Attorney General Alberto Gonzales recused himself from speaking about the tug-of-war over executive privilege, and failed to clear up the long-standing question of who actually drew up the list of fired U.S. attorneys, but he did address several other issues while before the Senate Judiciary Committee this morning.
On Guantánamo Bay: "I wish we could close Guantánamo. I'm with everyone else: We should close Guantánamo. However, a need remains -- and there are legitimate questions about what do you do with these individuals? I guess we could turn them loose, Senator, and they could end up fighting against us again. We could bring them into the United States, although I understand the Senate recently rejected that overwhelmingly. Bringing them into the United States raises some serious legal issues."
On that late-night visit to John Ashcroft's hospital room: "Obviously, we were concerned about the condition of General Ashcroft. We obviously knew he had been ill and had surgery. And we never had any intent to ask anything of him if we did not feel that he was competent."
Some exchanges of note:
Sen. Arlen Specter, R-Pa., asking Gonzales about a death penalty case:
SPECTER: You don't know or you don't remember what happened when you stood on a decision to have a man executed -- that's what you're saying.
GONZALES: I have no specific recollection about the amount of time that I talked with Paul McNulty on this particular issue.
SPECTER: Well, would you disagree with McNulty that it was five to 10 minutes?
GONZALES: I can't agree with that if I don't recall, Senator.
SPECTER: OK, you can't agree with it. I didn't ask you that. I asked you if you disagreed with it.
GONZALES: I can't agree or disagree with it.
SPECTER: Well, Mr. Attorney General, I'm not totally unfamiliar with this sort of thing. When I was district attorney of Philadelphia, I had 500 homicides a year. I didn't allow any assistant to ask for the death penalty that I hadn't personally approved. And when I asked for the death penalty, I remembered the case.
Sen. Edward Kennedy, D-Mass., grilling Gonzales on torture:
KENNEDY: [The president's executive order] says, "such as sexual or sexual indecent acts undertaken for the purposes of humiliation." Those are prohibited. It says, "forcing the individual to perform sexual acts or to pose sexually." Those are prohibited. "Threatening the individual or sexual mutilation, or using the individual as a human shield," those are prohibited. "Acts intended to denigrate the religion, religious practices or religious option," they are prohibited.
So the question is, why aren't you willing -- if those are prohibited, why aren't you willing to prohibit the other kinds of activities that were outlined earlier, in terms of the waterboarding, in terms of stress, dogs, nudity, mock executions?
GONZALES: Senator, there are certain activities that are clearly beyond the pale and that everyone would agree should be prohibited. And so, obviously, the president is very, very supportive of those actions that are identified by its terms in the executive order.
There are certain other activities where it is not so clear, Senator. And, again, it's for those reasons that I can't discuss them in the public ... of course, the president said we're not going to torture. We're bound by both the international law -- we don't engage in torture.
And finally, Sen. Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif., trying to get something new out of Gonzales on the U.S. attorney firings:
FEINSTEIN: Oh, no -- total. How many names have you approved for firing?
GONZALES: You mean total, for cause, not for cause? I'd have to get back to you on that.
FEINSTEIN: There were seven on December 7.
GONZALES: Seven on December 7.
FEINSTEIN: We're now up to nine that we know about. How many -- this is important -- how many U.S. attorneys did you approve to be summarily fired?
GONZALES: Senator, there may have been others. I would be happy to get back to you with that kind of information about who has left. But I don't know the answer to your question. But I can certainly find out.
FEINSTEIN: You don't know, after all we've been through, the hearing after hearing after hearing?
GONZALES: Well, in connection with this review process that Mr. [Kyle] Sampson was coordinating, what was presented to me was a list of seven individuals, on December 7. And so those are the seven that I accepted the recommendation to ask for resignation ... I'm not aware, sitting here today, of any other U.S. attorney who was asked to leave, except there were some instances where people were asked to leave, quite frankly, because there was legitimate cause.
FEINSTEIN: So you're saying these were asked to leave because the cause was not legitimate?
GONZALES: I'm not saying -- no, what I'm saying is wrongdoing, misconduct. There may been some -- in fact, I'm sure there were others ...
FEINSTEIN: What kind of misconduct?
GONZALES: Well, for -- and I'm not suggesting any of this conduct happened, but, for example, an inappropriate relationship, taking action where you have a direct conflict of interest, to help out a buddy, making a -- you know, those kinds of -- something like that, I would say, would constitute misconduct. And there ...
FEINSTEIN: Were those specific things involved in any U.S. attorney that was terminated?
LEAHY: Good question.
GONZALES: No. With respect to the seven and with respect to Mr. Cummins and with respect to Mr. Graves, I am not aware that -- certainly, it wasn't, in my mind, a problem or basis to accept the recommendation that they be asked to leave.
Even the audience got involved with the heated exchanges. When the committee broke for recess, and again at the end of the hearing, a chorus of voices screamed "Resign!"