George W. Bush goes before Congress for another State of the Union address tonight. The networks and the internets will be all over it, but we're far more interested in the upcoming congressional appearance of another senior administration official. Alberto Gonzales testifies before the Senate Judiciary Committee next week, and he'll be asked there to defend himself against the charge that he lied to the committee last year about Bush's warrantless spying program.
During Gonzales' confirmation hearing last January, Sen. Russ Feingold asked the soon-to-be attorney general whether the president, as commander in chief, has the authority to violate acts of Congress. "Does the president, in your opinion, have the authority, acting as commander in chief, to authorize warrantless searches of Americans' homes and wiretaps of their conversations in violation of the criminal and foreign intelligence surveillance statutes of this country?" Feingold asked.
Gonzales' response: "What we're really discussing here is a hypothetical situation."
Of course, it wasn't a hypothetical situation. Shortly after 9/11, Bush signed an executive order in which he authorized warrantless wiretaps of Americans' conversations in violation of the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act of 1978. In dismissing Feingold's question as "hypothetical," Gonzales implied that the Bush administration wasn't engaged in warrantless searches or wiretaps. And in response to further questioning from Feingold, he seemed to make the implicit explicit. "Senator," Gonzales said, "it is not the policy or the agenda of this president to authorize actions that would be in contravention of our criminal statutes."
In a statement posted on his Web site, Feingold says Gonzales "was not being straight with the Judiciary Committee" last year and "has some explaining to do" now. And in a letter to Gonzales, Feingold tells the attorney general that he'll be called to account for his misrepresentation when it comes time for his turn before Congress next week.