Gonzales Target of Perjury Probe

As the sorry spectacle of the investigation into the firing of a dozen U.S. Attorneys for political purposes has unfolded, it’s been rather clear that Attorney General Alberto Gonzales has been both an incompetent administrator of his Department and a really bad liar, doing a lousy job of covering up something that almost surely didn’t need to be covered up. His testimony to Congress on the matter has been incoherent, contradictory, and, at best, disengenuous. He should have been fired long ago and President Bush’s insistence on sticking by him is baffling.

Oddly, however, Senate Democrats are now seriously pursuing a perjury probe over what seems, on the surface at least, among the least significant contradictions in his testimony and one that would be the hardest to prove. The dispute over which classified intelligence program was briefed to Congress three years ago strikes me as trivial. The smoking gun documents which allegedly contradict his testimony don’t prove much of anything.

Moreover, as unpopular as this administration is, the politics of this make little sense. This matter is incredibly complicated and convoluted, owing to the classification and technical nature of the programs in question, the long timeframe over which all this has evolved, and the intermingling of so many other issues. Indeed, having read the major news stories on the latest charges this morning, I’m not sure I quite understand them. And I’ve been paying far, far more attention to this than Joe Public.

While I think the Imperial Presidency charges are overblown, there’s not much doubt that the administration’s penchant for secrecy and claim to be the sole decider on matters of national security policy stretch the concept of checks and balances beyond recognition. Congress is right to fight back as an institution jealous of its own power; indeed, my guess is that would be happening even if the Republicans had retained the majority. This particular hill, however, seems a strange choice upon which to make that stand.

UPDATE: Kevin Drum and, especially, Steve Benen disagree. I remain unconvinced that the differing post-hoc recollections by two officials about which classified intelligence program a particular meeting was about rises to the level of perjury.

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James Joyner
About James Joyner
James Joyner is a Security Studies professor at Marine Corps University's Command and Staff College and a nonresident senior fellow at the Scowcroft Center for Strategy and Security at the Atlantic Council. He's a former Army officer and Desert Storm vet. Views expressed here are his own. Follow James on Twitter @DrJJoyner.

Comments

  1. Ugh says:

    He should have been fired long ago and President Bush’s insistence on sticking by him is baffling.

    I don’t know about that, AG AG is the President’s man, willing to do whatever it takes, it seems, to cover for him. If AG resigned/was fired, no other sycophant would get confirmed by the Senate.

    I think AG AG, like the troops in Iraq, will stay where he is until January 2009 when he’ll receive his pardon and go quietly into the wilderness.

  2. cian says:

    Attorney General Alberto Gonzales has been both an incompetent administrator of his Department and a really bad liar, doing a lousy job of covering up something that almost surely didn’t need to be covered up.

    James,

    Its a good question alright. Why lie to the press, to your colleagues, to congress and the oversight committees? I mean why? For what possible reason?

    There may very well be no ‘there’ there, but the number of serious republican supporters and commentators who are simply aghast at even attempting to answer the question is simply astonishing.

    After six years of a republican majority rubber stamping everything the President asked for, giving in to his every demand no matter how democratically dangerous, and already James is tired of all this unnecessary oversight and deeply unimpressed by the mounting evidence that the Bush Administration has been interfering with the department of Justice for purely political ends. Nine USAs fired in a manner so unprecedented that even lifelong republican leaders are aghast? Yawn.

    I think you misheard James: Its my ‘country’ right or wrong, not my ‘party’.

  3. I fear that keeping Gonzales is baffling only if one assumes that Bush actually wants a competent AG who is actually concerning with overseeing federal law enforcement. I am afraid that Bush keeping Gonzales, frustrating as it is if one actually wants competent governance, makes perfect sense: he is unfailingly loyal to Bush and will do what Bush wants in regards to anti-terror policies (or whatever else the administration wants).

    This entire DoJ situation, along with several other incidences (like Rove giving briefing to ambassadors on vulnerable House seat, among other things) has taken me to a point where I think that actually governing is a secondary goal for the administration.

    At a minimum even when they have a focus (such as certain aspects of anti-terror policy) they focus on that item and ignore the fact that there are a lot of other functions of government that they are supposed to oversee.

