Did Card and Gonzales break the law?

Executive branch rules prohibit the discussion of sensitive classified matters in public places.

Published May 18, 2007 1:04PM (EDT)

The little visit Andy Card and Alberto Gonzales paid to John Ashcroft in his hospital room was brazen and breathtaking. It turns out it also may have been illegal.

Neil Katyal, the Georgetown law professor who served as a national security advisor in Bill Clinton's Justice Department, tells Time that "executive branch rules require sensitive classified information to be discussed in specialized facilities that are designed to guard against the possibility that officials are being targeted for surveillance outside of the workplace." Is a hospital room at George Washington such a "specialized facility"? Not exactly, Katyal says. "The hospital room of a cabinet official is exactly the type of target ripe for surveillance by a foreign power," he explains.

As we noted the other day, no one involved -- not Card, not Gonzales, not Ashcroft, not George W. Bush, not the White House -- has denied James Comey's account of the hospital visit. And in refusing to do so Thursday, the president inadvertently conceded one of the elements of potential unlawfulness here: He said he wasn't going to address Comey's allegations because they involved a "highly sensitive" and "highly classified" subject matter.

How is the administration responding to word that Card and Gonzales -- and, presumably, whoever sent them to Ashcroft's hospital room -- may have been breaking the rules? Well, you can probably guess. "I am not going to speculate on discussions that may or may not have taken place, much less attempt to render a legal judgment on any such discussions," Dean Boyd, a spokesman for the Justice Department's National Security Division, tells Time.

By Tim Grieve

Tim Grieve is a senior writer and the author of Salon's War Room blog.

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