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It gets worse and worse for Alberto Gonzales. Today, the director of the FBI, Robert Mueller, dealt a serious blow to Gonzales's sworn Senate testimony on Tuesday, just hours after Senate Democrats called for a perjury investigation into the attorney general.

FBI Director Robert Mueller, under questioning from Rep. Sheila Jackson Lee (D-TX), conceded that he and James Comey had concerns about the "much discussed" National Security Agency surveillance program. Gonzales told the Senate Judiciary Committee on Tuesday that Comey had legal objections to "other intelligence activities" than the "much-discussed" Terrorist Surveillance Program. For Gonzales to beat a perjury rap, he must maintain the distinction he created on Tuesday between the TSP and whatever it is Comey is alleged to have dissented from. In the span of a few short seconds, Mueller went a long way toward collapsing the difference.

It's true that Mueller doesn't come out and say the words "Terrorist Surveillance Program," but Lee's questioning left no doubt that Mueller was referring to precisely that program.



Lee: Did you have an understanding that the discussion was on TSP?

Mueller: I had an understanding that the discussion was on a, uh, a, uh -- an NSA program, yes.

Lee: I guess we use "TSP," we use "warrantless wiretapping," so would I be comfortable in saying that those were the items that were part of the discussion?

Mueller: The discussion was on a National -- uh, NSA program that has been much discussed, yes.


Mueller was smiling when he finished saying that. You can bet Gonzales wasn't.

Now here's where it gets good. Under questioning from Rep. Artur Davis (D-AL), Mueller admitted that he took and kept notes after speaking with John Ashcroft following the hospital-room showdown between Comey, Gonzales and Card.



Mueller sought legal review over the notes he took, he told Davis:

Davis: Who have you shared them with, prior to today?

Mueller: My counsel.

Davis: Counsel...?

Mueller: Office of the General Counsel.

Davis: OK. Is that the only individual, the Office of the General Counsel?

Mueller: Well, there may have been people in my immediate staff.
Davis wants the House Judiciary Committee to have access to Mueller's notes, but Mueller seemed to resist turning them over. Without specifying much, Mueller said he kept notes on the incident because it was "out of the ordinary." Davis recommended that Chairman John Conyers (D-MI), and the committee's Senate counterpart, "make a formal inquiry to obtain those notes."

FBI Director Mueller tried to remain discreet during today's hearing at the House Judiciary Committee when it came to the Comey-Gonzales showdown in 2004. Mueller confirmed that he had "serious concerns" about "an NSA program," as he termed it. Fears within the Justice Department that the program was illegal, he said,

affected the FBI in the sense that we received pieces of information from the NSA. ... My concern was to assure that whatever activity we undertook as the result of the information we received was done appropriately and legally. At some point in time, (Comey) expressed concern about the legality of it.


This legal doctrine is known as the "fruit of the poisoned tree." That is, Mueller's fear is that if the information he gets from NSA to launch investigations was collected illegally, then any resulting prosecution of potentially dangerous figures will be thrown out of court.

But one thing he wouldn't corroborate is his alleged threat to resign -- a big part of Comey's testimony.



"I would resist getting into that conversation," Mueller told Rep. Steve Cohen (D-NC).

Former Deputy Attorney General James Comey started a firestorm in May when he revealed his 2004 standoff in John Ashcroft's hospital room. Comey was positioned opposite former White House officials Alberto Gonzales and Andrew Card.

Comey was backed in the encounter by FBI Director Robert Mueller, who allegedly ordered his agents guarding Ashcroft's room not to evict Comey if Gonzales or Card asked them to. Later, he would tell the two White House aides that he was prepared to resign if the President overruled Comey on the wiretapping program.

Responding to questions this afternoon to the House Judiciary Committee's Rep. Melvin Watt (D-NC), Mueller for the first time spoke about the Ashcroft hospital visit -- and backed Comey to the hilt:



Watt: Can you confirm that you had some serious reservations about the warrantless wiretapping program that kind of led up to this?

Mueller: Yes.

