Thursday, May 17, 2007

Was Gonzales Consistent About the Wiretapping Program

Four Democrat Senators sent a letter to Attorney General Alberto Gonzales (here) questioning the accuracy of testimony he gave in February 2006 about the Department of Justice's position on the government's warrantless wiretapping program.  Former Deputy Attorney General James Comey testified before the Senate Judiciary Committee on May 15 about a hospital meeting in which Gonzales, when he was Counsel to the President, and Chief of Staff Andrew Card pressured then-Attorney General John Ashcroft about giving the Department of Justice's blessing to the program.  At the time, Ashcroft was recovering from serious gall bladder surgery, and rejected the request to reauthorize the program.  The letter from Senators Durbin, Schumer, Feingold, and Kennedy quotes AG Gonzales' testimony about the meeting as follows: "Senator, here is a response that I feel that I can give with respect to recent speculation or stories about disagreements. There has not been any serious disagreement, including - and I think this is accurate - there has not been any serious disagreement about the program that the President has confirmed. There have been disagreements about other matters regarding operations, which I cannot get into."  The Senators pose the following question: "In light of Mr. Comey's testimony yesterday, do you stand by your 2006 Senate and House testimony, or do you wish to revise it?"

The Judiciary Committee's hearing was ostensibly about the firing of nine U.S. Attorneys, a matter about which Comey testified earlier before the House Judiciary Committee.  The highlight of the hearing was the recounting of the meeting in the intensive care unit with Ashcroft, who refused to override Comey's judgment on the matter of reauthorizing the classified program, which has nothing to do with the firings.  Was this a set-up by the Judiciary Committee to put more heat on Gonzales?  The testimony did provoke a reaction from Republican Senator Chuck Hagel of Nebraska, who called for the Attorney General to resign (see AP story here).  In response to a question about Comey's testimony, White House spokesman Tony Snow said (here): "Well, again, Jim Comey gave his side of what transpired that day. The President still has full confidence in Alberto Gonzales."  Don't be surprised if Andrew Card is asked to provide his version of what took place. (ph)

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