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On the July 30 edition of Fox News' Special Report with Brit Hume, chief Washington correspondent Jim Angle asserted that "it was not clear which program" FBI director Robert S. Mueller "was referring to" when he testified on July 26 that the "discussion" during a March 10, 2004, confrontation in the hospital room of then-Attorney General John Ashcroft "was on a national -- an NSA program that has been much discussed, yes." At issue was whether Mueller had, in his testimony before the House Judiciary Committee, contradicted the July 24 Senate Judiciary Committee testimony of Attorney General Alberto R. Gonzales that "the reason for the visit to the hospital ... was about other intelligence activities. It was not about the terrorist surveillance program [TSP] that the president announced to the American people." In fact, as Media Matters for America has documented, Mueller's statement came in response to the following question from Rep. Sheila Jackson Lee (D-TX), which Angle did not include in his report: "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?"
From Mueller's July 26 testimony:
JACKSON LEE: So my question to you, first of all: Did you ever speak with either Mr. Gonzales or Mr. [then-White House chief of staff Andrew] Card while they were at the hospital?
MUELLER: No, ma'am.
JACKSON LEE: And if you did not do that, did any of your agents speak to those individuals?
MUELLER: I don't believe so. We -- I arrived at the hospital after Mr. Gonzales and Mr. Card had left.
JACKSON LEE: The discussion -- and I don't know if you did arrive -- it was -- 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?
MUELLER: I did have a brief discussion with Attorney General Ashcroft.
JACKSON LEE: I'm sorry?
MUELLER: I did have a brief discussion with Attorney General Ashcroft after I arrived.
JACKSON LEE: And did he indicate the details of the conversation?
MUELLER: I prefer not to get into conversations that I had with the attorney general. At the time, I -- again, he was entitled to expect that our conversations --
JACKSON LEE: And I respect that. Could I just say: Did you have an understanding that the discussion was on TSP?
MUELLER: I had an understanding that the discussion was on a NSA program, yes.
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?
MUELLER: I -- it was -- the discussion was on a national -- a NSA program that has been much discussed, yes.
Angle also asserted during the report that the "terrorist surveillance program" was one that "intercepted phone calls from known terrorists." Similarly, on July 31, he said the program "intercept[ed] ... voice communications from terrorists overseas calling into the U.S." and "intercept[ed] ... calls from terrorists overseas." On the latter edition of Special Report, Angle gave that description of the program in his report on a July 31 letter from Director of National Intelligence J. Michael McConnell to Sen. Arlen Specter (R-PA). In that letter, McConnell informed Specter that warrantless wiretapping was one of several "intelligence activities" initially authorized by President Bush in "one order" shortly after September 11, 2001.
However, as Media Matters has repeatedly noted (here, here, here, and here), several news articles in 2006 reported that the warrantless eavesdropping program was not limited to calls "from terrorists overseas," but that it also included thousands of Americans with no ties to any terrorist group. For instance, a February 5, 2006, Washington Post article reported that according to "officials conversant with the program," "a far more common question for eavesdroppers is whether, not why, a terrorist plotter is on either end of the call. The answer, they said, is usually no." The same Post article reported that "officials" said that "[n]o intelligence agency ... believes that 'terrorist ... operatives inside our country,' as Bush described the surveillance targets, number anywhere near the thousands who have been subject to eavesdropping" under the program. The article also reported that according to "current and former government officials," "[i]ntelligence officers who eavesdropped on thousands of Americans in overseas calls under authority from President Bush have dismissed nearly all of them as potential suspects after hearing nothing pertinent to a terrorist threat." Similarly, a November 25, 2006, New York Times article reported that "government officials involved" in the wiretapping program "have said that it has often led to dead ends and to people with no clear links to terrorism."
Indeed, in a January 23, 2006, press conference, then-Principal Deputy Director of National Intelligence Michael Hayden (now director of the CIA) described the program's targeting with far less certainty than Angle. He stated that under the program, the National Security Agency eavesdropped on "communications entering or leaving America involving someone we believe is associated with al Qaeda" and that "[i]f we are intercepting a communication [under the program], it is because we have reason to believe that one or both communicants are affiliated with al Qaeda." [Emphasis added.] Hayden was the director of the NSA when the warrantless wiretapping program began.
