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Senate Questions Attorney General Gonzales on Wiretapping Program

July 18, 2006 at 6:40 PM EDT

KWAME HOLMAN: Following previous appearances before the Senate Judiciary Committee, Attorney General Alberto Gonzales had been criticized by Chairman Arlen Specter for his responses or his failure to respond to many of the committee’s questions.

So one week in advance of today’s hearing, Specter sent Gonzales a list of issues the attorney general could expect would be covered. And to save time, he also asked that Gonzales address those issues in his prepared opening statement.

But this morning, the chairman clearly wasn’t satisfied with the promptness of the attorney general’s response.

SEN. ARLEN SPECTER (R), Pennsylvania: The committee is very disturbed by your failure to comply with our rules in submitting your statement on time. It wasn’t submitted until late yesterday afternoon, early evening.

There has not been an opportunity to review it, and serious consideration has been given to not permitting you to make an opening statement because of your failure to comply with the rules. And let me say, if there’s a repetition, we will do just that.

Addressing the issues at hand

KWAME HOLMAN: Gonzales didn't respond to Specter's scoldingbut did address his issues, defending the president's reasons for establishingmilitary commissions for Guantanamodetainees, a process recently struck down by the Supreme Court.

ALBERTO GONZALES, U.S. Attorney General: For example, no onecan expect members of our military to read Miranda warnings to terroristscaptured on the battlefield, or provide terrorists on the battlefield immediateaccess to counsel, or maintain a strict chain of custody for evidence.

The current DOD military commissions take into account thesesituational difficulties and thus provide a useful basis for Congress'sconsideration of modified procedures.

KWAME HOLMAN: Gonzales then moved to the newspaper accountsthat revealed classified terrorist-related programs.

ALBERTO GONZALES: It is wrong that someone would revealintelligence activities that are helping to prevent another terrorist attack onAmerica.American lives are potentially endangered by such conduct.

KWAME HOLMAN: However, during a series of rapid-firequestions, Senator Specter asked Gonzales if he was ready to prosecute theauthors of that New York Times story which disclosed the terrorist surveillanceprogram.

SEN. ARLEN SPECTER: Are you considering the prosecution ofthe author of that article in the newspaper?

ALBERTO GONZALES: Our long-standing practice -- and itremains so today -- our policy is that we pursue the leaker. That is ourprimary objective, is to go after the leakers, quite frankly. We hope to workwith responsible journalists and persuade them not to publish a story, withrespect to...

SEN. ARLEN SPECTER: But they did publish the story.

ALBERTO GONZALES: They did publish it.

SEN. ARLEN SPECTER: And you said on May 21st you wereconsidering a prosecution. Now, we've had June and July. We've had two monthssince then. Are you or are you not considering a prosecution?

ALBERTO GONZALES: Mr. Chairman, I will say, we're focusedprimarily on the leakers, and we continue to work with the media to try topersuade them not to publish stories.

I do think, quite frankly, Mr. Chairman, it is appropriateto have a discussion and a dialogue about, what do we do when we're in a timeof war and we're talking about highly classified programs that may saveAmerican lives...

SEN. ARLEN SPECTER: I'm prepared for a discussion of thedialogue, but on another day when we have more than 10 minutes. I'm going tomove on and accept your non-answer because I don't think I'm going to getanything more on that subject, and perhaps nothing more on the next subject.

A war of words

KWAME HOLMAN: The next subject concerned whether the Bushadministration was conducting other secret programs without court approval.

SEN. ARLEN SPECTER: Question: Is it true that it is only theterrorist surveillance program -- also known as the electronic surveillanceprogram -- is that the only program that the administration has which is notfunctioning under a court order?

ALBERTO GONZALES: Mr. Chairman, you and I did have aconversation. What I can say is that what you're asking about, the programs andactivities you're asking about, to the extent that they exist would be highlyclassified. To the extent they exist would be -- have been and would be fullybriefed to the intelligence committees.

And I can also tell you that we are currently havingdiscussions within the administration to see what additional information we canprovide to this committee about any additional activities.

SEN. ARLEN SPECTER: But you can confirm your statement to methat the only program which is not subject to judicial authorization is theelectronic surveillance program?


SEN. ARLEN SPECTER: You told me that, didn't you?

ALBERTO GONZALES: ... I believe what I said -- well, here'swhat I'd like to be on record, that to my knowledge...

SEN. ARLEN SPECTER: No, no, no. Answer if you told me that. Thenyou can go on the record.

ALBERTO GONZALES: I wouldn't use -- I'm not sure that thosewere the words that I used, Mr. Chairman.

SEN. ARLEN SPECTER: Well, the substance of the words youused?

ALBERTO GONZALES: Those are the substance of the words Iused, but those are not the exact words that I used.


In search of a position

KWAME HOLMAN: Patrick Leahy, the committee's top Democrat,asked Gonzales to take a position on what kind of legal procedures Congressshould design for those Guantanamodetainees.

SEN. PATRICK LEAHY (D), Vermont: At our hearing last week,Mr. Attorney General, one of your assistants testified in effect that we inCongress should simply ratify the military commission procedures that thepresident designed and that the Supreme Court criticized and struck down asillegal. Is that, in fact, the administration's position?

ALBERTO GONZALES: Senator Leahy, I think our position is --we care less about where we began. We care more about where we end up. And we'dlike to...

SEN. PATRICK LEAHY: No, no. The question is very specific: Isit the administration's position, as one of your assistants suggested, that weshould simply ratify the military commission procedures that the presidentdesigned and the Supreme Court struck down in Hamdan?

ALBERTO GONZALES: That would certainly be one alternativethat Congress could consider, Senator Leahy.

SEN. PATRICK LEAHY: That was the alternative that the oneperson we had from the administration who testified suggested. Is that theadministration's position, yes or no? That's simple.

ALBERTO GONZALES: I don't believe the administration has aposition as to where Congress should begin its deliberations.

SEN. PATRICK LEAHY: Thank you. So we were misled by thattestimony.

KWAME HOLMAN: UtahRepublican Orrin Hatch stayed on the issue, reminding colleagues that theSupreme Court didn't necessarily outlaw military commissions.

SEN. ORRIN HATCH (R), Utah:Unlike some of the hysterical comments about that particular decision, asthough it was a complete slap in the face to the administration, I didn't thinkit was. Frankly, all the decision basically -- well, there are a number ofthings that the decision said, but basically it said that they expect us tocome up with a set of procedures that will work during this process.

ALBERTO GONZALES: Well, these are very, very tough issues. Andyou have to remember that you had six out of eight justices who wrote in thatcase, 177 pages of analysis. And so to say that this was something that was soobviously wrong, I just disagree.

KWAME HOLMAN: Gonzales spent four hours before the JudiciaryCommittee. Chairman Specter thanked him for his time. The attorney generalsmiled in response, and the hearing ended with a respectful handshake.