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Justice official refused to OK wiretaps

Dec. 31, 2005 at 10:13 PM

WASHINGTON, Dec. 31 (UPI) -- A top Justice Department official refused in 2004 to approve key parts of the Bush administration's domestic eavesdropping program, it was reported.

The top deputy to then-Attorney General John Ashcroft declined to approve some elements of the program, prompting two top White House aides to try to get approval from Ashcroft himself -- as he recovered in a hospital from gall bladder surgery -- the New York Times reported.

Citing officials knowledgeable about the episode, the newspaper said Ashcroft's deputy, James Comey -- who was acting attorney general when Ashcroft was hospitalized in March 2004 -- would not certify important parts of the program to monitor domestic communications without warrants.

Comey's refusal prompted White House Chief of Staff Andrew Card and then-White House Counsel Alberto Gonzales to visit Ashcroft at George Washington University Hospital to review the program -- during what aides have described as a difficult recovery, the Times reported.

Neither the White House nor Ashcroft would comment Saturday on the report.

The Times said it was unclear whether the White House ever persuaded Ashcroft to approve the program or whether the White House moved forward without his approval.

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