillance plan that Goldsmith and others had concluded was illegal.
Dan Eggen and Peter Baker report on the book's main points in a front-page story in The Washington Post this morning: "Vice President Cheney's top lawyer pushed relentlessly to expand the powers of the executive branch and repeatedly derailed efforts to obtain congressional approval for aggressive anti-terrorism policies for fear that even a Republican majority might say no, according to a new book written by a former senior Justice Department official. . . .
"Goldsmith said in the book that he did not question the motives or integrity of Addington or others, and he portrayed them as sincerely concerned about the nation's security. But he depicted Addington, who served as 'Cheney's eyes, ears, and voice' on counterterrorism matters and with whom he was present at roughly 100 meetings on the topic, as having little patience for views contrary to his own.
"'After 9/11, they and other top officials in the administration dealt with FISA the way they dealt with other laws they didn't like: they blew through them in secret based on flimsy legal opinions that they guarded closely so no one could question the legal basis for the operations,' Goldsmith wrote, referring to the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act, which governs spying by U.S. agencies within the United States.
"Goldsmith described Addington as 'the chief legal architect of the Terrorist Surveillance Program,' which bypassed the secret court that administers FISA and allowed the National Security Agency to spy on communications between the United States and overseas without warrants. In a February 2004 meeting, Addington said sarcastically: 'We're one bomb away from getting rid of that obnoxious [FISA] court.'"
Rosen writes: "In a new book, 'The Terror Presidency,' which will be published later this month, and in a series of conversations I had with him this summer, Goldsmith has recounted how, from his first weeks on the job, he fought vigorously against an expansive view of executive power championed by officials in the White House."
When Goldsmith presented his view that the Fourth Geneva Convention, which describes protections that cover civilians in war zones like Iraq, also covered insurgents and terrorists, "Addington, according to Goldsmith, became livid. 'The president has already decided that terrorists do not receive Geneva Convention protections,' Addington replied angrily, according to Goldsmith. 'You cannot question his decision.' ...
Salon blogger Glenn Greenwald focuses on Addington's apparently wishful thinking about the FISA court.
Greenwald writes: "Their goal all along was to 'get rid of the obnoxious FISA court' entirely, so that they could freely eavesdrop on whomever they wanted with no warrants or oversight of any kind. And here is Dick Cheney's top aide, drooling with anticipation at the prospect of another terrorist attack so that they could seize this power without challenge. Addington views the Next Terrorist Attack as the golden opportunity to seize yet more power. Sitting around the White House dreaming of all the great new powers they will have once the new terrorist attack occurs -- as Addington was doing -- is nothing short of deranged."
Legal blogger Marty Lederman thinks that Goldsmith understates the significance of his December 2003 repudiation of fellow Justice department official John Yoo's March 2003 opinion on torture. Goldsmith apparently wasn't sure it made much practical difference. Lederman writes that there is "good reason to believe that the abuse that occurred in Iraq and Afghanistan throughout 2003 was directly attributable to John Yoo's March memo . . . and that therefore Jack Goldsmith's December 2003 repudiation of John Yoo's memo dramatically changed the legal playing field at DoD, and had a profound effect on its interrogation techniques."Background on Addington
In May 2006, Chitra Ragavan profiled Addington -- "the most powerful man you've never heard of" -- for U.S. News. Addington "has served as the ramrod driving the Bush administration's most secretive and controversial counterterrorism measures through the bureaucracy," Ragavan wrote.
"Name one significant action taken by the Bush White House after 9/11, and chances are better than even that Addington had a role in it. . . .
"In national security circles, Addington is viewed as such a force of nature that one former government lawyer nicknamed him 'Keyser Soze,' after the ruthless crime boss in the thriller The Usual Suspects."
In July 2006, the New Yorker published Jane Meyer's profile of Addington. One scene: "On November 13, 2001, an executive order setting up the military commissions was issued under Bush's signature. The decision stunned [then-secretary of state Colin] Powell; the national-security adviser, Condoleezza Rice; the highest-ranking lawyer at the C.I.A.; and many judge advocate generals, or JAGs, the top lawyers in the military services. None of them had been consulted. . . . According to multiple sources, Addington secretly usurped the process. He and a few hand-picked associates, including Bradford Berenson and Timothy Flanigan, a lawyer in the White House counsel's office, wrote the executive order creating the commissions. Moreover, Addington did not show drafts of the order to Powell or Rice, who, the senior Administration lawyer said, was incensed when she learned about her exclusion."
