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Democrats Seek Perjury Probe for Attorney General

Senate Democrats requested a perjury investigation for Attorney General Alberto Gonzales after testimony from FBI Director Robert Mueller raised questions about his credibility. Former Justice Department officials discuss the situation.

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  • RAY SUAREZ:

    The allegations of perjury leveled by Senate Democrats this week against Attorney General Alberto Gonzales revolve around the varied recollections concerning a deeply controversial and once top secret surveillance program.

    In sworn congressional testimony on multiple occasions, the attorney general said there was no internal dissent among administration officials about the program and the surveillance was not at the center of a tense meeting in March 2004. Starkly different accounts have emerged of the same events and discussions.

    In testimony before the Senate Judiciary Committee in May, former Deputy Attorney General James Comey told of an impromptu meeting at the hospital bedside of former Attorney General John Ashcroft. Gonzales and former White House Chief of Staff Andy Card were seeking reauthorization of an intelligence program.

  • JAMES COMEY, Former Deputy Attorney General:

    In walked Mr. Gonzales, carrying an envelope, and Mr. Card. They came over and stood by the bed. They greeted the attorney general very briefly, and then Mr. Gonzales began to discuss why they were there, to seek his approval for a matter.

    I was very upset. I was angry. I thought I had just witnessed an effort to take advantage of a very sick man who did not have the powers of the attorney general because they had been transferred to me.

  • RAY SUAREZ:

    Comey said, contrary to Gonzales' assertion, there was significant dissent among top law enforcement officers over a program Comey would not specifically identify. He said top Justice Department officials were prepared to resign over it.

    This past Tuesday, Gonzales told skeptical senators the domestic surveillance program, which President Bush had acknowledged to the public, was not the topic of the hospital discussion in 2004. The White House would label it the Terrorist Surveillance Program, or TSP.

  • ALBERTO GONZALES, U.S. Attorney General:

    Mr. Comey's testimony about the hospital visit was about other intelligence activities — disagreement over other intelligence activities. That's how we'd clarify it.

    SEN. CHUCK SCHUMER (D), New York: That is not what Mr. Comey says; that is not what the people in the room say.

  • ALBERTO GONZALES:

    That's how we clarify it.

  • RAY SUAREZ:

    Yesterday, four Senate Democrats requested a special prosecutor investigate the attorney general for possible perjury.

    SEN. RUSS FEINGOLD (D), Wisconsin: In his testimony before the Senate Judiciary Committee, the attorney general misled Congress when he said there was not any serious internal disagreement about the NSA warrantless wiretapping program.

  • RAY SUAREZ:

    Hours later, the FBI director, Robert Mueller, was asked about the hospital meeting at a House oversight hearing, and his testimony seemed to contradict the attorney general's.

    REP. MEL WATT (D), North Carolina: Can you confirm that you had some serious reservations about the warrantless wiretapping program that kind of led up to this?

  • ROBERT MUELLER, FBI Director:

    Yes.

    REP. SHEILA JACKSON LEE (D), Texas: Did you have an opportunity to talk to General Ashcroft, or did he discuss what was discussed in the meeting with Attorney General Gonzales and the chief of staff?

  • ROBERT MUELLER:

    I did have a brief discussion with Attorney General Ashcroft.

  • REP. SHEILA JACKSON LEE:

    Pardon — I'm sorry?

  • ROBERT MUELLER:

    I did have a brief discussion with Attorney General Ashcroft after I arrived.

  • REP. SHEILA JACKSON LEE:

    And did he indicate the details of the conversation?

  • ROBERT MUELLER:

    I prefer not to get into conversations that I had with the attorney general. At the time — again, he was entitled to expect that our conversations…

  • REP. SHEILA JACKSON LEE:

    And I respect that. Could I just say, did you have an understanding that the discussion was on TSP?

  • ROBERT MUELLER:

    I had an understanding the discussion was on an NSA program, yes.

  • REP. SHEILA JACKSON LEE:

    I guess we use TSP, we use warrantless wiretapping. So would I be comfortable in saying that those were the items that were part of the discussion?

  • ROBERT MUELLER:

    It was — the discussion was on a national — an NSA program that has been much discussed, yes.

  • RAY SUAREZ:

    But Justice Department and White House spokesmen have disputed the contention that Mueller's testimony invalidated the attorney general's.

  • JOURNALIST:

    Can you assure us that both Mueller and Gonzales were telling the truth?

  • TONY SNOW, White House Press Secretary:

    Yes, I think so. Yes. I mean, I just…

  • JOURNALIST:

    You think so?

  • TONY SNOW:

    Yes. Look, I cannot serve as the fact witness of everything that was in their head and try to unpack exactly what they meant, but I'm sure that both men were up there telling the truth and the whole truth as they understood it.

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