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Alberto Gonzales Testimony, Part V

leahytoast.jpg(Image via Twolf1. Alternate image via Cozumel: Texas Toast, the continuing saga…)

Attorney General Alberto Gonzales is set to testify today before the Senate Judiciary Committee. Testimony will begin at 9:30 am ET — and will be covered live on C-Span3. I’ll try to liveblog to the best of my ability this morning as the hearing moves forward — but that’s tough to do if I have to keep stopping and starting new threads because the comments get too high.  So please, think before you comment — and cut the one-liners.  Thanks.


SEN. WHITEHOUSE QUESTIONS:  The path to the truth with you and the WH is so convuluted — I have no choice looking at the facts in front of us that you had no intent other than to try and lead us away from the dispute over the NSA domestic spying program that Comey referenced.  [CHS notes:  come on, you can say it — Gonzales is lying to cover his own butt and others.]  If you are setting up administrative barriers to protect the DOJ from improper influence of politics, isn’t the WH the number one locus of potential influence that prior administration’s have all tried to wall off from too much contact?  Gonzales dances around answering.  Talking about the letter from Janet Reno to Lloyd Cutler, instigated by questions from Orrin Hatch, restricting DOJ/WH contact to seven people total.  You recall the graphic that I showed you for this WH which was substantially higher — you seemed to agree with me that it was important to restrict contacts between the DOJ and the WH on criminal prosecutions.  You agree with me that contact needed to be limited.  I then showed you the letter from then AG Ashcroft which kicked open the door to much higher contact between the WH and the DOJ.  You agreed this was a problem.  I’d like to bring to your attention a May 2006 document which is a subsequent one to the Ashcroft memorandum which is signed by you — why don’t you take a look at it?

Here’s what concerns me:  in the Ashcroft memo, there was that paragraph which changes the whole memo which allows the AG to communicate directly to the President, the Veep, Counsel to the President, officials and staff of the various officials staffs as well.  And I see from your May 2006 memo things which concern me even more:  for convenience, executive functions of the Vice President are referred to by OVP — communications between the EOP (Office of the President) apply similarly with the OVP.  What on earth does the office of the OVP have to do with the DOJ?  Gonzales says that’s a good question, and he doesn’t know the answer to it.  Whitehouse says he’d like an answer as to how that got into the memo.  “President, VIce President, their Chiefs of Staff, Counsel to the President or Vice President” — someone took the trouble to write in Vice President and give them access to criminal investigations and matters.  [CHS notes:  Including, one might add, the Fitzgerald investigation, which was ongoing at that time.]

You come here today with severely diminished credibility, asserting to us that you want to restore the DOJ — and yet, here, where there is something you could do about it.  Since we had our last discussion, you have done nothing.  We have a memo here that actually makes it worse.  You’ve made no changes to make this better.  How on earth do you expectme to take you seriously that you want to clean up this mess that you have made of the DOJ?  Gonzales says they are looking into the Ashcroft memo.  With respect to his own Gonzales memo, he’ll have to look at it.  Whitehouse says that he and Leahy have legislation which would restrict the DOJ back to contact between the original seven — and he hopes they will consider supporting it.  It is very difficult to take your claims of making efforts seriously — there are a lot of people who love the DOJ, and who are very worried about what you have done to the department.  Whitehouse goes through the substantial number of high level DOJ officials who have resigned from the DOJ.  And then discusses the LTE in the Denver Post from a long-time DOJ employee talking abotu the disrespect for the law and ethics of political employees at the DOJ and the politicization wholesale of the department under their running of it.  Gonzales says he’s working hard at his hard job.

SEN. CARDIN QUESTIONS:  Selective release of information.  You put things out there that are restricted — was there a decision by the WH to release the information about the Gang of Eight briefing?  Gonzales says that this didn’t come from the WH.  Cardin says that they cannot independently review this fully without all of the information, and you are telling us that we get to know only the things that the WH thinks make you look good.


SEN. LEAHY:  I would look at your trancript very, very carefully, Mr. Attorney General.