    A lot of this administration’s behavior appears to reflect the moving of the “permanent campaign” into daily governance.

  4. James Joyner says:

    lready James is tired of all this unnecessary oversight and deeply unimpressed by the mounting evidence that the Bush Administration has been interfering with the department of Justice for purely political ends.

    Have you actually read the post you’re commenting on?

    I don’t think there’s any question that the administration interfered for political ends. I’ve argued that they have every legal right to do so so long as the ends aren’t nefarious but that it’s a horrible idea for a whole variety of reasons.

    I’m all for oversight, too. That’s Congress’ job and, indeed, their duty. My only question is about the particular hook they’re apparently going to try to hang their hat upon.

  5. cian says:

    I remain unconvinced that the differing post-hoc recollections by two officials about which classified intelligence program a particular meeting was about rises to the level of perjury.

    Now I’m even more confused. My understanding is that testifying to congress is the same as testifying in court. The AG clearly lied about his and Andrew Card’s reasons for the midnight visit to Ashcroft and the reason he lied is because he had previously lied when asked if there was any objections within the Justice department to the TSP.

    My question for James then is, when is it not OK to lie to congress?

    Silly me, when you’re a democrat, of course.

  6. sglover says:

    He should have been fired long ago and President Bush’s insistence on sticking by him is baffling.

    Only days ago, backing up Meirs’ stonewalling, Bush ordered the Justice Department to NOT support the subpoena power of the Congress (which, last I heard, was an equal branch of the federal government). Gonzales complied. This is Nixon’s old Saturday Night Massacre redux, except that in this case, there are NO people of integrity to offer their resignations.

    After six years of this criminal syndicate, you’d have to be a little, ahem, clueless to be “baffled” about Gonzales’ tenure.

  7. Bithead says:

    The politics of this move goes directly to the democrat leadership and their opposition to our actions in Iraq. They are desperate to hang something / anything on this administration pursuant to that.

    The only problem, with pursuing this purjury nonsense, now, as you say, is proving it.

    Let’s also remember that the biggest charge of perjury, just now, is coming from one other most froth- at- the- mouth- liberals, Jay Rockefeller.

    At the same time however, we have Reports from various news sources, who spoke with others that were in the meeting, who remember it precisely as Gonzalez put it forward. Including, interestingly enough, Nancy Pelosi.

    first of all, I’d say on its face, that Gonzalez has far more in the way of credibility than does Jay Rockefeller, even absent Rockefeller being contradicted by other members of his own party who were in the same room.

  8. cian says:

    Bithead,

    Can you point to where others have agreed with the AG’s contention that the visit to Ashcroft was in regards to another surveillance programme, separate entirely to the TSP?

    If such a witness exists, then that changes things significantly.

  9. sglover says:

    The politics of this move goes directly to the democrat leadership and their opposition to our actions in Iraq. They are desperate to hang something / anything on this administration pursuant to that.

    Oh, it traces back to the war, alright — but not in the way that you fancy.

    It’s called Congressional oversight, and I’m pretty sure that it’s the kind of thing the Founders specfically approved of when they drew up the Constitution. There’s more than sufficient reason to believe that the Cheney criminal syndicate got their war through methods of dubious legality. Only a partisan lickspittle would think that this should not be investigated. Even during the Second World War, a time of genuine crisis, the Congress managed to conduct searching investigations of various facets of the government’s conduct.

    However, before those stones can be turned over, Gonzales’ stunning performances raise other questions: To what extent has he turned his department into an arm of the GOP? How can anyone be sure that, when he says the DoJ is “investigating”, that it really is? You don’t even have to be a member of the bar to wonder — since when does a Cabinet-level officer think that “I don’t know” and “I don’t remember” are acceptable answers to questions that he knew, in advance, he was going to have to answer?!?!? Convenience store cashiers are held to a higher standard of performance!!

    Oh, and by the way — are you one of those deluded fools who’s claiming that the war is going well?!?

