Tuesday, July 10, 2007

Did Gonzales lie to Congress again?


Let's take a look.

As he sought to renew the USA Patriot Act two years ago, Attorney General Alberto R. Gonzales assured lawmakers that the FBI had not abused its potent new terrorism-fighting powers. "There has not been one verified case of civil liberties abuse," Gonzales told senators on April 27, 2005.

Six days earlier, the FBI sent Gonzales a copy of a report that said its agents had obtained personal information that they were not entitled to have. It was one of at least half a dozen reports of legal or procedural violations that Gonzales received in the three months before he made his statement to the Senate intelligence committee, according to internal FBI documents released under the Freedom of Information Act.

Gonzales' defense? Well, he doesn't make one personally. But Justice officials laid out two main arguments:

He might not have read the reports. Setting aside whether that reflects poorly on his management of the agency, we get to a more germaine criticism: Maybe he shouldn't be making sweeping assertions to Congress if he hasn't actually examined the data in question.

The reported violations weren't "real" violations. By this, officials mean that the violations were more technicalities than actual abuses. And in some cases, this appears to be true: a mistyped phone number in a National Security Letter, for example, which led FBI agents to eavesdrop on the wrong phone line.

Considering Gonzales talked about "abuses" to Congress at the 2005 hearing (he doesn't mention them in his opening statement (pdf), but gets into it a little bit in the full testimony) it appears that he didn't actually lie -- assuming he actually read the reports, and they didn't contain any "verified" instances of abuse. Mistakes and good-faith misjudgments don't really qualify as abuse, though they can be problematic in and of themselves: One reason not to give government sweeping powers is because of the damage such mistakes can cause, and a claim of "it was a mistake" can be used to cover up actual abuses.

Should Gonzales have acknowledged some bureaucratic mishaps? Arguably, yes. But that's not what he was being asked about, and a certain number of mistakes are to be expected in any human endeavor. So unless better evidence emerges about what Gonzales knew at the time of his testimony, accusing him of lying simply isn't supported by the known facts.

Update: A pair of senior Justice Department officials, James Baker and Kenneth Wainstein, said they routinely informed Gonzales about problems with FBI surveillance efforts. But they did not cite instances of "abuse" of the Patriot Act powers. However careful Gonzales may have been with his language, there's still no evidence he lied, or that at the time he knew about anything more than routine bureaucratic slipups that were not the kind of problems Congress was concerned about.

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1 Comments:

Anonymous Anonymous said...

Oh boy. Here they go again!

If the FBI was catching them and turning them in....HOW in the world was that an abuse? An abuse is where you do something knowing that it's wrong and don't do anything about it. Sounds like they were policing themselves quite well. That's NOT an abuse.

JP5

7/10/2007 10:32 PM  

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