Friday, July 27, 2007
Four Democrat senators sent a letter (here) calling for the appointment of a special prosecutor to investigate Attorney General Alberto Gonzales for possible perjury in his testimony before the Senate Judiciary Committee about dissent in the Administration over the secret surveillance program and his role in the firing of nine U.S. Attorneys. The issue came to the forefront when former Deputy Attorney General James Comey testified about a meeting in 2004 in the hospital room of then-Attorney General John Ashcroft to pressure him to renew the authorization for the surveillance program over Comey's objection. Gonzales was there as Counsel to the President, and Ashcroft refused to override Comey's decision. In testimony on July 26 before the Committee, FBI Director Robert Mueller appeared to call into question Gonzales' early statements denying any dissension over the program, according to an AP story (here). The Senators' letter states that "the Attorney General has provided -- at a minimum -- half-truths and misleading statements about the removal and replacement of U.S. Attorneys, about his role in trying to circumvent Acting Attorney General Comey, and about the Administration's position on the NSA wiretapping program."
The White House has maintained its support of Gonzales, asserting that his testimony has not been inconsistent. Press Secretary Tony Snow stated (here):
Q: On Gonzales, this Negroponte memo shows an apparent contradiction in what he told the committee two days ago about that briefing at the White House. But yet Gonzales' spokesman says that what he said on Tuesday was true. How can that be? Can you explain that?
MR. SNOW: Unfortunately we get into areas that you cannot discuss openly. It's a very complex issue. But the Attorney General was speaking consistently. The President supports him. I think at some point this is going to be something where members are going to have to go behind closed doors and have a fuller discussion of the issues. But I can't go any further than that.
Q Everyone else says the meeting was about the TSP. Negroponte says it, people who were there said it, Comey said it. How could that not be right?
MR. SNOW: It's simply more complex than that, and I can't go into any more detail.
Q Is there another program that existed besides the TSP program?
MR. SNOW: I will repeat myself -- it's more complex, and I cannot go any further than that. [Italics added]
For those who remember the days of Watergate, the answers seem perilously close to a non-denial denial ("It's a very complex issue").
As co-blogger Ellen Podgor pointed out in an earlier post (here), Gonzales has recused himself from the investigation of the firing of the nine U.S. Attorneys, and his involvement in the meeting with Ashcroft and Comey in 2004 likely knocks him out of any participation in an investigation of that issue. The letter from the Senators is addressed to Solicitor General Paul Clement, the highest ranking DOJ official not recused from the matters. While it is unlikely at this point that a special prosecutor will be named, questions about Gonzales' testimony will persist. If a special prosecutor is appointed, I doubt Patrick Fitzgerald's telephone will ring, despite his experience in the area. A logical candidate would have been Craig Morford, a career prosecutor with experience in a variety of districts who has no strong political ties, but he's now the Acting Deputy Attorney General due to the pending resignation of Paul McNulty. We shall see. (ph)