  10. G.A.Phillips says:

    *****It’s called Congressional oversight, and I’m pretty sure that it’s the kind of thing the Founders specfically approved of when they drew up the Constitution. There’s more than sufficient reason to believe that the Cheney criminal syndicate got their war through methods of dubious legality. Only a partisan lickspittle would think that this should not be investigated. Even during the Second World War, a time of genuine crisis, the Congress managed to conduct searching investigations of various facets of the government’s conduct.******

    I’m sure that they did not intend it for liberals to use instead of a position on a war they voted for but know see as the best way to regain their political power as they did when they voted for the war in the first place.

    yes I know its confusing, but their self absorbed- hypocritical-insert misdirection of what I believe what will git me what I got to have today- way of thinking- is something on the order of the the Monty Python joke they were using to kill Germans with, form the skit where they had to read it in different sections with different people because it was so hilarious that if you were to here the whole thing all at once in would kill you outright with your own uncontrollable laughter. So I as try to do my best to figure out their logic, I do so in the fear the one day I will stumble upon exactly why they think like this and believe it’s a good thing and as others read it, it will have the same sort of effect, but hopefully I will see its meaning and it will kill me before I can hit post, and not bring any harm to any of the rest you.

  11. sglover says:

    I’m sure that they did not intend it for liberals to use instead of a position on a war they voted for but know see as the best way to regain their political power as they did when they voted for the war in the first place.

    I’m really not sure what you’re trying to say.

    On the assumption that you’re making some prolix complaint about liberal bogeymen, I suggest you consider this: President Hillary Clinton, armed with the so-called “unitary executive” powers that the Cheney regime is staking out.

    yes I know its confusing, but their self absorbed- hypocritical-insert misdirection of what I believe what will git me what I got to have today- way of thinking- is something on the order of the the Monty Python joke they were using to kill Germans with, form the skit where they had to read it in different sections with different people because it was so hilarious that if you were to here the whole thing all at once in would kill you outright with your own uncontrollable laughter. So I as try to do my best to figure out their logic, I do so in the fear the one day I will stumble upon exactly why they think like this and believe it’s a good thing and as others read it, it will have the same sort of effect, but hopefully I will see its meaning and it will kill me before I can hit post, and not bring any harm to any of the rest you.

    What’s confusing is your muddled verbiage. I guess there’s a point in there somewhere, but I sure can’t see it.

  12. Michael says:

    I remain unconvinced that the differing post-hoc recollections by two officials about which classified intelligence program a particular meeting was about rises to the level of perjury.

    Make that 3 officials, Mueller evidently just testified that the conversation was about TSP, contradicting Gonzales’ testimony.

    http://news.yahoo.com/s/ap/20070726/ap_on_go_co/congress_gonzales_36

  13. Wayne says:

    “Mueller was not in the hospital room at the time of the March 10, 2004, confrontation between Ashcroft and presidential advisers Andy Card and Gonzales,”

    If Mueller was not in the room during the discussion then his knowledge of what was discussing there is hearsay. That is even worst then he say he (she) say syndrome.

    ““I had an understanding the discussion was on a NSA program, yes,” Mueller answered.”

    Which was what Gonzales said.

    “Jackson Lee sought to clarify: “We use ‘TSP,’”

    It was only when Jackson tried to throw in the Congress term of TSP that confusion sits in.

    The Dems are trying to use technical parsing of words to claim perjury. What is “is” depends n what the Dems want “is” to mean. What the person speaking meant or what most would understand it to mean, means little to them.

  14. Michael says:

    If Mueller was not in the room during the discussion then his knowledge of what was discussing there is hearsay. That is even worst then he say he (she) say syndrome.

    Mueller was evidently in the room “minutes later” to talk to Ashcroft about why Gonzales and Card had visited him. I’m not sure on the specifics, but it seems that Mueller was called because of the unusual nature of the visit.

    Which was what Gonzales said.

    Gonzales said that they did not talk about the NSA program that the President disclosed (TSA), but rather an unrelated classified intelligence program. Mueller testified that it was the NSA’s program that was discussed, and that he agreed with Comey’s testimony that the conversation was about TSA, and that there was indeed disagreement about the legality of TSA, contrary to Gonzales’ testimony.

  15. sglover says:

    Mueller was evidently in the room “minutes later” to talk to Ashcroft about why Gonzales and Card had visited him. I’m not sure on the specifics, but it seems that Mueller was called because of the unusual nature of the visit.

    Note that Mueller also said that, before he arrived on the scene, he gave orders to his FBI agents to disregard any orders from Gonzales to remove Ashcroft’s deputy from Ashcroft’s bedside. Mueller knew that Gonzales was up to something underhanded.

