Perjury investigation for Gonzales?

Pat Leahy says the attorney general has until late next week to come clean or the senator will ask for an investigation.

Published July 26, 2007 1:15PM (EDT)

Wednesday started with the House Judiciary Committee taking the first step toward criminal contempt of Congress charges against White House chief of staff Joshua Bolten and former White House counsel Harriet Miers. It ended in a different congressional chamber, where the chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee began discussing the possibility of launching a perjury investigation against Attorney General Alberto Gonzales.

This latest controversy stems from Gonzales' testimony before the Senate Judiciary Committee earlier this week. During that hearing, Gonzales told senators that on March 10, 2004, before his now-infamous visit to the hospital room of his predecessor, John Ashcroft, other members of Congress were briefed on a specific intelligence program that is not the warrantless eavesdropping program the administration refers to as the "Terrorist Surveillance Program," or "TSP." This is important because Gonzales had previously testified that there was no serious disagreement inside the administration about the TSP. James Comey, the former deputy attorney general, seemed to cast Gonzales' earlier assertions in doubt when in his own testimony in May he first revealed the story of the visit to Ashcroft's hospital bed and said that the visit involved controversy over an intelligence program that Comey did not specify.

But in a story released Wednesday night, the Associated Press showed -- based on a letter sent from the director of national intelligence to then House Speaker Dennis Hastert, R-Ill. -- that as of 2006, the Bush administration itself was saying that the March 10 briefing was about the TSP.

So now, the Washington Post reports, Judiciary Committee chairman Sen. Pat Leahy, D-Vt., says he may ask for an investigation into possible perjury by Gonzales. Leahy will give Gonzales "until late next week to revise his testimony," then ask Glenn Fine, the Department of Justice's inspector general, to investigate. The Post also reports that DOJ spokesman Brian Roehrkasse said that Gonzales "stands by his testimony ... the disagreement ... was not about the particular intelligence activity that has been publicly described by the president. It was about other highly classified intelligence activities."

Some conservatives are already leaping to the embattled attorney general's defense. At Power Line, in a post titled "Leaking Against Gonzales," blogger John Hinderaker pulled out the site's usual defense of conservatives, implying that some mysterious and presumably liberal element of the government is conspiring with the liberal media against Gonzales. The Washington Post, Hinderaker said, "tried to cast doubt on this testimony, but in fact the sources they cite make it pretty clear that Gonzales's testimony was accurate." So then, Hinderaker apparently believes, the AP jumped on the bandwagon.

"Now the Associated Press tries another tack," Hinderaker wrote, "in a story based on a leak from either Congress or the intelligence community."

Over at Balkinization, though, blogger Marty Lederman has already put the lie to that line of thought -- he points out that he "obtained" the document cited by the AP on his own, as it "has been available [on the Internet] since it was released to the public on May 17, 2006."

Hinderaker has one other tactic of his own to try, though. Call it the "1984" defense: Alberto Gonzales has always been talking about something other than the "TSP."

Hinderaker himself points out that in a previous post he wrote that the program in question was "obviously the terrorist surveillance program." Suddenly, though, Gonzales may be in trouble if that's true; conveniently, Hinderaker now believes "that assumption may be wrong."

By Alex Koppelman

Alex Koppelman is a staff writer for Salon.

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