Barton Gellman and Jo Becker further illustrated Addington's dominant role in their Washington Post series of Cheney in June: "Addington, backed by Flanigan, found levers of government policy and wrote the words that moved them. . . .
"Gonzales, a former Texas judge, had the seniority and the relationship with Bush. But Addington -- a man of imposing demeanor, intellect and experience -- dominated the group. Gonzales 'was not a law-of-war expert and didn't have very developed views,' Yoo recalled, echoing blunter observations by the Texan's White House colleagues."
There's more on Addington in my columns of Nov. 1, Nov. 2 and Nov. 4, 2005, in the wake of Cheney's decision to promote Addington after Libby's resignation; and also in my June 20, 2006 column about a Supreme Court decision that reasserted the rule of law -- and set Addington back on his heels.The Failed Surge
Renee Schoof and Warren P. Strobel write for McClatchy Newspapers: "The surge of additional U.S. troops in Iraq has failed to curtail violence against Iraqi civilians, an independent government agency reported Tuesday.
"Citing data from the Pentagon and other U.S. agencies, the Government Accountability Office found that daily attacks against civilians in Iraq have remained 'about the same' since February, when the United States began sending nearly 30,000 additional troops to improve security in Iraq.
"The GAO also found that the number of Iraqis fleeing violence in their neighborhoods is increasing, with as many as 100,000 Iraqis a month leaving their homes in search of safety.
"The GAO's conclusions contradict repeated assertions by the White House and the Pentagon in advance of the coming congressional debate on whether to stay the course in Iraq or to begin some withdrawal of U.S. troops."
Kathy Kiely writes in USA Today that GAO director David M. Walker "acknowledged that his agency's assessment is considerably more negative than one produced by the Bush administration in July; the White House rated the Iraqi government as having made 'satisfactory progress' on eight benchmarks and 'mixed results' on two others.
"Walker said his auditors used tougher standards, checking to see whether the goals were met rather than whether progress was made. He also attributed the difference between the two reports to the fact that the first report was produced by administration officials. 'They're not independent, and we are,' he said."
Karen DeYoung and Ann Scott Tyson write in The Washington Post about "last-minute changes made in the final draft of the report after the Defense Department maintained that its conclusions were too harsh and insisted that some of the information it contained -- such as the extent of a fall in the number of Iraqi army units capable of operating without U.S. assistance -- should not appear in the final, unclassified version."Deeper and Deeper
Sudarsan Raghavan writes in The Washington Post: "The violence continues to divide Iraq, paralyzing its political system and efforts at national reconciliation."
In a sidebar, Raghavan also writes: "The United States turned over sovereignty to an Iraqi government in June 2004 after a 14-month occupation. But for many Iraqis, the United States remains the only source of basic services, protection and infrastructure -- functions the new government was supposed to perform. The result is a dilemma for U.S. officials and particularly the reconstruction teams that are the cornerstone of the rebuilding effort. When Americans step in to provide services that the government does not, they foster dependence and undermine the institutions they want to strengthen."
It once seemed that an oil revenue-sharing agreement was the most likely of all the Iraqi benchmarks to be met. So what went wrong? Joshua Partlow explains in The Washington Post.A New Strategy?
Yochi J. Dreazen, Philip Shishkin and Greg Jaffe wrote in yesterday's Wall Street Journal: "After almost four years of trying to build Iraq's central government in Baghdad, the U.S. has found that what appears to work best in the divided country is just the opposite. So senior military officials are increasingly working to strengthen local players who are bringing some measure of stability to their communities. The new approach bears some striking similarities to the 'soft partition' strategy pushed by senior Democrats, and suggests that despite the often bitter debate in Washington on Iraq policy, a broad consensus on how to move ahead in the war-torn country may be forming."
David E. Sanger writes in today's New York Times that some of Bush's critics regard the change as very significant, "saying they believe it amounts to a grudging acknowledgment by the White House of something these critics themselves have long asserted -- that Iraq will never become the kind of cohesive, unified state that could be a democratic beacon for the Middle East.