    That said, I gotta admit, Gonzales is the perfect little toady representative for our future banana republic. I just wish he’d wear Ray-Bans when he’s testifying.

  16. G.A.Phillips says:

    ++++There’s more than sufficient reason to believe that the Cheney criminal syndicate got their war through methods of dubious legality. Only a partisan lickspittle would think that this should not be investigated.++++

    Oh, and by the way — are you one of those deluded fools who’s claiming that this lie is going well?!?

    +++++On the assumption that you’re making some prolix complaint about liberal bogeymen.+++++

    Its was more of a profuse complaint about your and every other liberals prolixity of blame upon a Conservative bogyman and what you seem to think is its profundity and then my prognosis of how you seek to promulgate it into being a propitiatory propensity of your Proliferating propagandism.

    What’s confusing is your muddled partisanship. I guess there’s a point in there somewhere, but I sure can’t see it.

  17. Wayne says:

    Michael

    That is not what the quotes from the web site say. The quotes given are fuzzy at best. Yes Mueller was in there minutes later but he wasn’t there. He did not specify that Ashcroft said TSP by word but was discussing a NSA program. Perhaps Ashcroft said they were talking surveillance programs and Mueller interpret it to mean TSP. Maybe Aschroft misspoke to Mueller. Perhaps Mueller thought Jackson was referring to any surveillance in general when she was asking about TSP instead of a specific program. The possibilities go on an on.

    I didn’t see the testimony this time and perhaps the MSM choose some bad examples for perjury case. However I see nothing in the statements given that shows perjury. Only those that read in much more into the situation then is given can make such wild accusations. Supposedly even the Senator that asks for independent counsel investigation doesn’t think there is much of a case. It is just another political stunt to feed the Lib lackeys so they can scream black helicopters conspiracies.

    You probably one of those who think Bush blew up the WTC.

  18. graywolf says:

    “A lot of this administration’s behavior appears to reflect the moving of the “permanent campaign” into daily governance.”

    In light of the permanent (unelected) government of left-wing bureaucrats (see esp. the CIA, DOJ and State), it only makes sense for a Republican administration to do this.

    Unfortunately, the Bush people are as incompetent at this as they are at everything else they have screwed-up.

    Gonzalez- brain dead cipher, that he is – really is the poster boy for this collection of bumbling losers.

    This gross incompetence will probably result in control of the government by the dem cong – to result in recession and retreat.

  19. sglover says:

    Its was more of a profuse complaint about your and every other liberals prolixity of blame upon a Conservative bogyman and what you seem to think is its profundity and then my prognosis of how you seek to promulgate it into being a propitiatory propensity of your Proliferating propagandism.

    Jay-zus H. Key-rist! Do you have some grudge against the English language that you have to mangle it so?!?! I knew you dead-end 25%-ers had a grudge going against liberals and inconvenient facts and external reality and all the rest of it, but do you have to make war on our language, too?

    Look, muddled speech is usually a symptom of muddled thinking. Seek help.

  20. Grewgills says:

    At the same time however, we have Reports from various news sources, who spoke with others that were in the meeting, who remember it precisely as Gonzalez put it forward. Including, interestingly enough, Nancy Pelosi.

    By various news sources you apparently mean Fox “News” and powerline blog. The relevant passage in the fox account follows

    And House Speaker Nancy Pelosi agreed that such a briefing had occurred, that Comey’s objections had been discussed. Indeed, she said she agreed with Comey.

    This in no way says she agrees with Gonzales that the meeting was not concerning the TSP. In fact the statement that she agreed with Comey who later went to the hospital in an attempt to block the actions of Gonzales indicates the the meeting was likely about the TSP.

    first of all, I’d say on its face, that Gonzalez has far more in the way of credibility than does Jay Rockefeller

    With whom?

    Yes Mueller was in there minutes later but he wasn’t there. He did not specify that Ashcroft said TSP by word but was discussing a NSA program.

    Ashcroft told Mueller that the meeting concerned “an NSA program that has been much discussed, yes.”
    What other much discussed NSA program was near expiration?

