Well, Alberto “Gonzo” Gonzales sat in the hot seat this week, appearing before the Senate Judiciary Committee to answer some questions on the NSA wiretapping program. He might have sat there for four hours but in that span of time he managed to break all sorts of records for outright misleading statements and outright lies.
Facing his two main questioners – Democratic Senator Patrick Leahy and Republican Senator Arlen Specter, Gonzales never got off anything close to a straight answer.
They asked him to explain the reason for his visit to the hospital bed of then-Attorney General Ashcroft who was recovering from gall bladder surgery. When pressed to explain what that visit was all about – even after he had been explicitly warned by FBI Director Robert Mueller not to visit Ashcroft’s hospital room – Gonzo said the nature of his visit had only to do with an intelligence program unrelated to the NSA warrantless wiretapping program already in place at the time – but he declined to state what that “other” intelligence program was about
In his earlier testimony given before the Senate Judiciary committee Gonzo had instead stated that the visit to Ashcroft was in fact directly related to the NSA wiretap program. Additionally, he had also stated that there were no disputes within the Department of Justice about whether to continue the program. In reality, then-acting Attorney General James Comey and many others in the Justice Department found the NSA wiretapping program so illegal that they threatened to resign.
Gonzo is either (1) lying about which intelligence program he came to see Ashcroft about while at the same time insisting that it engendered no controversy within the DOJ; or (2) he has inadvertently let loose the fact that there is actually another separate surveillance program operating in this country that Congress or the American people are not even aware of.
Perhaps the clincher moment for perjury charges came when Gonzales was confronted with a May, 2004 memo that clearly was at odds with his testimony before the Senate Judiciary Committee wherein he testified that a March 10, 2004 meeting with the top ranking Congressional leaders (8 in all) was a briefing on intelligence matters unrelated to the NSA wiretapping program. Unfortunately, the May memo, signed by John Negroponte – the National Intelligence Director at the time – clearly disputes this claim. Negroponte clearly indicated in the memo that the meeting was centered on the NSA terrorist surveillance program.
As damaging as the Negroponte memo is the perjury pit gets even deeper. FBI Director Robert Mueller gave testimony Thursday directly contradicting Gonzales’s testimony. Appearing before the Senate Judiciary Committee, FBI Director Mueller testified that the confrontation in Ashcroft’s hospital room in 2004 was in fact over the controversial NSA surveillance program.
In addition he testified that he supported former Deputy Attorney General James Comey’s assertion that Gonzales and Andrew Card, White House Chief of Staff, had tried to pressure Ashcroft to sign the reauthorization of the NSA wiretapping program. And for the first time, Mueller acknowledged that – as previously indicated by James Comey – an FBI security detail was dispatched to Ashcroft’s hospital room to ensure that Comey was not removed from the room when Gonzales was there.
As of tonight 4 members of the Senate Judiciary Committee [Feinstein, Schumer, Whitehouse and Feingold] have sent a letter to solicitor general Paul Clement requesting the appointment of a special prosecutor. Republican Senator Arlen Specter point-blank told Gonzales his credibility was virtually nil. Democratic Senator Patrick Leahy said he did not trust Gonzales and said he had perjured himself.
This is an absolute constitutional showdown. The White House is faced with having the attorney general investigated for perjury while Bush doggedly maintains his support for Gonzales out of blind loyalty. Opting to call for a special prosecutor might not be the best move to make at this juncture. Impeachment seems to be the only viable means at Congress’s disposal to finally put the clamps on a run-away administration and it’s poster boy – Alberto Gonzales.