Thursday, August 23, 2007

Lie, Lie, Lie, Lie, Lie, Lie: Gonzales' Top Six Fibs

Lie, Lie, Lie, Lie, Lie, Lie: Gonzales' Top Six Fibs
By Paul Kiel
August 17, 2007

The verdict is clear: Alberto Gonzales is the lying-est attorney general in recent history. "I don't trust you," Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Patrick Leahy (D-VT) told him last month. Ranking member Sen. Arlen Specter (R-PA) sounded him out for his "lack of credibility." "He tells the half truth, the partial truth and everything but the truth," said Sen. Chuck Schumer (D-NY) said that Gonzales. “He’s one sneaky, lying S.O.B., to put it bluntly" is Rep. David Obey's (D-WI) frank take.

But even though we've been cataloging the troubles, and Gonzales' dwindling credibility, at the Justice Department for the past several months, we hadn't yet done a rundown. So we've collected below what are, as far as we can tell, Gonzales' six most brazen public untruths.

To do this, we were forced to constrain the endeavor. Gonzales' amazingly faulty memory is clearly cause for strong suspicion -- but his countless "I don't recall"s have not yet been proven to be dishonest. And there have been a stream of dubious statements -- such as that he'd never fire a U.S. attorney for political reasons or his insistence that they were fired for "performance" reasons -- countered by weighty circumstantial evidence. But we've set a high bar. Certainly we expect our little list to lengthen in the future as more evidence is produced -- and as Gonzales continues to speak publicly.

We arrived at the six statements below. Some can be judiciously described as lies, i.e. apparently consciously false statements made with the intent to deceive. Some are better described as "wily" prevarications, or as literally true statements made with the intent to deceive or cover up. (I count #2-5 in the former category, #1 and #6 in the latter.)

Yesterday, Sen. Leahy requested that the Justice Department's inspector general investigate five public statements that Gonzales had made -- the same five statements that we chose as #1-5 in our tally. Certainly these statements will play a significant role in impeachment proceedings, should Democrats decide to go that route.


1) “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.”
-- 7/24/07 testimony before the Senate Judiciary Committee

The parsing in this testimony was so awkward, so evidently legalistic, that Gonzales has stood by the testimony, apparently confident that the inherent dishonesty in the distinction did not rise to the level of perjury. He’s since explained that his language “may have created confusion,” but that the “terrorist surveillance program” only referred to a narrow and uncontroversial surveillance activity, and that the dispute which led to his infamous trip to John Ashcroft’s hospital bed was about other activities -- albeit activities that others, like FBI Director Robert Mueller, have consistently viewed as part of a single program. To Mueller apparently, Gonzales' parsing is needlessly misleading.

2) “The consensus in the room from the congressional leadership [the gang of eight] was that we should continue the activities, at least for now, despite the objections of Mr. Comey. There was also consensus that it would be very, very difficult to obtain legislation without compromising this program, but that we should look for a way ahead. It is for this reason that within a matter of hours Andy Card and I went to the hospital."

"I just wanted to put in context for this committee and the American people why Mr. Card and I went. It's because we had an emergency meeting in the White House Situation Room, where the congressional leadership had told us, "Continue going forward with this very important intelligence activity.”
-- 7/24/07 testimony before the Senate Judiciary Committee

There were a couple questionable (and contested) assertions in this one. Remember the situation: Deputy Attorney General James Comey was serving as attorney general, since Ashcroft had fallen ill. After Comey refused to reauthorize the administration's warrantless surveillance program, Gonzales and Andrew Card went to the hospital to try and convince Ashcroft to overrule him. FBI Director Robert Mueller's notes on the hospital showdown have since shown that he found Ashcroft to be "feeble, barely articulate, clearly stressed" after the encounter.

First and foremost is Gonzales’ bizarre cover story that admits all of the facts but insists on another interpretation of them. Gonzales claims that he did not go to the hospital room to “take advantage of a very sick man,” as Comey put it in his testimony – no, he went to inform Ashcroft of the congressional leadership’s decision. Of course, he admitted in his testimony that he came to Ashcroft’s hospital room with the reauthorization form in his hand (as Comey had testified). There's no other interpretation than that the reason he went to the hospital room was to have Ashcroft reauthorize the program. So what’s the difference? It’s a matter of emphasis, you might say. According to Gonzales, he was just acting on the will of Congress.