    This is not the only lie that may rise to the level of perjury that has come from Gonzales in these congressional hearings. He lied about whether or not there were divisions within the DoJ about warrantless surveillance. He said there weren’t. There were. He lied about conversations with other witnesses. He said he did not have any because he did not want to effect their testimony. According to Goodling he did talk to her about this before her testimony. He lied about violations of the Patriot Act by the FBI that he had been informed about previous to his testimony.
    At absolute best he is criminally incompetent with a memory like a sieve.

    Bit, Wayne, GA, step back and be honest with yourselves for a moment. If this had been Janet Reno making these statements you would be among the first accusing her of lying and calling for her ouster and prosecution.

  21. Wayne says:

    (“I had an understanding the discussion was on a NSA program, yes,” Mueller answered.
    Jackson Lee sought to clarify: “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?”
    “The discussion was on a national NSA program that has been much discussed, yes,” Mueller responded.)
    That is a bunch of beating around the bush statements. It is a far cry from Mueller saying that Ashcrooft told him “we discuss the TSP in our discussion” type of statement. If Ashcroft did then Mueller should flat out say what Ashcroft said instead of these vague comments. In the end he still wasn’t at the discussions.
    Evidently there was other NSA program nearing expirations, which is probably always the case. Much of which is discuss behind close doors. Just because you were only around one discussions don’t mean others discussions didn’t take place.

  22. Grewgills says:

    Wayne,
    Aschcroft/Mueller said that it was a “much discussed” NSA program. What other NSA program was BOTH “much discussed” and nearing expiration.
    Gonzales refused to identify the program. If it had been “much discussed” he should be able to ID the program.

    If the program was “much discussed” you or I should be able to identify a likely candidate as well. I can’t think of one and a quick and dirty Google search doesn’t come up with anything. Can you enlighten us to what “much discussed” NSA program(s) was nearing expiration?

    Sorry for all the “”, but it is a rather important point that you have glossed over twice now.

    Honestly if it were Clinton’s AG, what would you be saying right now?

  23. Michael says:

    t is a far cry from Mueller saying that Ashcrooft told him “we discuss the TSP in our discussion” type of statement. If Ashcroft did then Mueller should flat out say what Ashcroft said instead of these vague comments.

    Um, lets read those statements again:

    Jackson Lee sought to clarify: “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?
    “The discussion was on a national NSA program that has been much discussed, yes,” Mueller responded.

    That’s not what I would call vague.

  24. Wayne says:

    Word is out that the NSA program discuss at the hospital was the “data mining” program not the wireless wiretapping program. Therefore Gonzales didn’t lie about the conversation at the hospital.

    Sounds like the statement wasn’t as specific as some has said.

  25. Michael says:

    Word is out that the NSA program discuss at the hospital was the “data mining” program not the wireless wiretapping program.

    Interesting, where did you hear this? Also, wasn’t this program disclosed and discontinued already? If so, why couldn’t Gonzalez have mentioned it specifically?

  26. Wayne says:

    Heard it on Fox News first.
    http://politicalticker.blogs.cnn.com/tag/alberto-gonzales/

    Remember this event happen some time in the past when Gonzales wasn’t AG.

    Likely there were more of these so call programs talk about. Many of the Intel gathering policies and efforts overlaps departments and programs.

    Discontinued programs are generally replaced with other similar programs. Regardless there remains secret and sensitive information even after it has been discontinued,

  27. Wayne says:

    One more thing, doesn’t this one little example show how vague the original statements were? Typical politicians and political talk for you.

  28. Grewgills says:

    Word is out that the NSA program discuss at the hospital was the “data mining” program not the wireless wiretapping program.

    That is now the WH line. That is not what Comey says and he has far more credibility than Gonzales or the WH. Remember as well that the data mining program was part of the TSP and a part that Ashcroft was not opposed to.

    And again this is not the only potential case of perjury that has come from Gonzales in these congressional hearings. He lied about whether or not there were divisions within the DoJ about warrantless surveillance. He said there weren’t. There were. (About both data mining and warrantles wire tapping) He lied about conversations with other witnesses. He said he did not have any because he did not want to effect their testimony. According to Goodling he did talk to her about this before her testimony. He lied about violations of the Patriot Act by the FBI. He said there had been none. The FBI informed him that there had been numerous violations prior to his testimony.