Attorney General Alberto Gonzales
WASHINGTON (CNN) - With a potential perjury threat hanging over him, embattled Attorney General Alberto Gonzales late Wednesday sent a letter to Senate leaders acknowledging he "may have created confusion" in his previous testimony but insisted he did not mean to mislead Senators and was "determined to address any such impression."
In a two-page letter to Sen. Patrick Leahy, D-Vt., who chairs the Senate Judiciary Committee, Gonzales defended his testimony while conceding his language in describing highly classified National Security Agency surveillance activities had not been clear.
"I am deeply concerned with suggestions that my testimony was misleading, and am determined to address any such impression," Gonzales told Leahy.
"I recognize that the use of the term 'Terrorist Surveillance Program' and my shorthand reference to the 'program' publicly 'described by the President' may have created confusion, particularly for those who are knowledgeable about the NSA activities authorized in the presidential order described by the DNI, and who may be accustomed to thinking of them or
referring to them together as a single NSA 'program.'"
The distinction of whether there was only one program or whether "other intelligence activities" constituted a separate program from the confirmed Terrorist Surveillance Program is critical. Gonzales had insisted under oath that there had been no dissent within the administration over the President's program. Later, his former Deputy James Comey and FBI Director Robert Mueller testified there had been intense debate within the administration.
Gonzales testified that there was no dissent over the warrantless eavesdropping program acknowledged by President Bush in December 2005 and that the dissent came over "other intelligence activities" which have not been revealed.
On Tuesday, Director of National Intelligence Mike McConnell sent a letter to the committee explaining that the warrantless eavesdropping program is "the only aspect" of surveillance activities run by the NSA which can be discussed publicly.
Gonzales said if Leahy continues to have questions, the Justice Department would arrange a special briefing for him - a move Leahy rejected earlier this week.
In response to the letter, Leahy indicated he is still not satisfied.
"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. It is time for full candor to enforce the law and promote justice, rather than word parsing," Leahy said.
"The attorney general has until the end of this week to correct and supplement his testimony. I hope he will take that opportunity to clarify the many issues on which he appears not to have been forthcoming and to tell the Senate Judiciary Committee and the American people the whole truth," the senator said.