Former top DOJ lawyer speaks out on fight against Bush spying
Former Department of Justice lawyer Jack Goldsmith, who frequently countered White House legal justifications for expanded executive power during his time as director of the Office of Legal Counsel, spoke publicly for the first time on the Thursday edition of ABC's Nightline.
A new book by Goldsmith, The Terror Presidency, will be released later this month.
"I discovered in my first weeks on the job that some of our most important counterterrorism policies were based on legal opinions that I viewed as flawed, " Goldsmith told Nightline. "Not necessarily what was being done, but what might be done in the name of these opinions that I didn't know about."
The Justice Department's Office of Legal Counsel, which Goldsmith headed spanning from 2003-2004, is dedicated to advising the president as to the legal scope of executive power.
Goldsmith said his first reaction to the job was that he should quit, recalling thinking that "If I go down this path it's going to cause enormous disruption to the administration's most important counterterror policies."
After making the decision to stay on, Goldsmith insisted that he did his best to accommodate the administration's initiatives-- which included secret surveillance programs and detention protocols for enemy combatants--but didn't always find proper legal justifications.
"In these critical national security areas, I bent over backwards to try to find ways to allow the president to do what he wanted to do, " Goldsmith said. "But I couldn't always do so."
"Some people saw me as a pain," he told Nightline.
Goldsmith's most frequent sparring partner was David Addington, then legal counsel for Vice President Cheney and currently the vice president's chief of staff.
"He was always pushing other people to go out on a limb to do things and take responsibility for things that they weren't always in agreement about," said Goldsmith. "One never saw him doing the same thing."
As related in his book, Goldsmith says that an infuriated Addington once told him that because of one administration-bucking decision, the blood of 100,000 people who died in the next attack would be on Goldsmith's hands.
"I did all of this very, very, very reluctantly," Goldsmith says of his challenges to the Bush administration. "Only because I thought the opinions were deeply flawed and over-broad. "
Calling his conflict with the White House "unprecedented," he left the Justice Department after only nine months. "I could have kept going, but I really didn't want to...I really didn't want to stay in the government."
The following video is from ABC's Nightline, broadcast on September 6.