SEN. SCHUMER QUESTIONS:  When you went to Ashcroft’s ICU room, did you know that power had been tranferred to Jim Comey?  Gonzales says that this was probably something that he knew.  Schumer says — wait a minute, dod you know or not?  Gonzales says that there was no governing legal principle that precluded Ashcroft from taking back that authority if he felt that he could do so.  {CHS notes:  And if he did so while sedated and drugged, and didn’t actually know what he was doing or saying, how much authority, exactly, would said taking back of authority have?  Jeebus…]  Did you know that his wife had barred all visitors because of how ill he was?  Gonzales says he thinks he may have known something about that.  Gonzales doesn’t recall personally having the paperwork on the transfer of authority to Comey from Ashcroft — but he doesn’t have any recollection of that information.  Schumer asks for copies of those documents.  Gonzales says he’ll try to do that — Schumer says he’d like it by Friday.  Gonzales says that Ashcroft did most of the talking in the hospital room.  Who sent you to the hospital room?  Gonzales says they’d had an important meeting ath the WH…”I’ll just say that the Chief of Staff and Counsel went on behalf of the President of the United States.  That’s the answer I can give you.”  Schumer — that doesn’t answer my question — can you tell me why you cannot answer that question?  You are before this committee, you are supposed to answer questions, you have not claimed any privilege — why can you not answer that question?  Gonzales says that it relates to activities that occurred when I was in the WH.  Did the Veep send you?  We were there on behalf of the President.

Did you talk to the Vice President about this visit?  We were there on behalf of the President.  So you can’t answer the question?  I will take this back and see if I can answer it.

Did the Gang of Eight know that top level officials at the DOJ and the FBI were prepared to resign over the NSA domestic spying program?  Gonzales wasn’t personally aware that this is true, but he’s isn’t aware that he got into any discussions about resignations with the Gang of Eight, only that Comey did not approve of the program.  Gonzales said that he was clear with them that Comey did not agree that the President had the legal authority to do this program.  But you testified to the SJC that there was no dissent.  So you are saying that the Gang of Eight knew about this dissent, but that we couldn’t know about that?  If we talked to the members of the Gang of Eight, would they tell us that they were informed about this dissent?  Because you previously said you were looking for legislation, and now you are saying that you told them about dissent within the DOJ — but when you testified before us, you said there was none.   It seems to me that you are dissembling to this committee.  The disagreement at the hospital was about other intelligence activities.  Was it about the TSP — that is vital to the understanding of this committee?  It was about other intelligence activities.

Did the Gang of Eight have access to the DOJ’s dissenting opinions?  That the office of legal counsel disagreed with the program?  Gonzales says that he thinks it would be perfectly logical to assume that the Gang of Eight would know that if Comey disagreed, then the Office of Legal Counsel disagreed.  [CHS notes:  So that would be a “I didn’t tell them, no.”]

Should this committee want to call Patrick Fitzgerald before it for testimony regarding his special counsel investigation, would you have an objection?  Gonzales says he’s recused from discussing this.  McNulty would be responsible for making that decision.

SEN. SPECTER:  Morale is at an all time low in your department.  I’d ask you to take a look at that, and at how the department is functioning generally.  The oxycontin case plea agreement is troubling — because it is too lax.  This committee cannot possibly run your department.  Technically, you are recused, I know that — but you are still the Attorney General.  The WH needs to get us the information we need in order to conclude this investigation — a transcript is a fundamental need.  Goes through a history of the legal giants who have been attorneys general — you need to consider how your failures are dragging your department down.  [CHS notes:  I’m paraphrasing there, but that’s the gist…]

SEN. LEAHY:  I have a lot more questions, but we aren’t going to get answers to them.  I’ll think about submitting them in writing where I also won’t get answers.  The tragedy on this is the decent civil servants who deter crime and prosecute crime — who work long hours at difficult jobs protecting the public.  I’ve never once asked a DOJ employee or law enforcement personnel what their political affiliation was because it doesn’t matter — what metters is facts and evidence.  You come here seeking our trust.  Frankly, Mr. AG, you have lost mine, and I have never said this to another cabinet official in my entire career in government.  Once the system of justice loses credibility and the public loses faith in it — when that credibility is lost, those career professionals have an uphill battle to do their jobs.  This committee is going to do what it must to restore that credibility.  I take no pleasure in saying this, but I am seriously, gravely disappointed.  Do you wish to say something in response?  Then we stand adjourned.


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Christy Hardin Smith

Christy Hardin Smith

Christy is a "recovering" attorney, who earned her undergraduate degree at Smith College, in American Studies and Government, concentrating in American Foreign Policy. She then went on to graduate studies at the University of Pennsylvania in the field of political science and international relations/security studies, before attending law school at the College of Law at West Virginia University, where she was Associate Editor of the Law Review. Christy was a partner in her own firm for several years, where she practiced in a number of areas including criminal defense, child abuse and neglect representation, domestic law, civil litigation, and she was an attorney for a small municipality, before switching hats to become a state prosecutor. Christy has extensive trial experience, and has worked for years both in and out of the court system to improve the lives of at risk children.

Email: reddhedd AT firedoglake DOT com