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Ethics: No ‘Serious Disagreement’ On Gonzales Lies

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JULY 30, 2007 by Faiz Shakir, Nico Pitney, Amanda Terkel, Satyam Khanna, and Matt Corley
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ETHICS

No ‘Serious Disagreement’ On Gonzales Lies

Last week, Attorney General Alberto Gonzales may have perjured himself by contradicting his own previous statements — as well as the sworn testimony of former Deputy Attorney General James Comey and current FBI director Robert Mueller — concerning the National Security Agency’s (NSA) domestic spying program. Gonzales told the Senate Judiciary Committee that the extraordinary disagreement between top Justice Department officials and the White House that resulted in the controversial visit to then-Attorney General John Ashcroft’s hospital bed was not about the so-called “Terrorist Surveillance Program” (TSP) confirmed by the President, but rather about “other intelligence activities.” Both Mueller and Comey, however, testified that the NSA’s domestic surveillance program was indeed the subject of the the Ashcroft hospital visit. Despite the obvious inconsistencies in Gonzales’s sworn testimony, members of the Bush administration and their far-right allies have denied that any discrepancy exists. Others have attempted to construct elaborate explanations in an attempt to paint Gonzales’s statements as “legalistic, [but] technically correct.” Fortunately, members of Congress have ignored the right wing’s thin defense of Gonzales and requested that Solicitor General Paul Clement “immediately appoint an independent special counsel” to investigate whether Gonzales’s statements constitute perjury.

OTHER INTELLIGENCE ACTIVITIES: The Bush administration has attempted to excuse Gonzales’s conflicting statements arguing that the highly classified nature of the program has prevented him and the administration from being forthright with Congress. White House Press Secretary Tony Snow said, “[P]eople are trying to…take a little sliver of [testimony], exploit it, and try to create a misperception here. This is what happens when you get into this world. … You can insinuate all you want, and I can’t fight back.” A Justice Department spokesman “said in a statement that Gonzales’s testimony and statements about the NSA program have been accurate, but that ‘confusion is inevitable.’” The fact is that Gonzales’s testimony is not “confused,” but is, rather, false. Comey and Mueller both testified that their objections were, in fact, related to TSP. Furthermore, a 2006 memo from then-National Intelligence Director John Negroponte to then-Speaker of the House Dennis Hastert (R-IL) confirms that White House briefings concerning Justice Department objections to NSA intelligence operations were specifically related to the President’s “Terrorist Surveillance Program.” To date, at least four members of Congress who attended the White House briefings have publicly disputed Gonzales’s testimony.

A LONG-RUNNING PROGRAM: Yesterday, the New York Times reported that “current and former officials” of the Bush administration have said “computer searches through massive electronic databases” were the cause of the objections voiced by top Justice Department officials, including Comey, Ashcroft, and Mueller in 2004. “If the dispute chiefly involved data mining, rather than eavesdropping, Mr. Gonzales’s defenders may maintain that his narrowly crafted answers, while legalistic, were technically correct,” the Times reported. Likewise, the National Review — despite previously calling for Gonzales’s resignation – framed, in their own words, “a convoluted story” in defense of Gonzales’s misleading and false statements to Congress. They argue that the program that officials at the Justice Department objected to was a previous version of what would become the “TSP.” Because the Justice Department objected to the NSA’s surveillance program before the President confirmed its existence and “narrowed” its scope, the National Review claims that Gonzales truthfully stated that the Justice Department objections were not to the “TSP,” but to a different program. This is a false distinction. Gonzales himself argued in 2006 that the legality of “TSP” has been analyzed on multiple occasions — after all, he said, “[y]ou’ve got a program that’s existed over four years.” Also, after Comey told Congress of his objections to the program, Gonzales said he could not comment on Comey’s testimony because it related specifically to the “program which the president confirmed.” The NSA warrantless program has existed for years and is the same program that Justice Department officials objected to in 2004.

