July 29th, 2007
11:29 AM ET
7 years ago

Gonzales dispute may involve data mining

Attorney General Alberto Gonzales testified before the Senate Judiciary Committee on Tuesday.

WASHINGTON (CNN) - A report Sunday by the New York Times said a new disclosure could help clarify one of Attorney General's Alberto Gonzales' statements, which has fueled a controversy over whether he should remain in office.

But on Sunday political talk shows, prominent lawmakers from both sides of the aisle showed no sign of backing down in their calls for his ouster.

"He doesn't have much credibility, and he would do us all a favor if he stepped down and allowed the president to select someone else," Rep. Christopher Shays, R-Conn., told CNN's "Late Edition with Wolf Blitzer."

"You need to be truthful to Congress. You can't be inaccurate so often. Finally there just builds up this incredible credibility gap."

Gonzales' apparently contradictory statements, repeated use of "I don't recall," and refusal to answer many pointed questions in testimony before the Senate Judiciary Committee have contributed to calls for his ouster.

On Thursday, four Democratic senators called for a special prosecutor to be appointed to investigate whether Gonzales committed perjury.

But President Bush has said he maintains faith in Gonzales, and Sen. Orrin Hatch, R-Utah, predicted that the attorney general will tough it out. "I have a lot of respect for the man; he's willing to hang in there," Hatch told ABC's "This Week."

The Times story focuses on the National Security Agency's once secret surveillance program - computer searches through electronic databases that identified the senders and recipients of millions of Americans' e-mails and phone calls, though not their contents. Current and former officials told the Times that that part of the program triggered a dispute within the Justice Department about its legality.

Bush had publicly disclosed that an NSA program included warrantless eavesdropping on phone calls between people in the United States and suspected terrorists overseas - but he has never publicly disclosed the existence of the data-mining program.

Last Tuesday, in testimony to the Senate Judiciary Committee, Gonzales said a dispute among top Justice Department officials in 2004 - which prompted an emergency meeting with congressional leaders at the White House and a late-night visit to then-Attorney General John Ashcroft in his hospital room - was not about the NSA surveillance program Bush had disclosed. Rather, he said, it was about "a very important intelligence activity," which he would not detail.

"The disagreement that occurred, and the reason for the visit to the hospital ... was about other intelligence activities," Gonzales said. "It was not about the terrorist surveillance program that the president announced to the American people."

But on Thursday, FBI head Robert Mueller appeared to contradict Gonzales. Mueller said Ashcroft told him shortly after Gonzales left the hospital that the meeting had indeed dealt with the "NSA program that has been much discussed."

Also, a document prepared last year by the office of then-National Intelligence Director John Negroponte lists briefings given to lawmakers on the NSA surveillance program. A March 10, 2004, meeting at the White House is on that list, despite Gonzales' assertion that that meeting had been prompted by different "intelligence activities."

The Times reported Sunday that, since Bush has never publicly disclosed the data mining, Gonzales may have been drawing a line between the eavesdropping - which the president had announced to the American people - and the data mining.

"If the dispute chiefly involved data mining, rather than eavesdropping, Mr. Gonzales' defenders may maintain that his narrowly crafted answers, while legalistic, were technically correct," the Times wrote. But the article added that "members of the Senate Intelligence Committee, who have been briefed on the program, called the testimony deceptive."

Sen. Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., a member of the committee, did just that on ABC's "This Week."

Schumer said "many on the intelligence committee," including three senators who have joined him in calling for the special prosecutor to investigate Gonzales' remarks, have noted that the phone and data mining are regarded as part of "one and the same program."

"It's just one program" with "separate parts," he said.

Other Democrats also showed no sign of backing down against Gonzales.

Rep. Jane Harman, D-Calif., told CNN's "Late Edition" that she was in the 2004 meeting in which lawmakers were briefed. "And I know only one program was at issue," she said.

Suggesting otherwise is a "slippery slope, and the chief law enforcement officer needs to tell the truth," she said of Gonzales.

Sen. Patrick Leahy, D-Vt., the Democratic chairman of the Judiciary Committee, said, "I think a lot of us, Republicans and Democrats, were incredulous at some of the answers" Gonzales has given the committee.

"I told him, frankly, I don't trust him," Leahy told CBS' "Face the Nation."

The committee gave Gonzales a week to correct his testimony, said Leahy. "I'd suggest he consult with a lawyer as he does it."

Leahy added, "Frankly, at this point, the president ought to take a long look at this and ask, does he want to go down in history with this attorney general as part of his historical record?"

The committee's ranking Republican, Sen. Arlen Specter of Pennsylvania, said Gonzales should step down. "There's no doubt, as I have said repeatedly for months now, that the Department of Justice would be much better off without him," he said.

Specter noted that he and Leahy have "never been read into the program," despite Specter's efforts as chairman to receive a full briefing. "And we need to know precisely what there is to the program. There have been some suggestions in the last couple of days that there may have been a separate facet of the terrorist surveillance program."

Hatch said Gonzales has "done a lot of good things" at the Justice Department and said he has been "used as a punching bag by the Democrats and, I might add, some Republicans."