"'They have come around to the inevitable,' said Peter W. Galbraith, a former American diplomat whose 2006 book, 'The End of Iraq,' argued that Mr. Bush was trying to rebuild a nation that never really existed, because Sunnis, Shiites and Kurds had never adopted a common Iraqi identity. 'He has finally recognized that fact, and is now trying to work with it,' Mr. Galbraith said Tuesday.
"Still, like the other strategies Mr. Bush has embraced, this one is fraught with risks.
"There is no assurance that the willingness of Sunnis in Anbar to join in common cause with the United States against Al Qaeda in Mesopotamia can be replicated elsewhere in Iraq. And as reporters who have been embedded with units working to enlist the support of the Sunni sheiks have written, in vivid accounts from the scene, there are many reasons to question how sustained the Sunnis' loyalty will be. . . .
"As he flew from Iraq to Australia on Monday, Mr. Bush cast the Sunni leaders he had met in the deserts of Anbar in the most positive light possible.
"'They were profuse in their praise for America,' he told reporters on Air Force One, according to a pool report. He said they 'had made the decision that they don't want to live under Al Qaeda,' adding that 'they got sick of them.'
"Mr. Bush, of course, has had similar public praise for just about every Iraqi leader he has met, even a few leaders now disparaged by White House officials as unreliable, powerless or two-faced."
Mark Benjamin writes for Salon: "Steven Simon, a member of the Council on Foreign Relations, says the sheiks are telling U.S. leaders what they think they want to hear. 'They are not going to go to the U.S. commanders and say, "Let's strike a deal because I want you to strengthen me so that when the time comes, I can go after the Shiites,"' Simon said dryly."Timing . . . and Compromise?
Four months ago, members of Bush's own party said that by September the president should either show signs of success in Iraq -- or admit failure.
Now Anne Flaherty writes for the Associated Press: "April may become the new September when it comes to deciding whether to bring U.S. troops home from Iraq, if President Bush's senior advisers have their way. But Congress might not stand for it."
David M. Herszenhorn writes in the New York Times: "'Many of my Republican friends have long held September as the month for the policy change in Iraq,' Senator Harry Reid of Nevada, the Democratic majority leader, said in his opening speech on the Senate floor. 'It's September.' . . .
"Mr. Reid's speech, which included sharp criticism of President Bush, reflected an aggressive effort by the Democrats to shape the discourse over the war before General Petraeus and Ambassador Crocker testify.
"Aides said Senator Reid was trying to signal a new willingness to compromise across party lines when he called on Republicans to join in finding a way 'to responsibly end this war.' Such a deal would almost certainly require Mr. Reid to drop his demand for a fixed deadline for withdrawal, which brought the Senate to an impasse on the war in July."
DeYoung and Tyson write in The Washington Post: "Rank-and-file Republicans and Democrats, meanwhile, are redoubling efforts to find bipartisan cooperation that could pressure the administration to begin bringing troops home. Six House Republicans and five Democrats released a letter yesterday to Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) and Minority Leader John A. Boehner (Ohio), asking them 'to put an end to the political in-fighting over the war in Iraq and allow the House to unite behind a bipartisan strategy to stabilize the country and bring our troops home.'"
But far from reaching out in an attempt to compromise, in his joint press availability with Prime Minister John Howard today, Bush ratcheted up the mischaracterization and derision of his critics.
"As I told John, we're in the midst of an ideological struggle against people who use murder as a weapon to achieve their vision. Some people see that, some people don't see it. Some people view these folks as just kind of isolated killers who may show up or may not show up."
Later, he added: "By the way, people who don't believe we should be in Iraq in the first place, there's no political reconciliation that can take place to justify your opinion. If you don't think Iraq is important, if you don't think it matters what the society looks like there, then there's not enough amount of reconciliation that will cause people to say, great, it's working."About Withdrawal
I wrote in yesterday's column about Bush's coy hints of a troop drawdown. He stayed coy today. Here's his exchange with CNN's Suzanne Malveaux:
"Q Thank you, Mr. President. Yesterday you said . . . if the kind of success we are now seeing continues, it will be possible to maintain the same level of security with fewer American forces. There are many who believe that you were suggesting you'd make an announcement to lower American troop levels. White House officials dismissed that. But later you were asked aboard Air Force One why it was that twice you mentioned troop levels that have peaked our interest, to which you said, 'Maybe I was intending to do that.' You pride yourself on being a straight shooter, not coy or cute, so what it is at this time?