Except he wasn’t. Three people present at the meeting told The Washington Post that the briefing was solely on operational details and not on the legal basis for the program. So when Gonzales says that they wanted to continue the program "despite the objections of Mr. Comey," he's being dishonest. The lawmakers didn't know about Comey's objections. Ex-Senate Minority Leader Tom Daschle (D-ND) and Sen. Jay Rockefeller (D-WV) have both said unequivocally that the meeting as Gonzales describes it never happened.

3) "I was not involved in seeing any memos, was not involved in any discussions about what was going on."
-- A March 13th press conference on the U.S. attorney firings.

After internal Justice Department emails and memos demonstrated that this was false, Gonzales explained in a March 27th interview: “What I meant was that I have not been involved, was not involved in the deliberations over whether or not United States attorneys should resign.” Kyle Sampson testified two days later to Congress that Gonzales had been periodically updated on the firing process over the course of two years.

4) "I haven't done -- I haven't talked to witnesses because of the fact that I haven't wanted to interfere with this investigation and department investigations."”
-- 4/19/07 testimony before the Senate Judiciary Committee

“….as I've indicated, I have not gone back and spoken directly with Mr. Sampson and others who are involved in this process, in order to protect the integrity of this investigation and the investigation of the Office of Professional Responsibility and the Office of Inspector General.”
-- 5/11/07 testimony before the House Judiciary Committee

As Monica Goodling testified, in a private conversation approximately a week after Congress requested to interview her about the firings, Gonzales recounted to her his memory of how the U.S. attorney firings had occurred. He then wanted to know if she had “any reaction” to his recollection. Gonzales later testified that the conversation was “not to shape her testimony” -- it was “in the context of trying to console and reassure an emotionally distraught woman that she had done something wrong.”

5) “The track record established over the past three years has demonstrated the effectiveness of the safeguards of civil liberties put in place when the act was passed. There has not been one verified case of civil liberties abuse.”
-- 4/27/05 testimony before the House intelligence committee

In fact, as reported by The Washington Post (, FBI reports to the attorney general had shown a number of instances of improper surveillance or searches. Gonzales later testified that his testimony had been truthful because these were not “intentional” abuses of the Patriot Act.

6) “…[L]et me publicly sort of preempt, perhaps, a question you're going to ask me, and that is, I am fully committed, as the administration's fully committed, to ensure that, with respect to every United States attorney position in this country, we will have a presidentially appointed, Senate-confirmed United States attorney.”
-- 1/18/07 testimony before the Senate Judiciary Committee

What Gonzales didn’t tell Congress is that his chief of staff Kyle Sampson had been scheming for months to circumvent the Senate, via an obscure provision of the Patriot Act that allowed Gonzales to appoint interim U.S. attorneys indefinitely. Sampson wanted to use the authority to keep Karl Rove’s former aide Timothy Griffin in place as Little Rock’s U.S. attorneys, despite opposition from Arkansas’ Democratic senators. He continued to tout the idea until as late as December, even communicating the strategy to lawyers in the White House counsel’s office.

In subsequent testimony, Gonzales admitted to being aware of Sampson’s scheming, but said he’d “never liked” the idea and had never considered it. Sampson, however, testified that Gonzales had considered it, and had only rejected the idea as late as January, shortly before he made the remarks above, and after senators had started asking questions about the U.S. attorney firings. So Gonzales' statement may have been literally true at the time he said it, but his chief of staff had certainly been unaware of such a commitment earlier that same month.

Gonzales appears to have used the same line about being committed to having a Senate-confirmed U.S. attorney a month earlier in a private conversation with Sen. Mark Pryor (D-AR). Of course, back then, Sampson was still avidly pushing his scheme since Gonzales had not rejected it -- a revelation that led Pryor (one of the few Democrats to have supported Gonzales' confirmation as attorney general) to announce on the Senate floor that Gonzales had "lied" to him.

TOPICS: Alberto Gonzales

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