It was all going so well for Attorney General Alberto Gonzales. After months of withering revelations about his mismanagement of the Justice Department on issues great and small, he appeared secure in his job, thanks to the unflagging confidence of President Bush. But yesterday, he tripped himself up repeatedly during his testimony to the Senate Judiciary Committee -- quite possibly entering perjury territory.
Gonzales's big problem is that he told the Senate on February 6, 2006 that no one within the Justice Department dissented from President Bush's warrantless surveillance program, a contention made dubious by James Comey's testimony in May that, as acting attorney general in March 2004, Comey refused to reauthorize a program he considered illegal. In 2006, Gonzales told the Senate that he was testifying about "what the president has confirmed" exists -- meaning the warrantless surveillance program known as the Terrorist Surveillance Program. Gonzales yesterday attempted to reconcile his testimony with Comey's by saying that Comey raised objections to a different program than the one Gonzales told the Senate was uncontroversial.
In today's New York Times, Jane Harman -- who until last year was the chief Democrat on the House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence and part of the "Gang of Eight" briefed on the surveillance program -- deals a very serious blow to Gonzales' "multiple-program" line.
âThe program had different parts, but there was only one program,â Ms. Harman said, adding that Mr. Gonzales was âselectively declassifying information to defend his own conduct,â which she called improper.
If Harman is telling the truth, then there are only two understandings of Gonzales' testimony. The attorney general could be describing "different parts" of the program to mean different surveillance programs. That's the generous reading. The alternative is that Gonzales misled the Senate in his 2006 testimony, and yesterday issued an outright lie in order to contain the damage. (Some might say the two interpretations aren't really very different.)
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The House is set to vote on contempt citations for Harriet Miers and Joshua Bolten after both declined their congressional subpoenas. In preparation for the vote, Rep. Conyers (D-MI) has pulled together a fifty-page memo that might be considered the first official allegation that several members of the administration broke the law carrying out and then covering up the U.S. attorney firings. The vote is scheduled for 10:15 AM (EST). (Washington Post)
The House Oversight Committee informed the White House yesterday that they will be questioning former White House officials on the death of Corporal Pat Tillman, who was killed by friendly fire in Afghanistan in April 2004. The White House waited weeks to make Tillmanâs death public and Congressional investigators want to know what officials knew prior to the public announcement. (Associated Press)
The FBI is moving forward with its plan to pay telecom firms to store information on citizens that the FBI cannot legally preserve itself. Yesterday, the FBI requested a budget of $5 million a year from Congress to fund such a program. Under its current formulation, the FBI would not be allowed direct access to the records without a subpoena or national security letter. (Washington Post)
The Wall Street Journalreports that 18-term Rep. Don Young (R-AK) is under criminal investigation for his dealings with Alaska oil services company Veco Corp.
While the investigation into Sen. Ted Stevens' (R-AK) ties to Veco, including the remodeling of his Girdwood home, has been widely reported, this is the first time Young has been implicated in the scandal.
It looks like an annual pig-roast fundraiser snared the congressman known for huge pork projects, including the infamous "Bridge to Nowhere."
From The Journal:
For a decade, former VECO Chief Executive Bill Allen has held fund-raisers for Mr. Young in Anchorage every August, known as "The Pig Roast," participants said. Public records show contributions to Mr. Young of at least $157,000 from VECO employees and its political-action committee between 1996 and 2006, the last year the event was held.
Mr. Young amended his campaign-finance filings in January to reflect $38,000 in payments to Mr. Allen, the former VECO chief. The refunds, which haven't previously been reported, were labeled "fund-raising costs" in documents filed with the Federal Election Commission.
Veco has been the recipient of a variety of federal contracts, but it's still not clear what the company would have received in exchange for all of its alleged bribes.
That makes three members of the Gang of Eight -- the bipartisan congressional leadership briefed about President Bush's warrantless surveillance -- to dispute Alberto Gonzales's testimony that the Gang demanded the surveillance continue after a March 2004 briefing telling them that acting Attorney General James Comey refused to reauthorize the program.
"She made clear her disagreement with the program continuing despite Comey's objection," Pelosi spokesman Brendan Daly tells TPMmuckraker. Pelosi was part of the Gang of Eight in her capacity as House Democratic leader in 2004.
So far we're waiting to hear back from GOP members of the Gang of Eight, as well as Jane Harman, then the ranking Democrat on the House intelligence committee.
Tom Daschle, the former Senate Democratic leader who received briefings on the Bush administration's warrantless surveillance programs, says Alberto Gonzales isn't telling the truth about what Senate and House leaders were told in March 2004 about the program's utility and legality.
