Leahy: Gonzales "blur[s spying] further with vague responses...unclear clarifications"

Thursday, March 02, 2006 at 09:35 AM

When does a "clarification" simply make things more ambiguous?  When it's offered up for political reasons by a member of this White House's loyal crew of semantic warriors.

Yesterday's Washington Post reports that Alberio Gonzales recently "clarified" his early February testimony before the Senate Judiciary Committee.  Now it's so clear that Vermont Senatory Pat Leahy said:

Gonzales's letter falls "far short of helping us focus this picture. Instead, they blur it further with vague responses about their shifting legal analysis for this illegal domestic spying and with unclear clarifications on the scope of the program over the last four years."

At the Feb. 6 hearing, Gonzales left two impressions that his letter this week tried to clear up.

1. He had stated on Feb. 6 that the NSA warrantless spying program that was the subject of the hearing was authorized by President Bush, then added "and that is all that he has authorized."  In this week's letter he said that "I was confining my remarks to the Terrorist Surveillance Program as described by the President" and that he "did not and could not address . . . any other classified intelligence activities."  Now that's clear, right?

It's so clear that Bruce Fein, who served as a lawyer in the Nixon, Carter and Reagan administrations, thought that Gonzales was "conceding that there are other NSA surveillance programs ongoing that the president hasn't told anyone about."  But of source you can't say for certain, because Gonzales clarified the point right into suspended animation, where weeks or months will have to be spent wringing the truth out someone in the White House.

2.  Gonzales had said on Feb. 6 that the White House had viewed the Congressional Resolution authorizing the use of force against Iraq to be a legal authorization of the NSA eavesdropping program even "before the program actually commenced."  In this week's letter, however, Gonzales said that  "these statements may give the misimpression that the Department's legal analysis has been static over time."

What does that clarify?  According to Fein, it suggests that the Justice Department actually embraced the use-of-force resolution as authority for the NSA program later than Gonzales had first said.  So, if I can sort out all the sidestepping and careful phrasing, Gonzales told the Senate Committee the force resolution was always viewed as authority for the surveillance program, when that was not the case.  You know, in the real world outside of the White House, that's known as lying to the Committee, not "leaving a misimpression."