The wife of former Attorney General John Ashcroft stuck her tongue out at two Bush administration officials as they left the hospital room of her seriously ill husband, according to a new account by the man who triggered that now infamous nighttime visit, former Assistant Attorney General Jack Goldsmith.
At age 41, the former University of Chicago law professor Goldsmith joined the Justice Department in the fall of 2003 as the head of the Office of Legal Counsel, a little-known but extremely powerful position as the chief advisor to the president and attorney general on the legality of their policies.
During his first weeks on the job, Goldsmith says he found the legal basis for the country's most important counterterrorism policies, including those for the CIA's interrogation techniques, to be deeply flawed and sloppily reasoned. Goldsmith says he inherited a legal mess from his predecessor.
"My first reaction was I should quit because if I go down this path, it's going to cause enormous disruption to the administration's most important counterterrorism policies," Goldsmith said in an interview with ABC News' Brian Ross.
But Goldsmith stayed on, enduring several bitter disputes with the White House.
"In these critical national security areas, I bent over backwards to try to find ways to allow the president to do what he wants to do, but I couldn't always do so," he told ABC News, saying he was considered "a pain" by some in the administration.
His biggest critic, Goldsmith says, was Vice President Dick Cheney's former lawyer and now chief of staff, David Addington, who, from behind the scenes, "designed all of the administrationâ€™s counterterrorism policies."
"He was angry at me once for a decision of mine, and he told me that if I ruled that way, 'the blood of the 100,000 people who die in the next attack would be on my hands,'" he said.
Goldsmith revealed to ABC News for the first time how many key opinions the Bush administration relied on had to be withdrawn or redone.
"More than two and less than 10. A lot of them are classified," Goldsmith revealed. "Basically every single opinion that I modified, the only reason I modified it was because I thought it was so far off the mark."
It was one of those decisions regarding the controversial Terrorism Surveillance Plan that led to that nighttime meeting in then-Attorney General Ashcroft's hospital room. Then-White House counsel Alberto Gonzales and chief of staff Andrew Card had rushed to the bedside of Ashcroft in an attempt to get him to overrule Goldsmith's decision, which had been supported by the Acting Attorney General James Comey.
"It was the most extraordinary thing," Goldsmith recounted. "The attorney general, he looked terrible. He kind of lifted himself off the bed, and he lifted his chest up and kind of looked into his face, and he basically explained to them in a very clear and articulate way. He said he didn't appreciate the visit under these circumstances. And then he said, that, in any event, Jim Comey was the acting attorney general. And then he collapsed back into the bed."
But it was of course Ashcroft's wife Janet who put the visitors from the White House in their place, Goldsmith said, and got in the last word, with her "tongue" lashing.
Goldsmith echoed her sentiments. "I certainly did not think it was appropriate for them to be there under the circumstances. He was obviously incapacitated and they knew it," he said.
"The hospital scene really encapsulates the twin pressures that the administration was under: this enormous pressure to stop another attack and this enormous fear about violating criminal laws as they were pushing and being aggressive to stop another attack," Goldsmith explained.
Nine months and several bitter disputes with the White House later, Goldsmith resigned.
"It was the fights with the White House that, that I believe were unprecedented," Goldsmith said. "I did not want to say in the government."
Goldsmith now teaches at Harvard Law School. His new book, "The Terror Presidency," will be released this week.