In testimony today to the Senate Judiciary Committee, Gonzales attempted to give "context" for his infamous hospital trip to a convalescent John Ashcroft on March 10, 2004, after acting attorney general James Comey refused to authorize the surveillance program. It was only after a briefing for the so-called "Gang of Eight" bipartisan congressional leaders demanded that the program continue, Gonzales said, that he and then-White House chief of staff went to "inform" Ashcroft of the Gang's wishes.
Daschle was one of that Gang of Eight. In a statement e-mailed to TPMmuckraker, he all but calls Gonzales a liar.
"I have no recollection of such a meeting and believe that it didn't occur. I am quite certain that at no time did we encourage the AG or anyone else to take such actions. This appears to be another attempt to rewrite history just as they have attempted to do with the war resolution."
Daschle's statement bolsters one that his former Gang of Eight colleague, Senate intelligence committee chairman Jay Rockefeller (D-WV), gave to Dan Eggen of the Washington Post: Gonzales is "once again is making something up to protect himself," Rockefeller said.
Sen. Lisa Murkowski (R-Ak) has amended her Senate financial disclosure forms to add information about a riverfront land deal since TPMmuckraker first made inquiries about the transaction.
When I called Murkowski's office in June, a spokeswoman said a clerical error was the reason they had left off the value of the senator's mortgage and written the fragment "11/0" for the date of purchase. The office has since checked off the appropriate column for the $136,000 mortgage and updated the date to read "11/06.
Local government filings show that Murkowski bought the land from developer Bob Penney in December 2006, not November. I called her spokesman Kevin Sweeney just now who said "she went and filled out the paperwork in November."
Note: Our document collection is under repair. We'll get you her disclosure form soon.
Late Update: Here is the disclosure.
The Ted Stevens Foundation was founded in 2000 aiming to serve a variety of admirable causes and work on "educating and informing the public about the career of Senator Ted Stevens." The extent of its charitable work now looks questionable and after filing a FOIA request with Alaska, the Sunlight Foundation discovered that the group has failed to pay its dues and register with the state for last three years.
A shortage of money isn't their excuse. Back in 2005 The Ted Stevens Foundation, which was renamed North to the Future Foundation last year, had net assets of $1.7 million in 2004 and $2.3 million in 2005.
Besides spreading the word about Stevens' accomplishments, the group also aims "to make grants to other public charities and to provide programs which educate, encourage communication, relieve poverty and promote community welfare throughout the state of Alaska and the United States.â
How successful has it been at giving out money? According to Sunlight's research:
Between 2003 and 2005 the foundation has spent more than $380,000 on fundraisers but has given out only two grants: one for $40,000 to the Smithsonian Institute in 2004 and $10,000 to the Anchorage Rowing Association in 2005, according to the 990s.
So, then, what does this non-profit actually do? Back in 2004 The Washington Post ran an editorial taking a guess at the real purpose: to shake down lobbyists for the benefit of sitting politicians.
At an event held at the Capital Hilton in 2004, The Ted Stevens Foundation aimed raise $2 million with tables going for $50,000 each. Some lucky donors had a VIP at their table -- one of the two thirds of the Senate members that attended. At the time, Stevens was the chair of the Appropriations Committee and lobbyists were happy to donate to his "charity" for a little time by his ear.
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Yet another dispiriting revelation from Alberto Gonzales' hearing today.
During Gonzales' last hearing before the Senate Judiciary Committee, Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse (D-RI) questioned him about a memo from Attorney General John Ashcroft in 2002 that had substantially increased White House officials' access to information about Justice Department cases. Under Clinton, only four White House officials had been authorized to discuss pending criminal investigations or cases with only three top Department officials. Ashcroft's 2002 memo had blown the door off that arrangement, raising the number of officials who could discuss such cases from seven to 447 (417 on the White House side). Under Whitehouse's questioning, Gonzales had professed to have been "concerned about that as White House counsel.â
Apparently not so much.
Whitehouse questioned him today about a May, 2006 memo which Gonzales himself had signed while attorney general. You can see it yourself here.
The memo widened White House access to case information even more and seemed to have been crafted with special attention to enabling the Vice President's staff, specifically his chief of staff and counsel, to have the unambiguous authority to discuss ongoing cases with Department officials. Given Cheney's chief of staff David Addington's extraordinary reach into the Justice Department (and the prosecution of Cheney's former chief of staff), that's cause for a raised eyebrow.
