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July 27, 2007

FBI director disputes Gonzales' account of spying

FBI director Robert Mueller contradicted the sworn testimony of Alberto Gonzales on the Bush administration's domestic spying program.

Mueller confirmed to the House Judiciary Committee that Gonzales and then-Chief of Staff Andrew Card made a now-infamous late night visit to John Ashcrofts' hospital bed to strongarm Ashcroft on a domestic spying issue--even though Ashcroft had already named his deputy James Comey as AG.

Mueller said that the program the two Bush appointees wanted Ashcroft to reauthorize was was the much-discussed NSA warrantless wiretapping program (aka the "Terrorist Surveillance Program"). The president publicly acknowledged the existence of the NSA/TSP program after the New York Times reported on it in December 2005.

Gonzales said they were there to talk about something else. So, it's unclear whether the late-night visit concerned some other spying program that hasn't been publicly disclosed. Or, as Spencer Ackerman argues at TPM Muckraker, Mueller and Gonzales disagree about the scope of the description "Terrorist Surveillance Program," with Mueller using a broader definition of what constituted the NSA/TSP.

Correction: A previous version of this post got the story backwards. Thanks to Autumn Harvest for setting me straight. Cf. firedoglake.

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Interestingly, Mueller said that the program the two Bush appointees wanted Ashcroft to authorize was not the much-discussed NSA warrantless wiretapping program (aka the "Terrorist Surveillance Program").

Lindsay, I'm confused by this description; in particular, your "not." I had the opposite reading of the article. I thought that Gonzalez was saying that the visit was about a different program, while Mueller was saying that it was about the much-discussed program. From the article:

"The discussion was on a national -- an NSA program that has been much discussed, yes," Mueller said in response to a question from Rep. Sheila Jackson Lee (D-Tex.). Mueller told another lawmaker that he had serious reservations about the warrantless wiretapping program.

I'm rather sleep-deprived right now. Am I misreading something? I'm a little confused about what Gonzalez is doing. He's clearly lying, but he seems to be picking lies that are easily checkable, and easily shown to be lies, so I'm not sure what his intent is.

AH, I hear you. I'm sleep deprived, too. So, we're in the same boat. :)

Basically, all I've read about Mueller's testimony so far comes from WaPo and TPMM. Here's the passage from the WaPo article:

Mueller's remarks to the House Judiciary Committee differed from testimony earlier in the week from Gonzales, who told a Senate panel that a legal disagreement aired at the hospital did not concern the NSA program. Details of the program, kept secret for four years, were confirmed by President Bush in December 2005, provoking wide controversy on Capitol Hill.

"The discussion was on a national -- an NSA program that has been much discussed, yes," Mueller said in response to a question from Rep. Sheila Jackson Lee (D-Tex.). Mueller told another lawmaker that he had serious reservations about the warrantless wiretapping program.

So, now that I think about it, I'm the one who lost the thread. Sorry.

In his testimony, Comey refused to specify which program they were talking about at the hospital. (Which made me wonder at the time why he was so careful not to specify which program it was, given that the NSA/TSP program had already been exposed.)

Later, Gonzales said that he and Card weren't there to talk about the NSA/TSP program. Does anyone remember whether his various testimonies are self-contradictory on that point?

Subsequently, Mueller testified that AG and AC were there to talk about the NSA/TSP program.

My bad. Thanks for pointing this out.

It's pretty bad when the facts are so overwhelming that even another Bush loyalist is forced to contradict you. Gonzales' goose may be cooked this time.

Let's hope so.

I can't decide if Gonzales is feeding the committee very carefully crafted lies or half truths or clever dodges or whatever they are, or if he's simply stupid like his boss.

Cfrost - it's not an either/or.

cfrost, given that Gonzalez knows how important his testimony is, and how much time he's had to prepare for it, I'm betting that they're carefully crafted lies. In his http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=fJgJgaXXDTI>testimony posted on YouTube, he says

The disagreement that occurred, and the reason for the visit to the hospital center, was rela..., was about other intelligence activities; it was not about the terrorist program that the president announced to the American people.

He must have known that after his testimony, the Mueller, and the senators briefed before the hospital visit, would say that it was about the TSP. So probably he's planning to make a fine distinction, and say that it wasn't about the TSP "that the president announced to the American people." After all, after the hospital visit, Comey was successful in changing the TSP to a different, slightly less illegal TSP.

Although stupid is probably part of it to. The Daily Show has a hilarious clip where he was asked "Were any other U.S. attorneys fired?," and he answered "No. . . Well, yes, but no other attorneys were fired without cause." Whoops!

Incidentally, my reading of this story is that key members of the Congress, both Democrat and Republican, were briefed that the president was wiretapping the American public without warrants, and did nothing about it. Is this correct? If so, it's disappointing (I wish I could pretend it was shocking at this point). Especially since I consider the TSP to be the #1 impeachable offense of this administration; but Congressional leaders can hardly make a convincing case for impeachment based on a program they long knew about.

Cfrost- it's not an either/or, it's a this, that, and everything else; and while you're at it, throw in the kitchen sink.

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