Leahy: Gonzales 'legalistic' response needs 'full candor' not 'word parsing'
Attorney General Alberto Gonzales responded to questions from the Senate Judiciary Committee over what some Democrats have called his untruthful Congressional testimony in a letter released late Wednesday.
Committee chairman Patrick Leahy said Gonzales' "legalistic" response was unsatisfactory and gave him an end-of-the-week deadline for "full candor."
"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," Leahy said.
The Vermont Democrat said he hoped Gonzales would use his next response 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.”
In his response, Gonzales followed the outline of an administration explanation that was first floated in Sunday's New York Times. Gonzales acknowledged that certain aspects of the Bush administration's expanded spying program "did precipitate very serious disagreement." But Gonzales said in testimony before Congress earlier this year he was referring to a still classified aspect of the program, not Bush's authorization of warrantless wiretapping between Americans and suspected terrorists abroad.
Gonzales testified July 24 before the Judiciary Committee about a late-night visit he and Andrew Card made to John Ashcroft's hospital bedside in March 2004. James Comey, Ashcroft's former deputy, testified in May that Gonzales's and Card's visit was meant to overturn Justice Department objections to the two-year-old domestic spying program, which seemed to undercut Gonzales's assertion that there was no "serious disagreement" about the program.
In Wednesday's letter, Gonzales said he was "deeply concerned" with the accusations his "testimony was misleading." Gonzales acknowledged that in the wake of Sept. 11, President Bush "authorized the NSA to undertake a number of highly classified intelligence activities. ... [and] all of them were authorized in one presidential order, which was reauthorized approximately every 45 days."
The Ashcroft hospital visit apparently occurred toward the end of one of these 45-day periods.
At that time, according to Gonzales' letter, Comey was acting attorney general while Ashcroft was in the hospital recovering from surgery, and the Justice Department refused to reauthorize the broad executive order "because of concerns about the legal basis of certain of these NSA activities."