More Republicans call for Gonzales' head
"The American people deserve an attorney general, the chief law enforcement officer of our country, whose honesty and capability are beyond question," Hagel said in a statement. "Attorney General Gonzales can no longer meet this standard. He has failed this country. He has lost the moral authority to lead."
"When you have to spend more time up here on Capitol Hill instead of running the Justice Department, maybe you ought to think about [resigning]," Roberts told The Associated Press.
Democrats, meanwhile, continued the full-court press. Four Democratic senators sent Gonzales a letter asking him to square Jim Comey's description of a dramatic confrontation over the NSA wiretapping program -- complete with threats to resign -- with Gonzales' February 2006 testimony that there had "not been any serious disagreement" over it.
Rereading the testimony (Part I and Part II), one sees that Gonzales was being very careful in his language:
SCHUMER: There was dissent; is that right?
GONZALES: Of course, Senator. As I indicated, this program implicates some very difficult issues. The war on terror has generated several issues that are very, very complicated.
GONZALES: Lawyers disagree.
SCHUMER: I concede all those points. Let me ask you about some specific reports.
It's been reported by multiple news outlets that the former number two man in the Justice Department, the premier terrorism prosecutor, Jim Comey, expressed grave reservations about the NSA program and at least once refused to give it his blessing. Is that true?
GONZALES: Senator, here's the response that I feel that I can give with respect to recent speculation or stories about disagreements.
There has not been any serious disagreement -- and I think this is accurate -- there has not been any serious disagreement about the program that the president has confirmed. There have been disagreements about other matters regarding operations which I cannot get into.
I will also say...
SCHUMER: But there was some -- I'm sorry to cut you off -- but there was some dissent within the administration. And Jim Comey did express, at some point -- that's all I asked you -- some reservations.
GONZALES: The point I want to make is that, to my knowledge, none of the reservations dealt with the program that we're talking about today. They dealt with operational capabilities that we're not talking about today.
As you can see, Gonzales was very careful to only talk about the then-current iteration of the NSA program -- without mentioning that the program existed in that form only because of the vehement objections described by Comey. So did he lie? No. Did he mislead? Yes. Deliberately? Unclear. He was obviously trying to suggest that the reports about Comey's actions were somehow inaccurate, without coming right out and saying it (which would have been a lie). And it's also clear that he didn't want to openly and candidly discuss the process that led to the NSA program then in operation. But dodging questions isn't the same thing as lying. And some of the blame for the lack of clarity also lies with Schumer, who didn't try to nail Gonzales down on what he meant by "they dealt with operational capabilities that we're not talking about today."
As far as relevance to his continued tenure, however, I'm not sure this has any. Gonzales didn't actually lie, and the underlying history (was there disagreement?) isn't very important, so it's not a legal or moral issue. To the extent that Congress doesn't like having its questions dodged this could be a political issue, but Congress is already mad at him about much worse acts; this isn't going to move the needle much one way or the other in that regard.
Next up: Monica Goodling's immunized testimony a week from now, on May 23. I'm going to try to listen to most of it.