Jon Stewart sits down with Bush book author Goldsmith to discuss new terror memo
Nick Langewis and Mike Aivaz
Published: Friday October 5, 2007

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Jack Goldsmith, 2003-2004 head of the Office of Legal Counsel, sits down with The Daily Show's Jon Stewart to discuss his new book, The Terror Presidency: Law And Judgment Inside the Bush Administration, which outlines the Bush Administration's continued push for unchecked executive power in the "War on Terror."

"It's so hard to get any kind of insider perspective on the stresses going on inside the administration," says Stewart. "You worked with Alberto Gonzales, and David Addington, and John Yu, and these lawyers that we all have heard about, and... demonized for so long. To see them as people, though; it's somewhat illuminating, and I think--changes your mind a little bit."

"I tried to paint as fair a picture I could of the pressures everyone was under," responds Goldsmith. "They're not evil people; they were people trying to do their best. They--we all made mistakes of judgment...but they were trying their best, even though they made mistakes."

The figures working to prevent the next terror attack, says Goldsmith, are fearful of that next terror attack, along with the accompanying personal consequences, to the point where their zeal for pushing policies within the government can meet one particular hurdle.

Deadpans Goldsmith: "On the other hand, of course, there's the law."

"Criminal laws," he continues, to laughter from Stewart and the audience, "which they're afraid of."

"In your mind, they're trying to allow the President as much leeway as he can possibly get," interprets Stewart, "--'we want to clear as many obstacles as we can away from you, while not also putting ourselves in jeopardy of being sent to these prisons we're helping you create.'"

"That was the basic attitude, yes," affirms Goldsmith.

In a small office consisting of 22 lawyers, there was continuous conflict between the Department of Justice and the Bush cabinet. While the cabinet didn't always push back, Goldsmith says they were the most combative when questioned about their surveillance intentions, which was part of what prompted him to resign his post.

"They ended up agreeing with us eventually," says Goldsmith. "There was a certain visit to the hospital," referring to a last-ditch effort, per testimony from Deputy Attorney General James Comey, made by then-counsel Alberto Gonzales on the evening of March 10, 2004, to compel former Attorney General John Ashcroft to reauthorize a secret wiretapping program while recovering from surgery in his hospital room, to override the Justice Department's judgment.

"A lot of us," says Goldsmith, were prompted to leave the Justice Department at that time.

"I think that they could have achieved almost everything they wanted to do in terms of empowering the President by working with the other institutions of government, either the FISA court or the Congress. And a lot of what they did was driven by their conception of executive power; of trying to preserve executive power; of therefore not wanting to go to Congress, for example--they might put constraints on executive power..."

"As I argue in the book, I think it's ended up weakening the executive power...we're certainly much more mistrustful of executive power now."

"Do you think," asks Stewart, "the ultimate irony might be that all the work that Dick Cheney has done will make Hillary Clinton the most powerful president in the history of the United States?"

"Don't worry," quips John. "That scares me, too."

The following video is from Comedy Central's Daily Show with Jon Stewart, broadcast on October 4, 2007: