Wash. Times, The Hill failed to report FBI director's testimony contradicting Gonzales


Articles in the July 27 Washington Times and The Hill reported that Senate Democrats are seeking a perjury investigation into Attorney General Alberto R. Gonzales' congressional testimony but did not report on July 26 testimony by FBI Director Robert S. Mueller III, in which Mueller, responding to a question posed by Rep. Sheila Jackson Lee (D-TX), joined former Deputy Attorney General James Comey and Director of National Intelligence John Negroponte in directly contradicting Gonzales' sworn testimony.

At issue was whether a March 2004 dispute within the Bush administration concerned the warrantless domestic wiretapping program or other, as yet undisclosed, NSA activities. A July 27 Wall Street Journal article reported (subscription required) that in Gonzales' July 24 testimony, the attorney general "repeatedly and emphatically denied that the dispute was about the terrorist surveillance program," the administration's term for the warrantless domestic wiretapping program. The Journal noted that Gonzales' statement was at odds with Mueller's testimony: "FBI Director Robert S. Mueller said Thursday the government's terrorist surveillance program was the topic of a 2004 hospital room dispute between top Bush administration officials, contradicting Attorney General Alberto Gonzales's sworn Senate testimony."

The Washington Post reported Mueller's testimony similarly: "FBI Director Robert S. Mueller III yesterday contradicted the sworn testimony of his boss, Attorney General Alberto R. Gonzales, by telling Congress that a prominent warrantless surveillance program was the subject of a dramatic legal debate within the Bush administration."

A New York Times article reported that Mueller "offered testimony Thursday that sharply conflicted with Attorney General Alberto R. Gonzales's sworn statements about a 2004 confrontation in which top Justice Department officials threatened to resign over a secret intelligence operation."

The Washington Times article asserted that "past statements seemingly contradicted" Gonzales' testimony, but then quoted a Justice Department spokesman saying, "The disagreement that occurred in March 2004 concerned the legal basis for intelligence activities that have not been publicly disclosed and that remain highly classified."

That statement echoes Gonzales' July 24 testimony, in which he asserted, "The disagreement that occurred, and the reason for the visit to the hospital, Senator, was about other intelligence activities. It was not about the terrorist surveillance program that the president announced to the American people." However, Mueller's July 26 testimony included the following exchange with Lee, in which he suggested that Ashcroft told him in March 2004 that the hospital meeting with Gonzales, Card, and Comey included a discussion of the NSA's warrantless wiretapping program:

JACKSON LEE: So my question to you, first of all: Did you ever speak with either Mr. Gonzales or Mr. [Andrew] Card [White House chief of staff at the time] 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 [sic] 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.

The article in The Hill asserted that Gonzales' testimony contradicted public statements by other officials:

Democrats chiefly noted inconsistencies between Gonzales's testimony and that of James Comey, former deputy attorney general, about Comey's disapproval of legal authority for the administration's warrantless domestic eavesdropping.

Gonzales told senators this week that a March 2004 briefing for the "Gang of Eight," the bicameral leaders and intelligence panel chairmen who typically receive top-secret briefings, dealt with Comey's concerns but not with the surveillance program that President Bush has publicly confirmed.

Yet the four Democrats noted that Gen. Michael Hayden, now CIA director, and John Negroponte, now deputy secretary of state, both have contradicted Gonzales's assertions in public statements.

But The Hill also did not address Mueller's testimony.

Mueller's testimony was not reported elsewhere in the July 27 editions of The Hill or The Washington Times.

Posted In
Justice & Civil Liberties
The Washington Times, The Hill
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