Irate senators on the Senate Judiciary Committee suggested that a special prosecutor should formally investigate misconduct at the Justice Department, accusing a smug Attorney General Alberto Gonzales on Tuesday of deceit about the prosecutor firings and about President Bush’s eavesdropping program. Both Democratic and Republican senators hammered Gonzales during four hours of testimony as he denied trying, in 2004, to push a hospitalized former Attorney General Ashcroft into approving a counterterror program that the Justice Department then viewed as illegal.
Gonzales, who alternately appeared weary and seething, vowed anew to remain in his job even as senators told him outright that they believe he is unqualified to stay. He refused to answer numerous questions from the senators, including whether the Bush administration would bar its U.S. attorneys from pursuing contempt charges against former White House officials who have defied congressional subpoenas for their testimony.
And Then Watch This:
Senator Schumer Questioning Gonzales on Tuesday
And Now Read This and Cry:
Gonzo on the Hill: A Comedic Tragedy
Andrew Cohen in Tuesday’s edition of The Washington Post:
Forget about the politicization of the Justice Department. Forget about the falling morale there. Forget about the rise in violent crime in some of our biggest cities. Forget about the events leading up to the U.S. Attorney scandal and the way he has handled the prosecutor purge since. Forget about the Department’s role in allowing warrantless domestic surveillance. Forget about the contorted and contradictory accounts he’s offered before in his own defense.
Attorney General Alberto R. Gonzales deserves to be fired for his testimony Tuesday alone; for morphing into Jon Lovitz’s famous “pathological liar” character (or maybe just one of the Marx Brothers) as he tried to dodge and duck responsibility before the Senate Judiciary Committee not just for his shameful leadership at Justice but also his shameless role in visiting an ailing John Ashcroft in the hospital to try to strong-arm him into renewing the warrantless surviellance program. Can anyone out there remember a worse, less-inspiring, less confidence-inducing performance on Capitol Hill? I cannot.
No reasonable person watching Gonzales’ tragically comedic performance Tuesday’s on Capitol Hill– especially his miserable exchange with Sen. Charles Schumer (D-N.Y.) in late morning– can any longer defend his appalling lack of competence, courage and credibility. And no one who hears him say that he is what’s best for the Department right now should forget that on the eve of his testimony (and a few days after he urged his subordinates to work diligently to regain their morale) the nation’s top law enforcement official reportedly left work early to go for a bike ride Monday afternoon– at about 3:50 p.m.
I am running out of words to describe how inept this public servant is and how awful is the message our government sends to the nation and to the world by allowing him to continue to represent us. So I’ll just turn it over to Sen. Schumer. Here is part of the exchange between the two (they are discussing the contradictions between what Gonzales had previously said about L’Affair Aschroft and also about under-oath discrepancies between Gonzales’ version of events and the version offered by former Deputy Attorney General James B. Comey. We pick up where Gonzales is trying to yet again weasel out of his prior statements on the topic):
SCHUMER: I’d like to just pick up where Senator Specter left off, about the TSP program. Just a few preliminaries. First, I take it that there was just one program that the president confirmed in 2005. There was not more than one.
GONZALES: He confirmed one, yes, intelligence activity. Yes, one program.
SCHUMER: Thank you. OK. Now, you — and you’ve repeatedly referred to the, quote “program,” that the president confirmed in December 2005. Let me just — I’m going to put up a chart here. Here’s what you said before this committee on February 6th of 2006. You said, quote, “There has not been any serious disagreement about the program the president has confirmed. With respect to what the president has confirmed, I do not believe that these DOJ officials that you were identifying had concerns about this program.” This was in reference to a question I asked you, “Was there any dissent here?”
This was before Comey came to testify. It was in February. But we had some thoughts that maybe that happened. And now, of course, we know from Jim Comey that virtually the entire leadership of the Justice Department was prepared to resign over concerns about a classified program. Disagreement doesn’t get more serious than that. And what program was the ruckus all about? And this is the important point here. At your press conference on June the 5th, it was precisely the program that you testified had caused no serious dissent. You said, “Mr. Comey’s testimony” — and he only testified once — “related to a highly classified program which the president confirmed to the American people some time ago.”
SCHUMER: These are your words, right? You don’t deny that these are your words. This was a public press conference.
GONZALES: I’m told that in fact here in the press conference I did misspeak, but I also went back and clarified it with the reporter.
SCHUMER: You did misspeak?
GONZALES: Yes. But I went back and clarified it with the reporter…
SCHUMER: When was that? And which — what was the reporter’s name?
GONZALES: At The Washington Post two days later.
GONZALES: Dan Eggen was the reporter.
SCHUMER: OK. Well, we’ll want to go follow up with him. But the bottom line is this: You just admitted there was just one program that the president confirmed in December…
GONZALES: The president…
SCHUMER: … just one. Is that correct, sir?
GONZALES: The president talked about a set of activities…
SCHUMER: No, I am just asking you a yes-or-no simple question, just as Senator Specter has. And just like Senator Specter and others here, I’d like to get an answer to that question. You just said there was one program. Are you backing off that now?
GONZALES: The president…
SCHUMER: Was there one program or was there not that the president confirmed?
