Abu Gonzales admits he mislead Congress.
Attorney General Alberto R. Gonzales appeared to suggest yesterday that the Bush administration’s warrantless domestic surveillance operations may extend beyond the outlines that the president acknowledged in mid-December.
In a letter yesterday to senators in which he asked to clarify his Feb. 6 testimony to the Senate Judiciary Committee, Gonzales also seemed to imply that the administration’s original legal justification for the program was not as clear-cut as he indicated three weeks ago.
At that appearance, Gonzales confined his comments to the National Security Agency’s warrantless wiretapping program, saying that President Bush had authorized it “and that is all that he has authorized.”
But in yesterday’s letter, Gonzales, citing that quote, wrote: “I did not and could not address . . . any other classified intelligence activities.” Using the administration’s term for the recently disclosed operation, he continued, “I was confining my remarks to the Terrorist Surveillance Program as described by the President, the legality of which was the subject” of the Feb. 6 hearing.
“It seems to me he is conceding that there are other NSA surveillance programs ongoing that the president hasn’t told anyone about,” said Bruce Fein, a government lawyer in the Nixon, Carter and Reagan administrations.
On Feb. 6, Gonzales testified that the Justice Department considered the use-of-force vote as a legal green light for the wiretapping “before the program actually commenced.”
But in yesterday’s letter, he wrote, “these statements may give the misimpression that the Department’s legal analysis has been static over time.”
Fein said the letter seems to suggest that the Justice Department actually embraced the use-of-force argument some time later, prompting Gonzales to write that the legal justification “has evolved over time.”
One government source who has been briefed on the issue confirmed yesterday that the administration believed from the beginning that the president had the constitutional authority to order the eavesdropping, and only more recently added the force resolution argument as a legal justification.