Gonzales seemed to have been taken off guard by Whitehouse's questions:
Whitehouse: "What-on-earth business does the Office of the Vice President have in the internal workings of the Department of Justice with respect to criminal investigations, civil investigations, and ongoing matters?"
Gonzales: "As a general matter, I would say that's a good question."
Whitehouse: "Why is it here, then?"
Gonzales: âIâd have to go back and look at this.â
Alberto Gonzales refused to answer Sen. Chuck Schumer's (D-NY) question of whether President Bush had dispatched then-White House chief of staff Alberto Gonzales and chief of staff Andrew Card to make the infamous visit to John Ashcroft's hotel room in March, 2004.
"Did the president ask you to go?" Schumer asked. "We were there on behalf of the President of the United States," was Gonzales' repeated answer. That's "the answer that I can give you," Gonzales said. When Schumer inquired why, Gonzales implied that it might be covered by executive privilege since it related "to activities that existed when I was in the White House."
The Senate Judiciary Committee will review Alberto Gonzales' past statements to determine whether Gonzales lied to the committee in 2006 by saying there had been no internal Justice Department dissent over the legality of the president's Terrorist Surveillance Program (otherwise known as the NSA's warrantless wiretapping program). When confronted by the senators, Gonzales today offered a surprising explanation of his consistency and veracity: he repeatedly suggested there's a different intelligence program, other than the TSP, that Justice Department officials found legally dubious in 2004. If Gonzales is telling the truth, he just disclosed the existence of a previously unknown intelligence program. If not, the embattled attorney general could be in some serious legal jeopardy.
Gonzales's "no-dissent" testimony sought to assure outraged Senators that the Justice Department had complete confidence in the controversial warrantless surveillance program known as the TSP, which was first disclosed by the New York Times in December 2005. But that line was cast into serious doubt by ex-Deputy Attorney General James Comey's May testimony that he thought the TSP was illegal during a stint as acting attorney general in March 2004. Indeed, the top echelon of Justice Department leadership was prepared to resign over the president's decision to continue a surveillance program without Department authorization.
Today, Gonzales did something absolutely unexpected: he said that Comey's doubts were about "other intelligence activities" than the warrantless surveillance program President Bush confirmed in December 2005 -- i.e., the TSP. That's how his 2006 statement that the TSP was uncontroversial could still be correct.
But the senators weren't buying it. And they say that they'll be examining Gonzales' statements closely to see whether the attorney general has perjured himself.
Sen. Chuck Schumer (D-NY) battered Gonzales about the distinction between the TSP and the "other intelligence activities" Gonzales alleges existed. Schumer pointed out that in a June press conference, Gonzales confirmed that Comey was in fact talking about the "highly classified program which the president confirmed to the American people sometime ago" -- that is, the TSP. But Gonzales said at the hearing that shortly thereafter, he contacted Washington Post reporter Dan Eggen to retract the statement -- and then he stuck to his line about there being "other intelligence activities" that were at issue in March, 2004.
Next up was Sen. Arlen Specter (R-PA). The panel's ranking Republican, listening to Gonzales's new revelation -- or quasi-revelation, as the case may be -- said simply, "I do not find your testimony credible." Specter said that it was obvious that, as Gonzales initially confirmed last month, Comey was testifying about the Terrorist Surveillance Program -- meaning that Gonzales was not only lying to the Senate in his 2006 testimony, but lying today about "other intelligence activities" to cover up the lie. His advice to Gonzales was "to review your testimony carefully" and that the committee should see "if your credibility has been breached to the point of being actionable."
Then it was Sen. Russ Feingold (D-WI)'s turn. Feingold, a member of the Senate intelligence committee, has received briefings on the TSP, and he came away from listening to Gonzales believing that the attorney general's 2006 testimony was "misleading at best."
Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse (D-RI), also a member of the Senate intelligence committee, later said he concurred with Feingold. "I have no choice but to conclude that you intended to deceive us and to mislead us away from the dispute that the Deputy Attorney General [Comey] subsequently brought to our attention." For his part, chairman Pat Leahy (D-VT) advised Gonzales that the panel will "be looking at that transcript very, very closely" -- and that Gonzales should, too.
That might represent a final chance for Gonzales to step back from the brink of a perjury investigation. Whatever Gonzales expected to get out of today's hearing, he left the Senate having raised two lingering and mutually exclusive questions: whether the Bush administration has pursued a second secret, internally controversial intelligence program of dubious legality; or whether the attorney general of the United States lied under oath. Gonzales looked this morning like he had beaten back his political foes. What he probably didn't expect is that this afternoon, he became his own worst enemy.