"PRESIDENT BUSH: Surely not cute, I agree. (Laughter.) Whatever you do, don't cause me -- call me cute, okay?
"Q Okay. So is the administration at this time trying to play it both ways, by appeasing the critics, suggesting that troop withdrawal is right around the corner, at the same time making no real commitments?
"PRESIDENT BUSH: Suzanne, I think I went on to say on Air Force One, if I recall, somewhere between Baghdad and Sydney, that, why don't we all just wait and see what David Petraeus says when we comes -- General Petraeus when he comes back to America. . . .
"And so I was being as candid as I could with the people on the airplane. And what I said in Baghdad was exactly what they told me; that if conditions still improve, security conditions still improve the way they have been improving, is that we may be able to provide the same security with fewer troops. And whether or not that's the part of the policy I announce to the nation when I get back from this trip, after the Congress has been briefed by David Petraeus and Ryan Crocker -- why don't we see what they say -- and then I'll let you know what our position is and what our strategy is."
Meanwhile, ABC News reports: "The top military general in Iraq hinted to ABC's Martha Raddatz that next week's much-anticipated report on the status of the troop surge in Iraq would include a recommendation for troop reduction in March, if not sooner, to avoid a strain on the Army."
Ken Fireman and Nicholas Johnston write for Bloomberg: "Bush, for all his 'stay-the-course' rhetoric, is constrained by a troop-rotation schedule that requires pulling out some forces early next year -- as well as the need to outline an exit strategy for Republicans eyeing the 2008 elections.
"And many Democratic lawmakers now say a quick withdrawal of the 164,000 American troops in Iraq isn't practical, even as they seek a timetable for a smaller force and try to shift the mission away from front-line combat. The likely result will be a debate over when, not if, troops start coming home."Opinion Watch
The New York Times editorial board writes: "Iraq is a long way to go for a photo op, but not for President Bush, who is pulling out all the stops to divert public attention from his failed Iraq policies and to keep Congress from demanding that he bring the troops home. As Americans and Iraqis continue to die -- and Iraqi politicians refuse to reconcile --Mr. Bush stubbornly refuses to recognize that what both countries need is a responsible exit strategy for the United States, not more photo ops and disingenuous claims of success. . . .
"Mr. Bush pumped up his headlines by suggesting continued gains in security could allow for a reduction in troops as his critics have been demanding and most Americans desperately want. But this is a cruel tease and a pathetic attempt to repackage old promises."
Andrew Greeley writes in his Chicago Sun-Times opinion column: "Is President Bush able to distinguish truth from falsehood? Is he too caught up in the double-talk generated by his spin masters to grasp the difference? After reading his talk to the VFW last week, I think that at this stage of his presidency he is utterly incapable of honest communication with the rest of the country."
On MSNBC, Keith Olbermann notes, as I did yesterday, the incongruity between Bush's hints at a drawdown and his admission to biographer Robert Draper that his Iraq strategy involves playing for time.
Olbermann: "[C]onsider . . . how this president has spoken to that biographer: that he is 'playing for October-November.' The goal in Iraq is 'to get us in a position where the presidential candidates will be comfortable about sustaining a presence.' Consider how this revelation contradicts every other rationale he has offered in these last 500 days.
"In the context of all that now, consider these next 500 days.
"Mr. Bush, our presence in Iraq must end. Even if it means your resignation. Even if it means your impeachment. Even if it means a different Republican to serve out your term. Even if it means a Democratic Congress and those true patriots among the Republicans standing up and denying you another penny for Iraq, other than for the safety and the safe conduct home of our troops."More From the Draper Book
Calvin Woodward writes for the Associated Press: "Under that famously self-confident exterior is a president who weeps -- a lot.
"President Bush told the author of a new book on his presidency that 'I try not to wear my worries on my sleeve' or show anything less than steadfastness in public, especially in a time of war.
"'I fully understand that the enemy watches me, the Iraqis are watching me, the troops watch me, and the people watch me,' he said. Yet, he said, 'I do tears.'"
Book critic Michiko Kakutani writes in the New York Times: "It is a portrait of the commander in chief as a willful optimist, proud of his self-confidence and convinced that any expressions of doubt would make him less of a leader. . . a stubborn, even obstinate politician loath to change course or second-guess himself, and given to valuing loyalty above almost everything else."
