Thursday, August 2, 2007
Attorney General Alberto Gonzales sent a letter to Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Pat Leahy (available below) trying to clarify his testimony that there was not any serious dispute within the Administration over the Terrorist Surveillance Program, despite testimony from former Deputy Attorney General James Comey and FBI Director Robert Mueller that seemed to be to the contrary. In the letter, Gonzales tries to explain that his reference to the lack of serious dispute concerned the legal basis for the program:
As I testified, however, I recall that there was not a serious disagreement between the Department and the White House in March 2004 about whether there was a legal basis for the particular activity later called the Terrorist Surveillance Program. That is not to say that the legal issues raised by the Terrorist Surveillance Program were insubstantial; it was an extraordinary activity . . . .
Gonzales said that the serious disagreement concerned "other aspects" of the program, referring to a letter he attached from Director of National Intelligence McConnell "explaining" that there were different activities under the label of the Terrorist Surveillance Program. Therefore, Gonzales' statement about the lack of disagreement was not about the same aspect of the program that Comey and Mueller testified about and what the Senators were asking about -- at least in his mind.
Is that a defense to perjury? To prove that offense, prosecutors would have to establish his knowledge of the falsity of his statement, and that the question was not ambiguous. When asked about the Terrorist Surveillance Program, it appears that there are different programs that can fall under that label, so an answer about one aspect does not apply to other aspects even if the testimony does not make it clear what part of the program is being discussed. Got that? It seems that we are back to the conclusion of Emily Litella: "Never mind." Senator Leahy seemed to be less than impressed by Gonzales' explanation, issuing a statement (here), "The Attorney General’s legalistic explanation of his misleading testimony under oath before the Senate Judiciary Committee last week is not what one should expect from the top law enforcement officer of the United States." (ph)