Parsing the parsers

Gonzales and his lawyerly language of coverup.


Published July 27, 2007 5:18PM (EDT)

Spencer Ackerman and Paul Kiel of TPM Muckraker do a great job this morning deconstructing the slick language the Bush administration has been using to hide the fact that the original scope of the so-called Terrorist Surveillance Program was much broader than it has ever admitted.

The administration's consistent refusal to discuss any aspect of the program -- current or former -- aside from what President Bush disclosed in December 2005 appears to be intended, specifically, to gloss over Comey and Goldsmith's objections. If that's the case, it could mean that the public has been presented with an inaccurate picture of the origins and scope of Program X. The Bush administration is currently contesting a Senate Judiciary Committee subpoena for documentation establishing Program X's history -- in essence, trying to ensure that the public never learns more about the program and the internal deliberations over it than what President Bush chooses to reveal.

Alberto Gonzales, on this theory, has found himself enmeshed in the administration's attempt to distinguish the less-troublesome Terrorism Surveillance Program from Program X. And it may mean he perjured himself in doing so. Today, Senate Democrats responded to Gonzales's dubious testimony on Tuesday by calling for a perjury investigation. At issue is whether Gonzales' assertions that there was "no serious disagreement" within the government about the TSP was so misleading as to amount to perjury, or whether his distinction between TSP and Program X was merely a careful parsing -- perhaps misleading but not, to use Sen. Arlen Specter's word, actionable.

I would guess that it will be very difficult to make a persuasive case that Gonzales committed perjury. We all knew they were saying "the program the president has disclosed" was crafty lawyerspeak and we all knew that it meant there was something else they weren't "describing." (They do those things specifically to avoid being accused of perjury.) It wasn't until James Comey testified that half the upper management of the DOJ was prepared to resign over the TSP that we realized that "those things" had definitely been part of the original program and they were so bad that high-level members of the DOJ had threatened to resign unless they were stopped.

Comey's testimony confirmed for the first time that the administration was doing something truly outrageous before that fateful night in John Ashcroft's hospital room. And it further revealed that the attorney general of the United States has been using clever language to cover up the truth about whatever that was. The administration has spent years ensuring that the public never knew what was really going on during that period between Sept. 11, 2001, and 2004, not because it would harm national security -- they stopped doing it -- but because it simply does not want the citizens of this country to know what it did before cooler heads in the DOJ finally prevailed and put a stop to it.

We have a right to know what that earlier, full program entailed. Until this is cleared up, the country will continue to lose faith in its government and the rule of law, something that I'm sure many on the right welcome, but that isn't actually a good idea. As Glenn Greenwald explained earlier in the week, that is what's really at issue here: Just what in the world were they doing before Comey, Jack Goldsmith and others pulled the plug?



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