GONZALES’S LAST CHANCE: Faced with such obviously false statements by Gonzales, four members of the Senate Judiciary Committee called for the appointment of a special counsel to investigate Gonzales on perjury charges. Sens. Charles Schumer (D-NY), Dianne Feinstein (D-CA), Russ Feingold (D-WI), and Sheldon Whitehouse (D-RI) explained in a letter to Solicitor General Paul Clement that “it has become apparent that the Attorney General has provided at a minimum half-truths and misleading statements” to the Congress. Sen. Patrick Leahy (D-VT) chairman of the Judiciary Committee, “sent a letter to Gonzales last Thursday giving him a week to resolve any inconsistencies in his testimony.” The New York Times wrote yesterday, “Solicitor General Paul Clement has a last chance to show that the Justice Department is still minimally functional by [investigating Gonzales]. … If that does not happen, Congress should impeach Mr. Gonzales.”


UNDER THE RADAR

IRAQ — BROOKINGS ANALYST O’HANLON SHILLS FOR ADMINISTRATION ON IRAQ: In today’s New York Times, Brookings Institution analysts Michael E. O’Hanlon and Kenneth M. Pollack opine that the Iraq war is “a war we just might win.” While attempting to appear critical of the administration by stating ”[t]he Bush administration has over four years lost essentially all credibility” and claiming they have consistently “harshly criticized” President Bush, Pollack and O’Hanlon uncritically set forth the administration’s talking points on the escalation. “We are finally getting somewhere in Iraq, at least in military terms,” they claim. “Today, morale is high,” they say of American troops. In one case, as evidence the escalation is going well, the duo cites a single Marine who “built an Arab-style living room.” The reality is that sectarian violence is still at “pre-surge levels” and the United States is “having significant difficulties getting new recruits because of the unpopularity of the Iraq War.” O’Hanlon has repeatedly made inaccurate predictions on Iraq. He advocates a long-term occupation and recently claimed that no one should “question the forthrightness” of Gen. David Petraeus, despite Petraeus allowing himself to be used as a political prop by the administration. 

POLITICS — CNN CALL REPUBLICANS’ BLUFF, RESCHEDULES YOUTUBE DEBATE: On July 23, all eight Democratic presidential candidates participated in the CNN/YouTube debate. By uploading a 30-second video to YouTube, “voters could directly question a presidential candidate during the debate.” Steve Grove, YouTube’s news and politics editor, called this new debate format “more democratic than ever.” Yet so far, just three Republican presidential candidates — Rep. Ron Paul (R-TX), Sen. John McCain (R-AZ), and former Wisconsin governor Tommy Thompson — have confirmed that they will participate in the Sept. 17 debate. Both former New York City mayor Rudy Giuliani and former Massachusetts governor Mitt Romney have said that they have scheduling conflicts. CNN has called their bluff. The Progress Report spoke with the Paul campaign, who confirmed that CNN contacted them and said that it is rescheduling the debate. Additionally, over the weekend, the New York Times reported that CNN “said it would work with the campaigns to find a new date.” It’s unclear whether the other candidates will actually participate in the rescheduled debate. Romney recently mocked the debate, stating, “I think the presidency ought to be held at a higher level than having to answer questions from a snowman,” referring to a citizen dressed as a snowman who submitted a question about global warming. The Center for American Progress Action Fund has supported online interactive forums with the presidential candidates. Earlier this year, CAPAF held the first-ever web-based presidential forum.

SCIENCE — BUSH APPOINTEE MUZZLED SURGEON GENERAL’S REPORT: In yet another example of the Bush Administration’s politicization of the federal government, an article in this weekend’s Washington Post revealed that a 2006 report from the office of former Surgeon General Richard Carmona about global public health was “kept from the public by a Bush political appointee without any background or expertise in medicine or public health, chiefly because the report did not promote the administration’s policy accomplishments.” The political appointee who blocked the report, William R. Steiger, is a “specialist in education and a scholar of Latin American history whose family has long ties to President Bush and Vice President Cheney.” “After a long struggle that pitted top scientific and medical experts inside and outside the government against Steiger and his political bosses, Carmona refused to make the requested changes,” and the report was never published. This was not the only time that Carmona was muzzled by the Bush administration. In a recent hearing before the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee, Carmona testified that the office of the Surgeon General “has been marginalized and relegated to a position with no independent budget, and with supervisors who are political appointees with partisan agendas. Anything that doesn’t fit into the political appointees’ ideological, theological, or political agenda is ignored, marginalized, or simply buried.”




