Ethics: Less Than No Confidence
Ethics: Less Than No Confidence
Attorney General Alberto Gonzales was put on the hot seat yesterday by the Senate Judiciary Committee and forced to resolve discrepancies in his public statements regarding the Bush administration's domestic surveillance program.
|JULY 25, 2007||by Faiz Shakir, Nico Pitney, Amanda Terkel, Satyam Khanna, and Matt Corley
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Less Than No Confidence
Attorney General Alberto Gonzales was put on the hot seat yesterday by the Senate Judiciary Committee and forced to resolve discrepancies in his public statements regarding the Bush administration’s domestic surveillance program. In Feb. 2006, Gonzales testified that “there has not been any serious disagreement” about the warrantless spying program conducted by the National Security Agency (NSA). In May, former Deputy Attorney General James Comey testified in lurid detail about such serious disagreement over the administration’s spying activities, explaining that a host of senior administration leaders — including Comey, then-Attorney General John Ashcroft, and FBI Director Robert Mueller — were prepared to resign over it. Then, in June, Gonzales claimed in a press conference that Comey’s testimony referred to the NSA program “which the president confirmed to the American people sometime ago.” Gonzales’s answer suggested two possibilities: 1) either Comey and Gonzales were referring to the same spying program, in which case, Gonzales had misled the Committee when he claimed there were no “serious disagreements” about the program’s legality, or 2) Comey’s objections related to separate spying programs. Yesterday, Gonzales claimed it was the latter — that Comey’s disagreement “was about other intelligence activities,” thereby suggesting that other illegal spying programs may exist. Committee Chairman Patrick Leahy (D-VT) ordered a complete review of Gonzales’s statements. “This is such a significant and major point,” Leahy said. “There’s a discrepancy here in sworn testimony and we’re going to find out who’s telling the truth.”
MAJOR DISCREPANCIES: Gonzales testified yesterday that Comey’s objections were resolved when a bipartisan eight-member panel of top congressional leaders agreed in March 2004 to continue the NSA program. But Gonzales’s contention was quickly refuted by at least three members of the so-called “Gang of Eight.” Sen. John Rockefeller (D-WV), who was ranking member of the Senate Intelligence Committee at the time, “said lawmakers were never asked to enact legislation as a way to overcome concerns by Comey and other Justice Dept. officials over the legality of any intel program.” Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) said, “I made clear my disagreement with what the White House was asking.” And former Sen. Tom Daschle (D-SD) added, “I am quite certain that at no time did we encourage the [Attorney General] or anyone else to take such actions.” Coming into the hearing with a reputation that “couldn’t possibly get much worse,” Gonzales managed to destroy his credibility further. “I do not find your testimony credible, candidly,” said the committee’s ranking member Sen. Arlen Specter (R-PA). Leahy added, “I don’t trust you.”
THE HOSPITAL VISIT: For the first time, Gonzales was forced to confront allegations by Comey that he and former White House chief of staff Andrew Card rushed to the bedside of a hospitalized John Ashcroft in 2004, seeking his sign-off on a spying program because Comey refused to give his approval. Gonzales rejected accusations that they were improperly pressuring Ashcroft. “When we got [to the hospital], I would just say that Mr. Ashcroft did most of the talking. … At the end of his description of the legal issues, he said, ‘I’m not making this decision; the deputy attorney general is,'” Gonzales said, recalling Ashcroft’s reference to Comey. “And so Andy Card and I thanked him. We told him that we would continue working with the deputy attorney general, and we left.” Comey testified to a much different version of events in May, explaining that he had been “very angry” during the hospital encounter because “I thought I had just witnessed an effort to take advantage of a very sick man.” Comey also made reference to the fact that Mueller had ordered FBI agents not to let Card and Gonzales throw Comey out of the hospital. Gonzales said yesterday he could not answer why such action was deemed necessary because “I’m not Director Mueller.” Gonzales also repeatedly dodged the question of who sent him to the hospital.
SPECTER THREATENS MORE ACTION: In June, a majority of the Senate expressed its desire to see the body take a no-confidence vote on Gonzales. The Washington Post writes, “At what point does someone lose so much credibility that he should no longer serve in public office?” Specter yesterday appeared to raise the possibility of bringing perjury charges against Gonzales, arguing, “Your credibility has been breached to the point of being actionable.” Time reports, “Specter wryly noted to reporters during a break that there is a jail in the Capitol complex.” Specter also “raised the stakes for Gonzales and the administration yesterday by suggesting that a special prosecutor may be needed” if Gonzales and the White House continue to thwart congressional oversight.
Today, India inaugurated its first woman president, “a move that has been touted as a boost for women in a country where they often face rampant discrimination.”
NEW JERSEY: “New Jersey will need about $58 billion, in today’s dollars, to provide all the care it has promised its current and future retirees.”
MICHIGAN: “The area in southeast Michigan where 2,000 Iraqi refugees are expected to resettle already has 169,000 people out of work.”
CALIFORNIA: Conservatives propose moving “tens of thousands of poor families off welfare” in exchange for ending a budget impasse.
THINK PROGRESS: Rep. Michelle Bachmann (R-MN) on her trip to Iraq: It’s like visiting the “Mall of America.”
THE SLEUTH: Karl Rove has “still got legal bills to pay” and plans to “write books” after he leaves the White House in 18 months.
DAILY KOS: The right wing launches a coordinated assault on Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV).
TPM MUCKRAKER: Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse (D-RI) grills Attorney General Alberto Gonzales on why Vice President Cheney’s office was given access to Department of Justice case info.
“It was not about the terrorist surveillance program that the president announced to the American people.”
“Mr. Comey’s testimony related to a highly classified program which the president confirmed to the American people sometime ago.”
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