Things may have taken a turn for the better for embattled U.S. attorney general Alberto Gonzales. On the same day that the New York Times editorialized that Gonzales should be impeached if Solicitor General Paul Clement declines to appoint a special prosecutor to investigate allegations that Gonzales lied to Congress on several occasions, the Times published a news story that may help Gonzales beat the rap/
The furor over Gonzales involves a 2004 incident when Gonzales, as White House counsel, and chief of staff Andy Card went to the hospital room of ailing attorney general John Ashcroft to try to get reauthorization of an intelligence gathering program. This incident has been portrayed as one in which Gonzales and Card were confronted by acting attorney general John Comey and FBI director Robert Mueller.
This is the heart of the Times' report:
Mr. Gonzales insisted before the Senate this week that the 2004 dispute did not involve the Terrorist Surveillance Program “confirmed” by President Bush, who has acknowledged eavesdropping without warrants but has never acknowledged the data mining.
If the dispute chiefly involved data mining, rather than eavesdropping, Mr. Gonzales’ defenders may maintain that his narrowly crafted answers, while legalistic, were technically correct.
Power Line, a well researched conservative blog, was quick to note the importance of the story in its own report:
Gonzales testified that he had visited John Ashcroft in the hospital to try to resolve a legal dispute that had developed over an intelligence program, but that the program in question was not the "terrorist surveillance program" that had been confirmed by President Bush, i.e., the interception of international communications where one participant is associated with al Qaeda. About that program, Gonzales said there had been no serious legal question.
This testimony was met with incredulity by the Senators. "Do you expect us to believe that?" Arlen Spector asked. Committee members Schumer and Leahy flatly accused Gonzales of lying, and called for a special prosecutor to carry out a perjury investigation. One thing I could never understand was why anyone cares: what difference would it make if Gonzales's hospital visit related to the "terrorist surveillance program," or to some other intelligence activity? And what reason would Gonzales have to lie about that fact?
Today the Times confirms that Gonzales told the truth. The legal dispute that broke out in 2004 was about the NSA's "data mining" project, in which databases of telephone records were reviewed for patterns suggestive of terrorist cells....
It has been widely reported that Comey contradicted Gonzales's testimony, which Power Line disputes:
In fact, James Comey's testimony did not contradict Gonzales's. As we have pointed out repeatedly, Comey refused to identify the program over which there was a legal disagreement that led to the hospital visit. He did not, contrary to the Times's assertion, challenge or contradict Gonzales's testimony that "[t]here has not been any serious disagreement about the program that the president has confirmed. There have been disagreements about other matters regarding operations, which I cannot get into.”
Gonzales's troubles are by no means over, but this is the first good news he has had for awhile. His various appearances before Congress have done considerable damage to his reputation, but he has mainly appeared to be dissembling and inept rather than sinister. I think he has a reasonable chance to serve out his term with nondistinction.
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