Attorney General

Gonzales Controversy Heats Up

As controversy over claimed inaccuracies in U.S. Attorney General Alberto Gonzales’ testimony before Congressional panels appears to be bubbling toward a boiling point, two leading members of the Senate Judiciary Committee seem to be working together to deal with it in a bipartisan manner.

Following a formal request to the Justice Department last week for a perjury investigation by four Democratic members of the committee–and a call by the New York Times in a Sunday editorial for Congress to consider impeaching Gonzales if the Justice Department doesn’t investigate–Sen. Patrick Leahy, D-Vt., who chairs the committee, and Sen. Arlen Specter, R-Pa., its ranking Republican member, were both interviewed Sunday on the CBS television program “Face the Nation.”

Both said they plan to give Gonzales a chance to reconsider his prior testimony and correct it, and Leahy said he would want to consult with Specter about developing a “bipartisan” approach on any further action that might be necessary. (Specter said it would be “premature” to discuss further action at this time.) A brief recap is provided on the Face the Nation Web page, which also offers a link to the complete television program. Specific topics at issue include the attorney general’s testimony about the dismissals of nine U.S. attorneys and a warrantless surveillance program.

The two made no secret of their displeasure with the way that Gonzales is running the Justice Department. “There’s no doubt, as I have said for months now, that the Department of Justice would be much better off without him,” Specter stated. Said Leahy, a little later, referring to claimed Republican party politicization of the Justice Department: “You have to follow the law. I have to follow the law. They should have to follow the law. That’s the bottom line.”

The Times editorial accompanied a New York Times news story detailing what is now known about the warrantless surveillance program at issue in Gonzales’ and FBI Director Robert S. Mueller III’s testimony.

Meanwhile, the Washington Post reports today, “controversy over Gonzales’s candor about George W. Bush’s conduct or policies has actually dogged him for more than a decade, since he worked for Bush in Texas.” The examples provided by the Post, however, focus on Gonzales’ alleged failure to volunteer relevant information, his use of lawyerly distinctions that may not be clear to listeners at the time, and his repeated statements that he does not remember requested information rather than specific misstatements of fact.

This is true, too, of the significant gap discussed in an earlier post between what Gonzales told lawmakers and what Mueller said about the warrantless surveillance program. Because only part of the program was publicly known, “Gonzales and his aides say the differing accounts boil down to a dispute over terminology,” the Post reports today. And indeed “Gonzales’s description might have been technically accurate,” the article notes, because he “was referring only to the surveillance program in the precise form that was confirmed publicly by Bush.”

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