Watch the Gonzales testimony here.

Leahy just laid down an awesome smackdown. He was asking when the president issued his first authorization for wiretapping, and pressing Gonzales on which law, PRECISELY, allowed the president to ignore the law. Gonzales stumbled and bumbled and finally pulled out the old “I’ve got to have my staff look it up” defense.

Gonzales then pulled out the “9/11” defense, and Leahy just snapped that “I was there during that attack and I joined my fellow Democrats and Republicans in giving the president the tools he needed” to find Bin Laden, “the man who attacked us.” Then he turned and said, “now back to my question.”

It was a thing of political glory.

Update: Ted Kennedy just framed this perfectly, saying if we illegally wiretap, we won’t be able to use this information in court to prosecute terrorists, and it will hurt the efforts of actual front-line NSA agents to go after terrorists. Beautiful.

Gonzales’ responses so far have been that we’re at war, and we’re at war, and we’re at war, and I have to say, both Kennedy and Leahy gave examples of how Democrats should respond to that kind of misdirection: We’ve been at war before. They cited Republican presidents, Republican congressional sources, Republican AGs, and asked why this president, this administration, this war is so much worse, that we need to throw out the constitution in order to not really win it so much. They’re doing well.

Update II: Biden just asked when the war on terrorism will be over. He’s pointing out that if they’re conferring on Bush some kind of “wartime authority,” when does the war stop? He’s also pressing Gonzales on why any judge would refuse to issue a warrant for listening in on two Al Qaeda members talking to each other. In other words, why couldn’t you just get a warrant?

Update III: I would give my left breast to hear somebody ask why, if we’re so concerned about surveilling the enemy, we spied on Quakers and gay rights organizations.

Update IV: Kohl would like to know if there are any limits to the president’s power, if there is any law he cannot ignore because he wants to.

Gonzales is now talking about Congress having the power to declare war. Which Congress, in the case of Iraq, abdicated to Bush, and in the case of the War on Terror, was not mentally present in order to do.

Update V: A protester just stood up and shouted that Gonzales is a fascist, and was led out of the hearing room.

Update VI: Diane Feinstein outlined Gonzales’ strategy quite nicely: that the president has the authority to override FISA, and Congress is at best a kind of housepet which should be fed kibble and ignored. Gonzales is tremendously offended that anyone would dare to suggest either he or the president violated the law.

Are the Democrats on this committee going to be holding a press conference immediately following these hearings to outline and denounce every single one of his prevarications?

Update VII: Shorter Jeff Sessions: Washington and Lincoln and Wilson and Roosevelt violated FISA, even though FISA didn’t exist yet. So now that FISA does exist, we should be able to violate it at will! Or something.

Also, first mention of the CLENIS! Drink!

Update VIII: Feingold overtakes Leahy in the “who’s the sexiest” contest with this: Feingold: The President seems to have a pre-1776 view of the world. That’s the problem.

And I don’t know who put extra fertilizer in Graham’s cornflakes, but he just made our best point for us, that checks and balances are more important in wartime, not less.

Update IX: Durbin just slapped Gonzales by asking where in the force authorization passed by Congress was permission for warrantless wiretapping?

And now Brownback’s laying down the groundwork for either amending or repealing the FISA law to fanwank Bush’s illegal behavior into legality. Goody. That’ll be a fun debate.

Update The Leahy X: Oh, man. He just accused Gonzales of “CYA” and then, after Gonzales dithered around, “Oh, I’m sorry, Mr. Attorney General, I forget you can’t answer any questions that are relevant to these proceedings.”

Choice quote: “Thank God we have a press to at least tell us what you guys are doing!”

Orrin Hatch: Second mention of the CLENIS violating a law that didn’t exist. Drink!

Jesus, shorter Republican party: It isn’t illegal, but if it is, they did it too, even though it isn’t, so they’re bad and we’re not.

Update XI: Chuck Grassley cannot believe we’re still sitting here talking and eating and sleeping and having government at all when there are Muslims out there who want to kill us. Nobody takes our security more seriously than Two Bit Chuck here.

Feingold: Pulls out his gun, cocks it, and blows away the CLENIS defense. He’s got Gonzales stammering and parsing and what the definition of “is, is” and admitting that since the enactment of FISA, only W has violated it.

XII and Final Update: Shorter Feingold: Isn’t it true the president is basically full of shit?

P> Russ’s question: Has the president take any other action that would be illegal if not permitted by his constitutional powers in the use of force authorization? In other words, what the fuck ELSE is going on?

The hearings will continue. Well now, the Democrats certainly aquitted themselves well here. Gonzales was a stammering, dithering, “I’ll have my secretary look it up” mess. I think some of the Republicans are moving to somehow create legislation to legalize what the president’s already doing, and if that’s the case, we should jump on that and bang it like a cheap drum, because if there’s a clearer indication that this administration doesn’t have a policy so much as a set of random twitches in the general direction of “enemies,” I don’t know what it could be.