THINK FAST

Eight million: Number of Iraqis — nearly a third of the population — who are “in need of immediate emergency aid.” According to the new report by Oxfam and a coalition of Iraqi NGOs, the Iraqi government is “failing to provide basics such as food and shelter.”

Some scientists who wish to “test their alternatively derived cells have found themselves stymied by an unexpected barrier: President Bush’s stem cell policy. … As a result, the National Institutes of Health recently refused to consider a grant application for what would have been the first federal study to compare several of the new, less politically contentious stem cell lines.”

“After raising the minimum wage by 70 cents an hour this week, many members of Congress are ready to give themselves a pay increase of roughly $4,400 per year. That would take their annual salaries to nearly $170,000.”

“Controversy over Gonzales’s candor about Bush’s conduct or policies has actually dogged him for more than a decade, since he worked for Bush in Texas.” The Washington Post recalls Gonzales meeting with a Texas judge to get Bush out of jury service and avoid disclosing a prior DUI conviction. Gonzales, however, “made no mention of meeting with the judge in a written statement submitted to the Senate Judiciary Committee.”

Attorney General Alberto Gonzales must quickly clarify apparent contradictions in his testimony about warrantless spying or risk a possible perjury investigation. “He has a week,” said Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Patrick Leahy (D-VT). “But you have to follow the law. I have to follow the law. They should have to follow the law. That’s the bottom line.”

U.S. and Iraqi officials have erected a “legal Green Zone” in Baghdad, “a heavily fortified compound to shelter judges and their families and secure the trials of some of the most dangerous suspects. … For Iraqi officials, working at the compound is so fraught with risk that it often requires separating themselves and their families from life outside the complex’s gates.”

Members of the Bancroft family, which controls Dow Jones & Co. Inc., will likely decide by the end of today “whether they will support News Corp.’s $5 billion bid for the news organization.”

And finally: Stephen Colbert “was making the rounds in Washington on Friday,” collecting signatures “for the cast encasing his recently broken wrist.” While President Bush wasn’t around to sign his cast, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) was, and “cheekily called the comedian a ‘bone-coddling crybaby.’”

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GOOD NEWS

After the Iraq soccer team’s 1-0 victory over Saudi Arabia in the prestigious 2007 Asian Cup, the Iraqi people temporarily allowed ethnic atrocities to fade. Vendors quickly “sold out of a T-shirt that emphasized unity over sectarianism with the slogan, ‘I am Iraqi.’”

STATE WATCH

KENTUCKY: Dispatches from an anti-war protest in Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell’s (R-KY) neighborhood.

MISSOURI: The penalty charged to air polluters “could see its biggest increase in several years.”

FLORIDA: “In Florida, teenagers are likely to hear the following message over and over: abstain from sex.”

BLOG WATCH

THINK PROGRESS: An increasing number of Americans view the Supreme Court as “too conservative.”

DAILY KOS: Increasing pressure on rival Home Depot, hardware chain Lowe’s pulls advertising from Fox News’s The O’Reilly Factor.

FEMINISTING: CNN anchor Larry Smith claims dogfighting is a worse crime than rape.

CHRONICLE PODCASTS: Former Reagan Justice Department lawyer Bruce Fein “argues for the impeachment” of President Bush and Vice President Cheney.

DAILY GRILL

“You can measure progress in megawatts of electricity delivered.”
— President Bush, 7/14/06

VERSUS

“The hard fact is, Senator, the availability of electricity…in Baghdad is still at very low levels — an hour or two a day.”
— U.S. ambassador to Iraq Ryan Crocker, 7/19/07

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