In Quizzing a Reticent Gonzales, Senators Encounter a Power Shortage

Sen. Lindsey O. Graham (R-S.C.), alongside Sen. John Cornyn (R-Tex.), left, questions Attorney General Alberto R. Gonzales. Graham said he was troubled by Gonzales's contention that President Bush needed no congressional approval for domestic surveillance.
Sen. Lindsey O. Graham (R-S.C.), alongside Sen. John Cornyn (R-Tex.), left, questions Attorney General Alberto R. Gonzales. Graham said he was troubled by Gonzales's contention that President Bush needed no congressional approval for domestic surveillance. "There is no check and balance," Graham said. Gonzales, below, refused to describe the spying program, remarking that "it's not simply a coincidence" that the United States "has not been hit again" since Sept. 11, 2001. (By Preston Keres -- The Washington Post)
By Dana Milbank
Tuesday, February 7, 2006

In an entire day of testimony about the Bush administration's secret wiretapping program, Attorney General Alberto R. Gonzales recognized the supremacy of congressional authority in precisely one instance: the power to declare a recess.

"Attorney General Gonzales, would you like a break?" Judiciary Committee Chairman Arlen Specter (R-Pa.) inquired after 90 minutes of back-and-forth.

"If you're offering a break, Mr. Chairman," the attorney general replied.

"Well, I'm not going to offer you one unless you want one," the chairman insisted.

Gonzales would have none of it. "I will defer to you, Mr. Chairman," he said, before finally accepting a brief recess.

Otherwise, Gonzales offered the legislative branch little deference yesterday, and certainly no apology for the administration's decision not to seek congressional approval for its surveillance program. "The short answer is that we didn't think we needed to, quite frankly," he declared in a typical exchange.

When did the administration decide it had the authority? "I'm not going to give an exact date," he said.

What does the administration do with the information it collects? "I can't talk about specifics."

Is the information used to obtain search warrants? "I am uncomfortable talking in great detail."

More interesting than what the attorney general said was what he would not say. Has President Bush, invoking his "inherent powers" under the Constitution, also authorized warrantless eavesdropping on domestic calls, opening of Americans' mail and e-mail, and searches of their homes and offices?

"I am not comfortable going down the road of saying yes or no as to what the president has or has not authorized," Gonzales, shifting frequently in his chair, informed the senators.

Just 13 months ago, at his confirmation hearing, Gonzales vowed that he would "no longer represent only the White House," instead representing "the United States of America and its people." Yesterday, however, he relapsed, referring to Bush at one point as "the client."


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