Monday, May 21, 2007

Did Comey Reveal Classified Information When He Testified About the Hospital Meeting?

The testimony by former Deputy Attorney General James Comey about the dramatic 2004 meeting in the intensive care unit with then-Counsel to the President Alberto Gonzales and Attorney General John Ashcroft concerned the Department of Justice's authorization for a classified surveillance program.  In response to a question about Comey's testimony, President Bush stated he could not respond because it concerned a classified program (see earlier post here).  In response to further questions by reporters, White House spokesman Tony Fratto hinted (here) that Comey's testimony was improper, but deferred to the Department of Justice about whether he could be prosecuted for disclosing classified information. 

Q Does the White House believe that James Comey was out of line in discussing this in a public hearing?

MR. FRATTO: I don't have any comment on that.

Q If he was, Tony, then you --

Q If you won't comment on that issue because of the classified nature of the program on which it was focused, it seems like you might think that Comey was out of line in discussing it.

MR. FRATTO: You can draw conclusions.

Q I mean, is there any possibility that Mr. Comey will be charged with divulging classified information for discussing this? I mean, if the President is not willing to discuss this, and it's improper to do so, then wasn't it improper for Mr. Comey to discuss this?

MR. FRATTO: I think that would be a question for the Department of Justice.

Q Tony, was there anything factually incorrect about Comey's version?

MR. FRATTO: I'm not in a position to comment on reports of Comey's testimony.

While Comey's testimony made reference to a classified program, it is not clear that just mentioning the general subject matter of the meeting would itself reveal anything about the program.  The White House is clearly not happy with what Comey said, but to this point the only response has been to say that he told his side of the story without directly contradicting it.  There were a number of people present at Ashcroft's bedside in 2004, and to this point only Comey has discussed the meeting in detail.  Is the silence because of the classified nature of the program at issue, or is it because Comey's testimony was a fair recitation of what actually occurred? (ph)

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