July 24th, 2007
05:47 PM ET
12 years ago

Gonzales gives different account of Ashcroft hospital visit

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

WASHINGTON (CNN) - Attorney General Alberto Gonzales disputed testimony Tuesday from his one-time deputy, who said Gonzales and another White House official tried to pressure then-Attorney General John Ashcroft, when he was hospitalized in 2004, to reauthorize a surveillance program against terror suspects.

Former Deputy Attorney General James Comey testified in May that officials wanted Ashcroft to reverse a Justice Department opinion that the warrantless wiretapping program was illegal. He said Gonzales, then-White House counsel, and former White House Chief of Staff Andrew Card went to the hospital where Ashcroft was in intensive care to get him to sign off on the program, which the administration supported.

Ashcroft had turned his authority over to Comey while he was ill, and Comey said when he heard that Gonzales and Card were going to the hospital, he rushed over there.

Gonzales testified Tuesday that Ashcroft had been backing the program for at least two years, likely from its inception, and there was no disagreement over it.

"The disagreement that occurred, and the reason for the visit to the hospital, senator, was about other intelligence activities. It was not about the terrorist surveillance program that the president announced to the American people," Gonzales told Sen. Arlen Specter, ranking Republican on the Senate Judiciary Committee.

"Mr. Attorney General, do you expect us to believe that?" Specter asked impatiently.

According to Gonzales, there was an emergency meeting that day at the White House that included senior members in the administration and bipartisan leaders in Congress.

The purpose of the meeting, he said, was to tell Congress that Comey "had advised us that he could not approve the continuation of vitally important intelligence activities, despite the repeated approvals during the past two years of the same activities."

"I want to move to the point about how can you get approval from Ashcroft for anything when he's under sedation and incapacitated - for anything," Specter responded.

Ashcroft was competent to make a decision and sign the document, Gonzales insisted. He could always take back his authorization from Comey, the attorney general added.
While he's in the hospital under sedation?" Specter asked.

Specter also asked Gonzales how there could be a constitutional government if the president claims executive privilege when Congress exerts its constitutional authority for oversight.

"Senator, both the Congress and the president have constitutional authorities. Sometimes they clash. In most cases, accommodations are reached," Gonzales said.
Would you focus on my question for just a minute, please?" Specter said.

"Senator, I'm not going to answer this question, because it does relate to an ongoing controversy in which I am recused," the attorney general said.

His response elicited loud boos from the audience.

Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse, D-Rhode Island, also questioned Gonzales about the hospital visit, and Gonzales repeated several times that the issue was "very complicated."

"I can't get into the fine details, quite frankly, because I want to be fair to Attorney General Ashcroft," Gonzales said.

Comey has testified that by the time he arrived at the room, then-FBI Director Robert Mueller had told FBI agents not to allow Gonzales and Card to push Comey out.

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soundoff (16 Responses)
  1. mjt, corvallis, oregon

    Nobody believes a word Gonzales says anymore, do they?

    July 24, 2007 07:07 pm at 7:07 pm |
  2. Wayne Coursi North Las Vegas Nevada

    From what I am hearing and have read from all sides of every political party and think tank, is that Hillary has blown the debate. You can color it anyway you want to but I disagree with your headline that Obama blew it. She is a very slick politician and that is the last thing people want right now. Obama is viewed as the Statesman and has a higher moral value the she.
    But we will see when all of the dust has settled.


    Mr. Coursi

    July 24, 2007 07:33 pm at 7:33 pm |
  3. Nordean S. Baxter

    Gonzales is a sad example of an Attorney General. he is no doubt another one of Bush's little puppy. He can't even lie straight. America is in ba, bad shape . God help us.

    July 24, 2007 08:46 pm at 8:46 pm |
  4. John from America

    "We the People" don't believe a word from the lips of Alberto Gonzales – this man is a pathetic lier! We can have no justice in America with this lier at the helm, he should be impeached as soon as possible and then sent to prison.

    July 24, 2007 09:14 pm at 9:14 pm |
  5. Jeff Spangler, Arlington, VA

    Bring it on, Senator Specter, with your proposed Senate trial for contempt. W's abogado with the squeaky voice and greasy hair must go down.

    July 24, 2007 09:26 pm at 9:26 pm |
  6. CMS, Cali

    This is a dead issue. No one cares; or at least there hasnt been any posts in the five hours it has been on the ticker.

    Dems will need to find another way to pound away at Bush.

    July 24, 2007 10:11 pm at 10:11 pm |
  7. erika morgan black dimond wa

    From what I saw on the news Gonzales lied again today, funny how child care workers can always see these little boy lies meant to keep one out of trouble, they should never work.

    July 24, 2007 10:12 pm at 10:12 pm |
  8. bprosserme

    This type of thing is ALL the Democrats have done since taking over Congress. DEMOCRATES = Fight, argue, investigate, usurp authority, usurp control, envy positions, make jealous, spitful, hurtful remarks about others. WE ARE NOT GETTING OUR MONIES WORTH. Fire all Dems next election!!

    July 25, 2007 02:07 am at 2:07 am |
  9. Evan Esteves, Boca Raton, FL

    Just resign Gonzales...Just resign.

    July 25, 2007 03:16 am at 3:16 am |
  10. cliff jones, honolulu, hi

    What a liar; nuff said.

    July 25, 2007 04:09 am at 4:09 am |
  11. McCain-in-4, Clarksburg MD

    Personally, Congress should order General Gonzales to once-a-week public testimonies until he fully, competently & completely answers their questions. The premise is: if General Gonzales is busy thinking about explaining his past actions, he will be more inclined to consider the consequences of any future policy.

    In essence, this would be like making General Gonzales sit in the corner of a room for a "Time-Out".

    July 25, 2007 06:31 am at 6:31 am |
  12. WDRussell, East Liverpool, Ohio

    I am surprised Alberto can remember something that happened in 04. On any other issue he can't remember past last week.

    July 25, 2007 08:26 am at 8:26 am |
  13. Eli, Wheaton, Maryland

    Perhaps Congress should subpena Mrs. Ashcroft. She was in the room during the event and would not be subject to a spurious claim of executive priviledge.

    July 25, 2007 08:30 am at 8:30 am |
  14. R. Smith, Santa Barbara CA

    I keep wanting to ask, how can these people live with themselves. But the scary thing is, they do.

    Bush & Team are like kryptonite – the only thing that can kill the Constitution. They're doing a fantastic job of dismantling everything that has made this country great. Gonzales would be just another stooge if all this behavior weren't so dangerous. Cheers to Sen. Specter for standing up to him, but the shame of it is, it probably won't matter. And it really is a shame.

    July 25, 2007 11:22 am at 11:22 am |
  15. Anonymous

    Not that I like what Gonzales did, but Specter has pissed so many of his constituents off that we will surely wake up and not reelect him next time. Between him and "Bobo the Clown" Casey, we in PA are getting screwed over by our Senators (both of who voted for the horrible amnesty bill, and the bill authorizing no secret ballots for union votes). God help us if this moron gets reelected again.

    July 25, 2007 04:52 pm at 4:52 pm |
  16. Fred J,, San Diego, CA

    So, Bush declares Executive Privilege for anything that could implicate him or his in anything illegal. Congress issues contempt citations, Gonzales refuses to act in opposition to the 'unitary executive'.
    The bottom line is Congress better get ready for Impeachment Hearings as that is the only way to contest the powers claimed by Bush. They should consider hiring Bruce Fein to get all the Constitutional legal issues lined up since the Conservative Fein has been thinking about the need for Impeachment Hearings for some time now.

    July 25, 2007 06:05 pm at 6:05 pm |