Senate Democrats are demanding that Attorney General Alberto Gonzales be investigated for perjury, following a rancorous hearing in which his testimony about the government's warrantless wiretapping program was at odds with that of other officials, including the head of the FBI. Four Democratic members of the Senate Judiciary Committee formally requested the appointment of a special counsel to determine if Gonzales had lied under oath. 'œI don't trust you,' committee chairman Sen. Patrick Leahy told Gonzales. Said the panel's ranking Republican, Sen. Arlen Specter of Pennsylvania: 'œI do not find your testimony credible.'
Gonzales was asked last week to square earlier testimony with subsequent revelations. Gonzales told Congress last year that there was never 'œany serious disagreement' about the Terrorist Surveillance Program within the Justice Department when it was launched, in 2004. Gonzales was White House counsel at the time. But former Deputy Attorney General James Comey said in May that he and other top officials, including then'“Attorney General John Ashcroft and FBI chief Robert Mueller, had threatened to resign over the program unless it was modified. Asked about that, Gonzales testified that Comey had been referring to 'œother intelligence activities,' not wiretapping.
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But then Mueller cast new doubt on Gonzales' testimony, telling lawmakers that the 2004 debate had, in fact, involved the Terrorist Surveillance Program. 'œI really can't comment' on what Gonzales 'œwas thinking or saying,' said Mueller. 'œI can tell you what I understood at the time.'
What the editorials said
'œApparently, practice does not make Attorney General Alberto Gonzales a better liar,' said the Palm Beach, Fla., Post. His earlier evasions about the firing of U.S. attorneys were enough to merit his dismissal. This time, his testimony actually elicited laughter from spectators. A perjury investigation of the attorney general is 'œthe last thing the nation needs,' said Newsday. But President Bush, 'œplacing loyalty above integrity,' has stubbornly refused to fire Gonzales. Since he won't clean up this mess, a special counsel must do it for him.
While Democrats target Gonzales, said The Wall Street Journal, al Qaida is targeting the United States. Let's not forget that the surveillance program at the center of this dispute was created to combat a very real threat. By pressuring intelligence officials to be gun-shy about surveillance methods, Democrats have 'œput partisanship above the safety of America.'
What the columnists said
Gonzales may have been evasive, said Ruth Marcus in The Washington Post, but he didn't necessarily perjure himself. Justice Department sources told The New York Times this week that the disagreements within the department involved data mining'”massive computer searches of e-mail and phone records'”not wiretapping. Gonzales was careful to say there was no dispute over 'œthe Terrorist Surveillance Program that the president announced.' Since the data mining was never announced, Gonzales technically told the truth.
That's not good enough, said Glenn Greenwald in Salon.com. Mueller made it clear that data mining was not the only source of controversy within the department. And despite Gonzales' clever parsing, there was one, overarching program, even if it had multiple facets. Meanwhile, the lies keep piling up. In January, National Security Agency director Michael Hayden 'œemphatically denied' that the agency had engaged in data mining. Now we know otherwise. Congressional Democrats have another program to investigate.
Of course they do, said Rich Lowry in National Review Online. Finding new 'œscandals' to investigate has become the Democrats' primary agenda. The purpose of this 'œinvestigative onslaught,' naturally, is to placate the Democrats' left-wing base, which is 'œdesperate for excuses to try to impeach Bush.' Since taking control of Congress, Democrats have held more than 600 investigative hearings. Sadly, that's 'œclose to their only accomplishment.'
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