Gonzales appears to appreciate the question of what Ashcroft actually knew. Anonymous Liberal flags an exchange between Gonzales and Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse (D-RI) about Ashcroft at Gonzales' July 24 Senate Judiciary Committee. It's worth reading in full:
WHITEHOUSE: Mr. Gonzales, just before our little break, you indicated, in describing your reason for visiting the stricken attorney general in his hospital room was to alert him to the change in the Department of Justice view of the program at issue. And you testified that Attorney General Ashcroft -- and these are the words that I wrote down -- quote, "Authorized these activities for over two years."
Is it your testimony, under oath, that Attorney General Ashcroft was read into and authorized the program at issue for two years prior to your visit to him in that hospital?
GONZALES: I want to be very careful here, because it's fairly complicated. What I can say is I'm referring to intelligence activities that existed for a period of over two years and what we were asking the Department of Justice to do was -- which they had approved and what we...
WHITEHOUSE: "They had approved" I guess is the point that I'm getting at.
GONZALES: General Ashcroft, yes.
WHITEHOUSE: You're saying that Attorney General Ashcroft...
WHITEHOUSE: ... had authorized this program for over two years prior to that day...
GONZALES: General Ashcroft had authorized these very important intelligence activities for a period of two years. We had gone -- we had gone to the deputy attorney general and asked him to reauthorize these same activities.
But there are facts here, and I want to be fair to everyone involved. They're complicated. And we have had discussions in the Intel Committees about this issue. I'll try to be as forthcoming as we can.
Let me just say I believe everyone acted in good faith here. All the lawyers worked as hard as they could to try to find a way forward, the right solution. But, yes. I mean, the view was is that these activities had been authorized.
GONZALES: We informed...
WHITEHOUSE: By Attorney General Ashcroft?
GONZALES: By Attorney General Ashcroft. But there are additional facts here that -- I want to be fair. And it's complicated, but...
WHITEHOUSE: I'm just trying to nail that one fact down. I'm not trying to...
GONZALES: Well, I'm not sure that I...
GONZALES: I'm not sure I can give you complete comfort -- I'm not sure I want to give you complete comfort on that point, out of fairness to others involved in what happened here.
I want to be very fair to them. But what I'm -- what we are talking about...
WHITEHOUSE: (inaudible) different question.
LEAHY: Why not just be fair to the truth? Just be fair to the truth and answer the question.
WHITEHOUSE: Was Attorney General Ashcroft read into, and did he approve the program at issue from its inception?
GONZALES: General Ashcroft was read into these activities, and did approve these activities...
WHITEHOUSE: Beginning when?
GONZALES: From the very beginning. I believe, from the very beginning.
WHITEHOUSE: All right.
GONZALES: But, well...
WHITEHOUSE: I'm sorry? My question...
GONZALES: Again, it's very complicated. And I want to be fair to General Ashcroft and others involved in this. And it's hard to describe this in this open setting. We've tried to be -- we've tried to discuss -- we have discussed in the Intel Committees, in terms of exactly what happened here.
But I can't get into the fine details, quite frankly, because I want to be fair to General Ashcroft.
WHITEHOUSE: And I think it's also important that people know whether or not a program was run with or without the approval of the Department of Justice but without the knowledge and approval of the attorney general of the United States, if that was ever the case.
GONZALES: We believe we had the approval of the attorney general of the United States for a period of two years.
WHITEHOUSE: For a period of two years?
GONZALES: That is what...
WHITEHOUSE: Also from the inception of the program?
GONZALES: From the very -- from the inception, we believed that we had the approval of the attorney general of the United States for these activities, these particular activities.
That doesn't sound at all like a portrait of an Attorney General fully informed about the surveillance program he was approving.