In his July 31 Special Report appearance, Angle also falsely suggested that McConnell's letter confirmed that there was no dissent over the warrantless wiretapping program, as Gonzales had testified. Angle stated that "McConnell also wrote that only one aspect of the program" -- the warrantless wiretapping -- "was ever publicly confirmed, and that is, of course, what senators kept asking Gonzales about. On that, there apparently was no dissent, just as he testified." However, McConnell's letter says nothing about whether anyone dissented to any NSA intelligence activities authorized by the president.
From the July 30 edition of Fox News' Special Report with Brit Hume:
ANGLE: Attorney General Alberto Gonzalez did not comment this morning on reports that appeared to support his testimony before the Senate, which some lawmakers insist amounts to perjury. A New York Times report Sunday confirmed by others said Gonzales was accurate in saying that there was no dissent for the terrorist surveillance program, which intercepted phone calls from known terrorists, instead the now-famous dissent among Justice Department officials in 2004 was over a different activity known as data mining.
SPECTER: There have been some suggestions in the last couple of days that there may have been a separate facet of the terrorist surveillance program.
ANGLE: But some Democratic senators are still insisting that appointing a special prosecutor is the only way to figure out if Gonzales committed perjury.
SEN. RUSS FEINGOLD (D-WI): I think we need to have somebody who is able to look at both the classified and non-classified material in a way that he can actually determine whether or not criminal charges have to be pursued.
ANGLE: What some consider perjury is this and similar statements Gonzales made last week about the urgent visit to Attorney General John Ashcroft's hospital room, which many had assumed was to get approval to continue the terrorist surveillance program, or TSP.
GONZALES: The reason for the visit to the hospital center was about other intelligence activities. It was not about the terrorist surveillance program that the president announced to the American people.
ANGLE: That appears to be true. It was other intelligence activities -- data mining, which does not intercept content of emails or phone calls, but rather tries to map connections made by those in contact with known terrorists. But critics argue it was part of the same program to track down terrorists and hang their charges of perjury on that. In December of 2005, for instance, when the TSP was exposed, President Bush confirmed intercepting phone calls of known terrorists to the United States, which Senator [Charles] Schumer [D-NY] emphasized.
SCHUMER: First, I take it there was just one program that the president confirmed in 2005, it was not more than one?
GONZALES: He confirmed one, yes, intelligence activity, yes, one program.
ANGLE: But months later, in May 2006, another program was leaked, the one on data mining, which now appears to have been the one former deputy A.G. James Comey recently said was the subject of serious dissent within the Justice Department. The president publicly explained that one, too.
BUSH: We're not mining or trolling through the personal lives of millions of innocent Americans. Our efforts are focused on links to Al Qaeda and their known affiliates.
ANGLE: When the FBI director was asked last week about the controversy, it is not clear which program he was referring to.
MUELLER: The discussion was on a national -- a NSA program that has been much discussed, yes.
[end video clip]
ANGLE: The questions for two years have been about intercepting phone calls, while the answers may have been about mining emails and phone records. Late today, Senator Specter was actually briefed on the programs in question and said given the difficulty of talking about classified matters, the White House needs to produce a letter to explain the issue in a way that can be released to the public. He asked for a letter by noon tomorrow and says the administration has agreed to do just that. Brit?
From the July 31 edition of Special Report with Brit Hume:
BRIT HUME (host): On that other matter you've been following, the trials and tribulations of Alberto Gonzales, the attorney general; what's the latest on that?
ANGLE: Well, the next shoe dropped today, Brit. DNI director Mike McConnell sent a letter to Senator Specter in an effort to clarify which programs Gonzales might have been talking about when he told senators there was no serious dissent among officials on the terrorist surveillance program, which was the intercept of voice communications from terrorists overseas calling into the U.S., statements for which Gonzales has been accused of perjury.
He later acknowledged there was dissent on other intelligence activities, though. In the unclassified letter from McConnell, he explained that a number of intelligence programs were authorized in one executive order in the days after 9-11. But he said, "The details of these activities changed in certain respects over time. And these activities rested on different legal bases," suggesting Gonzales might have had reason to see them as separate activities.
McConnell also wrote that only one aspect of the program, the intercepts of calls from terrorists overseas, was ever publicly confirmed, and that is, of course, what senators kept asking Gonzales about. On that, there apparently was no dissent, just as he testified. But some senators argue it was all one program. And whether those determined to force him out will accept this explanation is yet another question.