From the Anchorage Daily News:

U.S. Sen. Lisa Murkowski said this morning that she and her husband intend to sell back their Kenai riverfront property to Anchorage businessman Bob Penney....

Murkowski told reporters in her Capitol office this morning that Penney, a real estate developer who does business in Alaska and Outside, has agreed to buy back the property for the $179,400 purchase price she and husband Verne Martell paid Dec. 22, 2006.

“While Verne and I intended to make this our family home and we paid a fair price for this land, no property is worth compromising the trust of the Alaska people,” Murkowski said in a written statement. “I cannot allow this to become a distraction from the major challenges faced in representing Alaska. So we have decided to sell this property back to Bob Penney at the same price for which it was purchased.”


Read the post that started Murkowski's headache here.

FBI Director Robert Mueller is testifying before the House Judiciary Committee right now. In one of the more contentious exchanges of an otherwise rather congenial hearing, Rep. Bobby Scott (D-VA) grilled Mueller on the FBI's mishandling of National Security Letter authorities, in which FBI agents obtain data without warrants about individuals "relevant" to terrorism investigations. Mueller emphasized the need for speed in terrorism cases, but Scott had a hard time understanding one thing: Why does the FBI need NSLs if the bureau can obtain warrants after the fact for records under FISA?

Mueller's response? If not for the NSLs, the post-facto warrants mean agents will get bogged down in "paperwork" up to "a quarter-inch thick":



Later in the hearing, Rep. Dan Lungren (R-CA) helpfully reminded Mueller that NSL-acquired information helps formulate warrant requests under FISA.

Finally, the big one.

The Senate Judiciary Committee issued two more subpoenas as part of the U.S. attorney firings investigation today: one for Karl Rove and the other for his deputy, Scott Jennings. Senate Judiciary Chairman Patrick Leahy (D-VT) announced the subpoenas on the Senate floor.

The question for Rove and Jennings, of course, is whether to take the same course taken by Rove's former aide, Sara Taylor, who appeared before the committee to answer questions that were not covered by executive privilege -- or to take the approach taken by Harriet Miers, who refused to show up at all.

The subpoenas call for Rove and Jennings to show up on August 2nd and also produce documents by that date.

Update: Leahy's statement is below.

Read More →

Here's some video from this morning's press conference, where Sens. Charles Schumer (D-NY), Dianne Feinstein (D-CA), Russ Feingold (D-WI) and Sheldon Whitehouse (D-RI) announced that they have called for a special prosecutor to investigate Alberto Gonzales' testimony to Congress. Since, as Schumer put it, "the attorney general cannot investigate himself," the four signed a letter to the Solicitor General Paul Clement, who is serving as the acting attorney general in matters where Gonzales is implicated. You can see that letter here.

Schumer, as usual, did not mince words where it comes to Gonzales' credibility ("he tells the half truth, the partial truth and everything but the truth"):

Senate Democrats are calling for a special counsel to investigate whether Alberto Gonzales perjured himself in testimony before Congress, MSNBC is reporting.

Sens. Charles Schumer (D-NY), Dianne Feinstein (D-CA), Russ Feingold (D-WI) and Sheldon Whitehouse (D-RI) will be holding a press conference shortly. We'll bring you more soon.

From the Anchorage Daily News:

A government watchdog group filed an ethics complaint Wednesday against U.S. Sen. Lisa Murkowski, charging that her 2006 purchase of an exclusive Kenai riverfront lot was a “sweetheart deal” from Anchorage businessman Bob Penney.

The complaint, brought by Ken Boehm, chairman of the conservative-leaning National Law and Policy Center of Falls Church, Va., also charged that Murkowski filed false information about the land deal on her annual financial disclosure and obtained special treatment on a mortgage from the Ketchikan bank where her sister serves as a director....

Boehm said the difference between the price paid and the true value amounted to an illegal gift to Murkowski of between $70,000 and $170,000, based on the estimates of the real estate agents....

Boehm’s 15-page complaint says, “The facts in this case are so strong that it is hard to imagine a more compelling case for violation of the Senate Gift Rule.”

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