GONZALES: The president confirmed the existence of one set of intelligence activities.
SCHUMER: Fine. Now let’s go over it again, sir, because I think this shows clear as could be that you’re not being straightforward with this committee; that you’re deceiving us. You then — then you said in testimony to this committee in response to a question that I asked, “There has not been any disagreement about the program the president confirmed.” Then Jim Comey comes and talks about not just mild dissent, but dissent that shook the Justice Department to the rafters. And here, on June 5th, you say that Comey was testifying about the program the president confirmed. You, sir…
GONZALES: And I’ve already said…
GONZALES: … I have clarified my statement on June 5th. Mr. Comey was talking about a disagreement that existed with respect to other intelligence activities.
SCHUMER: How can we — this is constant, sir, in all due respect with you. You constantly make statements that are clear on their face that you’re deceiving the committee. And then you go back and say, “Well, I corrected the record two days later.” How can we trust your leadership when the basic facts about serious questions that have been in the spotlight, you just constantly change the story, seemingly to fit your needs to wiggle out of being caught, frankly, telling mistruths? It’s clear here. It’s clear. One program. That’s what you just said to me. That’s what locks this in. Because before that, you were, sort of, alluding — in your letter to me on May 17th, you said, “Well, there was one program,” — you said there was the program, TSP, and then there were other intelligence activities.
GONZALES: That’s correct.
SCHUMER: You wanted us to go away and say, “Well, maybe it was other” — wait a second, sir. Wait a second.
GONZALES: And the disagreements related to other intelligence activities.
SCHUMER: I’ll let you speak in a minute, but this is serious, because you’re getting right close to the edge right here. You just said there was just one program — just one. So the letter, which was, sort of, intended to deceive, but doesn’t directly do so, because there are other intelligence activities, gets you off the hook, but you just put yourself right back on here.
GONZALES: I clarified my statement two days later with the reporter.
SCHUMER: What did you say to the reporter?
GONZALES: I did not speak directly to the reporter.
SCHUMER: Oh, wait a second — you did not.
OK. What did your spokesperson say to the reporter?
GONZALES: I don’t know. But I told the spokesperson to go back and clarify my statement…
SCHUMER: Well, wait a minute, sir. Sir, with all due respect — and if I could have some order here, Mr. Chairman — in all due respect, you’re just saying, “Well, it was clarified with the reporter,” and you don’t even know what he said. You don’t even know what the clarification is. Sir, how can you say that you should stay on as attorney general when we go through exercise like this, where you’re bobbing and weaving and ducking to avoid admitting that you deceived the committee? And now you don’t even know. I’ll give you another chance: You’re hanging your hat on the fact that you clarified the statement two days later. You’re now telling us that is was a spokesperson who did it. What did that spokesperson say? Tell me now, how do you clarify this?
GONZALES: I don’t know, but I’ll find out and get back to you.”
The New York Times also provides a report of senators’ disgust and exasperation with Gonzales’ brazen lies in the hearing:
“But Mr. Leahy and Mr. Specter reiterated the questions they have put to Mr. Gonzales before, about the dismissals of the nine United States attorneys and about the now-famous late-night hospital visit.
Mr. Specter signaled that he did not accept Mr. Gonzales’s explanation about the hospital incident. “What credibility is left for you?” the senator asked at one point.
Mr. Specter has accused Mr. Gonzales before of dodging questions, and he did so again today. At one point, the senator said, “I see it’s hopeless.” At another point, he said acidly, “Let’s see if somewhere, somehow we can find a question that you’ll answer.”
Senator Dianne Feinstein, Democrat of California, also expressed exasperation. “I listen to you,” she said. “Nothing gets answered directly. Everything gets obfuscated.”
On Thursday, FBI Director Mueller states that the surveillance program was the topic of Gonzales’ hospital room conversation with John Ashcroft, contradicting what Gonzales had claimed in his sworn testimony on Tuesday:
“FBI Director Robert S. Mueller said Thursday the government’s terrorist surveillance program was the topic of a 2004 hospital room dispute between top Bush administration officials, contradicting Attorney General Alberto Gonzales’ sworn Senate testimony.
Mueller was not in the hospital room at the time of the dramatic March 10, 2004, confrontation between then-Attorney General John Ashcroft and presidential advisers Andy Card and Gonzales, who was then serving as White House counsel. Mueller told the House Judiciary Committee he arrived shortly after they left, and spoke with the ailing Ashcroft.
“Did you have an understanding that that the conversation was on TSP?” asked Rep. Sheila Jackson Lee, D-Texas. TSP stands for terrorist surveillance program.
“I had an understanding the discussion was on a NSA program, yes,” Mueller answered.
Jackson asked again: “We use ‘TSP,’ we use ‘warrantless wiretapping,’ so would I be comfortable in saying that those were the items that were part of the discussion?“
“The discussion was on a national NSA program that has been much discussed, yes,” Mueller responded.
The NSA, or National Security Agency, runs the program that eavesdropped on terror suspects in the United States, without court approval, until last January, when the program was put under the authority of the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court.
On Tuesday, Gonzales repeatedly and emphatically denied that the dispute was about the terrorist surveillance program.”
I Have Searched My Memory and I Don’t Recall Anything…
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