WaPo : Senate Democrats Call for Perjury Probe of Gonzales

Thursday, July 26, 2007

Senate Democrats Call for Perjury Probe of Gonzales

By Paul Kane | Washingtonpost.com Staff Writer | July 26, 2007

Four Senate Democrats today formally asked the Justice Department to appoint a special prosecutor to investigate whether Attorney General Alberto R. Gonzales lied to Congress in his testimony about a domestic surveillance program for terrorists.

At the same time, Sen. Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.), chairman of the Judiciary Committee, issued subpoenas to White House adviser Karl Rove and one of his deputies, demanding their testimony by Aug. 2 in the panel's long-running investigation into the firing of nine U.S. attorneys and the alleged politicization of the Justice Department.

Sen. Charles Schumer (D-N.Y.), a senior committee member, accused Gonzales of taking an oath, both when he assumed his current office and before each of his congressional appearances, that he has now broken through deliberately misleading testimony.

"He tells the half-truth, the partial truth and anything but the truth," Schumer said in announcing the request, made to Solicitor General Paul D. Clement, who is acting attorney general in all matters related to the congressional investigations of Gonzales.

Schumer pointed to Gonzales's testimony to the panel Tuesday, when he said that a critical March 10, 2004 meeting with congressional leaders at the White House concerned intelligence activities other than the NSA's controversial warrantless surveillance program.

Several Democrats who were at that meeting have said it was about the surveillance program, and a May 2006 letter from then-Director of National Intelligence John D. Negroponte to Congress showed the same thing.

Gonzales testified Tuesday that the intelligence program he referred to was supported by congressional leaders in the 2004 briefing, despite resistance from senior Justice Department officials who were refusing to re-authorize the program because of concerns about its legality.

But several Democrats present have said they opposed the program and were unaware at the time that Gonzales, who was then White House counsel, and then-White House chief of staff Andrew Card, would next attempt to persuade then-Attorney General John D. Ashcroft to overrule his deputies. The two went to Ashcroft's hospital room, where he was recovering from emergency gallbladder surgery.

"This attorney general simply has not been straight with the Judiciary Committee," said Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.), who signed the letter to Clement along with Schumer, Sen. Russell Feingold (D-Wisc.) and Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse (D-R.I.).

Leahy has held off calling for a special prosecutor, instead offering Gonzales a week to clarify his statements. If there still are contradictions by the end of next week, Leahy has said he will ask Justice Department Inspector General Glenn A. Fine to conduct a perjury investigation of the attorney general.

In expanding the U.S. attorney investigation, however, Leahy today issued subpoenas today to Rove and J. Scott Jennings, the White House's deputy political director. Both Rove and Jennings appear in Justice Department e-mails discussing various steps in the plan to fire the prosecutors.

President Bush has so far refused to allow any current or former White House staff to testify in the congressional probes, asserting executive privilege. Congressional committees also have subpoenaed former White House counsel Harriet E. Miers and former political director Sara Taylor.

The committees want to determine the extent of the White House's role in the removal of nine prosecutors last year, seven of them on one day. The administration has offered to allow the officials to be interviewed privately, but not under oath and without transcripts.

Schumer also asked that a special prosecutor investigate the veracity of two other parts of Gonzales's testimony.

In February 2006, shortly after the warrantless surveillance program was revealed in the media, the attorney general testified that "there has not been any serious disagreement" inside the Justice Department about the validity of the program. But in May of this year, former deputy attorney general James P. Comey told the committee that, after Gonzales and Card visited Ashcroft's bedside seeking his approval of a surveillance program Comey would not certify, Comey and other senior members of the Justice department planned a mass resignation they ultimately did not carry out.

In an April 2007 appearance before the Judiciary committee, Gonzales said that he could not answer many of the senators' questions because he had intentionally not spoken to many of his aides about their recollections of the prosecutor dismissals, noting that they were all "fact witnesses" in a congressional investigation.

A month later, however, Monica Goodling, Gonzales's former counsel, testified to the House Judiciary Committee that on one of her last days at the department she had an "uncomfortable" conversation with Gonzales in which provided his recollection of how the firings took place.

Democrats have accused Gonzales of attempting to steer Goodling's testimony, while the attorney general has testified that the Goodling conversation was his attempt to "console a distraught woman" caught up in a congressional investigation.