Gonzales faces numerous questions about his honesty and his awareness of what has happened in his own department. The committee's investigation originally began as a look into whether some federal prosecutors were fired for political reasons.

Filed under: Alberto Gonzales
soundoff (14 Responses)
  1. Mrs. America

    He's part of a bigger coverup than we can probably imagine. Libby pales in comparison. (Maybe Nixon does, too.)

    July 29, 2007 01:51 pm at 1:51 pm |
  2. Chris, Gainesville Virginia

    Thank goodness MSM (main stream media) has finally picked up on this story!

    Very few, if any MSM outlets would follow this story. Everybody was just focused on the story of perjury, when I thought the big story was, the apparent second surveillance program, that had not been disclosed to Congress, or the American people.

    If find it very hard to believe that the explanation given by the NY Times, is the full extent of this "second" program.

    The current administration of Bush/Cheney, has done major damage to the civil liberties of every American in the name of "War on Terror", also the damage done to America's image internationally will take years to fix.

    Most importantly the damage done caused by Mr. Bush and his tentacles that has been done to the Republican party will etch his name in history on the same page as Richard Nixon.

    This is one thing I will continue to stand behind the President on. He is doing a great job of paving the way for Democrats to take complete control when he leaves, and to this I say, Keep of the good work Mr. Bush!

    The American people have spoken once already last fall elections, but I predict it will be more of a yell in 2008, with Democrats gaining the presidency and a larger majority in Congress.

    January 20, 2009.......Worldwide Celebration!

    July 29, 2007 02:14 pm at 2:14 pm |
  3. Marcus, Omaha, NE


    Gonzo is just biding his time until Congress takes its August recess. At which point he will step down and the pres can use a recess appointment to place Miers as the AG for the remainder of this term.

    Please get Sen. Reid, call it something besides a recess, or have someone open and close a session each day in August to prevent any more recess appointments!

    July 29, 2007 03:30 pm at 3:30 pm |
  4. cliff jones, honolulu hi

    Don't Panic.
    That is a good idea. Is it legal? Reid should do it if it is.

    July 29, 2007 03:57 pm at 3:57 pm |
  5. Rob A., Eden Prairie, MN

    This guy is as crooked as they come! No wonder he was Bush's choice for Attorney General.

    (roll eyes here)

    July 29, 2007 05:34 pm at 5:34 pm |
  6. lipper AMERICAN

    If the 'left leaning media' were doing its' job these people would have been impeached and jailed long ago

    July 29, 2007 05:50 pm at 5:50 pm |
  7. Cheb, Kansas City, MO

    Orrin Hatch: Chief Apologist for his party since the 1990 Supreme Court hearings on Clarence Thomas. I thought he'd retired for greener pastures. Heheh, Congress is pretty green, come to think of it. Where else can you go and make those kind of bucks and do nothing but apologize and accuse?

    July 29, 2007 05:51 pm at 5:51 pm |
  8. veronique castro valley ca

    the first day i saw gonzaley i said to myself this person is a zigzager . why nowadays our government is hirting too many latino they are infiltrated in the government like a zephyr why ? every country that allow foreigners and immigrants to have powerful position will be doomed to failure and problems the constitution had worked back then everything was built on immigrants is not going to work anymore so wake up and don,t let intruders of any kind seek position in the government .

    July 29, 2007 08:47 pm at 8:47 pm |
  9. Don Tucson, AZ

    what kind of lawyer says " I can't recall" so many times?

    July 30, 2007 01:36 am at 1:36 am |
  10. ByronJ, Houston,TX

    This administration is crooked. Thank the Lord they're going bye-bye next year.

    July 30, 2007 02:00 am at 2:00 am |
  11. godiva, hickory, nc

    Yes, where indeed is the liberal-biased media when you really need it to get to the bottom of this rogue Attorney General? They've been missing for quite some time now - they couldn't be found when Roger Ailes and Fox family helped push Bush to victory against Gore; they weren't available to help prevent this horrifying travesty of a war in Iraq; and they certainly haven't been around to dig into the activities of what has become the most illegal, immoral, and unethical administration in modern times. Since we really, really need that darned liberal media about now, could somebody maybe ask Bill O'Reilly since he seems to see them lurking around every street corner?

    July 30, 2007 02:29 am at 2:29 am |
  12. Jon, Sacramento ~ Ca

    So "Technically Correct" no longer matters?? Gonzales said "No – I didnt go to see Ashcroft about the publically discussed program".

    Now that the house panel can't get Gonzales on perjury – we can expect continued character assassignation and pressure for him to simply resign – regardless that he was telling the TRUTH! Perhaps Mueller and Comey should be pursued for perjury?

    I'm glad we as a country are spending so much time and money on these hearings, subpoenas, and inquiry (eyes rolling).

    July 30, 2007 12:00 pm at 12:00 pm |
  13. Debora Oakland CA

    With all due respect, and little is due, Mr. Gonzales has lied to the American people.

    July 30, 2007 04:10 pm at 4:10 pm |
  14. pasadena, ca

    There's a dispute? Gonzales is a third rate or lower lawyer out of TX who does the Bushies' bidding. He lied.

    Bush lied & thousands died. They're all still lying & humans are still dying

    August 2, 2007 12:38 am at 12:38 am |