That portrait "ratifies what many other reporters and former insiders have said about this administration's ad hoc, often haphazard policy-making process, while suggesting that the West Wing has grown increasingly dysfunctional over the years, with the aides Karl Rove and Dan Bartlett 'constantly at war' with each other, and other staff members not on speaking terms. . . .
"It is also clear from Mr. Draper's book that President Bush dislikes criticism and bad news, and that staffers found it very hard 'to stick one's arm into the fiercely whirring gears of Team Bush's institutionalized optimism. . . . For that matter, this volume is studded with examples -- on matters ranging from the Iraq war to Hurricane Katrina -- of aides failing to deliver distressing information to the president or failing to persuade him to grapple quickly with unfortunate developments. . . .
"Mr. Draper writes that one of Mr. Bush's most pronounced traits is 'an almost petulant heedlessness to the outside world.'"
Among the book's "tiny details": "Apparently Mr. Bush loves doing imitations of Dr. Evil from the 'Austin Powers' movies."
Here's Draper with Wolf Blitzer on CNN:
"BLITZER: You have fascinating detail on the relationship he and Laura Bush have had with Karl Rove over the years on page 102. You write this, 'Laura would later express her own distaste for "pig pen" Rove. There was more hate than love in her love/hate regard for Bush's top adviser.' Go ahead and elaborate. Tell us why.
"DRAPER: Well, I think she sees Karl Rove as a necessary evil. But she knows that getting elected is often an un-pretty blood sport. That doesn't mean that she has to like it. That doesn't mean that she has to like Rove's antics. She also I think has viewed Karl as being someone willing to hog the credit, credit that perhaps belongs to her husband."
Chapter one of the book, about Bush's first campaign for the White House, is on the New York Times Web site. In an excerpt in Slate, Draper quotes Bush's description of a conversation he had with Senate Armed Services Committee Chairman] Carl Levin about Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki:
"I said, 'You went to Iraq and you told him point blank, You better get moving.' I said, 'Thank you for doing that.'
"'He said, 'Why don't you do the same thing?' I said, 'I've got other audiences. My message isn't just to the Iraqi government. It's to U.S. troops, the enemy, the Iraqi people. And therefore I've got to be careful about how I deliver the message. I want to be viewed more as a mentor than a scolder.'"
NPR has an excerpt about Bush's relationship with former defense secretary Rumsfeld, including a description of the April 2006 dinner where Bush asked for a show of hands from a group of confidants about whether Rumsfeld should be fired. (The vote was 7-4 in favor of firing, but Bush was one of the four.)
Draper writes: "When asked if Bush felt in any way ill served by Rumsfeld, or if he believed that Rumsfeld had made crucial mistakes, the president responded both times, 'No.' He added, 'See, every decision's mine.' Bush took umbrage at the assertion that he had been deferential to Rumsfeld on the details, saying, 'Look, I know what questions to ask. I'm in the sixth year of my presidency. We've already been through one war together.' But Bolten, for one, had come to believe that Bush's interactions with the Pentagon in general and Rumsfeld in particular fell short of hands-on and needed to be changed."Blackberries Watch
CNN's Brian Todd reported to Wolf Blitzer yesterday: "We talked to an official with the National Security Council. He told us experts are looking at whether the White House should restrict the use of Blackberries to prevent cyber espionage.
"BLITZER: Oh. Well, that would -- that would -- that with be a significant development. . . .
"TODD: It sure would.
"BLITZER: . . . knowing White House officials and their Blackberries."Personnel Help
Bush yesterday announced that he was hiring an executive headhunter to be his new personnel chief.
He also announced that longtime Karl Rove deputy Barry Jackson will be taking over several of the offices Rove oversaw until his departure on Friday.Bush's Date
Vincent Morelli writes in the Australian about the scene outside Prime Minister John Howard's house before dinner last night: "During the exchange, and while cameras were firing away, [Secretary of State Condoleezza] Rice slightly distanced herself from the heads of state which was met by a comment and gesture from Mr Bush, who is travelling without his wife Laura Bush.
"He outstretched his arm across her shoulders and said 'you can be my date'."Live Online
I'm Live Online today at 1 p.m. ET. Come join the conversation.Cartoon Watch
Rex Babin on selling the surge.