Senator May Seek Gonzales Perjury Probe

Democrats say Attorney General Alberto R. Gonzales has repeatedly attempted to deceive them.
Democrats say Attorney General Alberto R. Gonzales has repeatedly attempted to deceive them. (By Melina Mara -- The Washington Post)
By Dan Eggen
Washington Post Staff Writer
Thursday, July 26, 2007

Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Patrick J. Leahy threatened yesterday to request a perjury investigation of Attorney General Alberto R. Gonzales, as Democrats said an intelligence official's statement about a classified surveillance program was at odds with Gonzales's sworn testimony.

The latest dispute involving public remarks by Gonzales concerned the topic of a March 10, 2004, White House briefing for members of Congress. Gonzales, in congressional testimony Tuesday, said the purpose of the briefing was to address what he called "intelligence activities" that were the subject of a legal dispute inside the administration.

Gonzales testified that the meeting was not called to discuss a dispute over the National Security Agency's controversial warrantless surveillance program, which he has repeatedly said attracted no serious controversy inside the administration.

But a letter sent to Congress in May 2006 by then-Director of National Intelligence John D. Negroponte described the congressional meeting as a "briefing on the Terrorist Surveillance Program," the name that President Bush has publicly used to describe the warrantless surveillance program.

Democrats pointed to the Negroponte letter yesterday in an effort to portray Gonzales's remarks as misleading. They said Gonzales is trying to conceal the existence of a dispute between White House and Justice Department lawyers that involved the surveillance program, which many Democrats have criticized as an illegal or unjustified abuse of executive-branch authority.

Several Democratic lawmakers, including Senate intelligence committee Chairman John D. Rockefeller IV (D-W.Va.), have also said the meeting focused on the NSA program and have strongly disputed other Gonzales characterizations of the meeting.

Leahy (D-Vt.) told reporters he is giving Gonzales until late next week to revise his testimony about the surveillance program or he will ask Justice Department Inspector General Glenn A. Fine to conduct a perjury inquiry: "I'll ask the inspector general to determine who's telling the truth."

Justice Department spokesman Brian Roehrkasse said yesterday that Gonzales "stands by his testimony," and that "the disagreement . . . was not about the particular intelligence activity that has been publicly described by the president. It was about other highly classified intelligence activities."

DNI spokesman Ross Feinstein referred questions to the Justice Department.

The dispute represents the latest political difficulty for Gonzales, who endured a four-hour grilling from Leahy's committee on Tuesday and has been under fire all year for his handling of the firings of nine U.S. attorneys last year. The panel's members openly attacked Gonzales's credibility on a variety of matters.

Gonzales's troubles with his depiction of the NSA spying program began in February 2006, when he first told the Senate Judiciary panel there was "no serious disagreement" about its legality. But subsequent public remarks by others have suggested that the program -- or activities closely related to it -- were indeed contested.

Former deputy attorney general James B. Comey has testified that he notified the White House that Justice lawyers could not certify the legality of an unidentified classified program -- which lawmakers and other sources have described as the NSA surveillance effort.

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