Monday, July 30, 2007

Gonzales the truthteller?

The New York Times (alert, "liberal media" claimants) has a go at absolving Alberto Gonzales of lying to Congress.

The question, you may recall (primer here), involves whether Gonzales lied to Congress about the amount of internal dissent over the NSA eavesdropping program. There were three possible answers:

1. Yes.

2. No, because being a misleading weasel he was referring to the later, modified version of the program rather than the earlier, controversial one.

3. No, because he was referring to a totally separate program.

Earlier stories suggested the answer was #2, but the Times story suggests that it's #3, and that Gonzales was referring to the NSA data-mining program, not the warrantless eavesdropping program.

There's some self-congratulation at work here, inasmuch as the Times first broke the story of the data-mining effort. But it's a plausible explanation.

The only problem is, if the Times is right, why did James Comey -- the man whose testimony set off this whole controversy -- suggest that the whole thing was about the eavesdropping program, not the data-mining effort? Both of them can't be right, can they?

They can -- if we accept the premise that both Comey and Gonzales were punctilious about details to the point of silliness.

Take this scenario out for a spin:

The "eavesdropping program", broadly defined, includes both data-mining and wiretapping.

When it came time to reauthorize it, the data-mining provision was far more controversial than the wiretapping provision.

So the confrontation at the hospital was mostly about the data-mining provision, but it was all part of the decision whether to reauthorize the overall eavesdropping program.

Thus Comey is right when he describes the confrontation in the context of the eavesdropping program. And Gonzales is right when he splits the program into parts in order to make a distinction between the publicly admitted wiretapping effort and the still-unadmitted data-mining effort.

But neither Comey nor Gonzales bothers to clarify their testimony -- despite it being abundantly clear that their comments have caused confusion -- because doing so would require admitting the existence of the data-mining effort.

That's a pretty tortuous path of speculation and assumption in order to show that neither man lied. And it doesn't explain why they couldn't simply explain the distinction in private briefings. So to adopt this scenario, you must further believe that the Congressmembers have been so briefed, and are posing knowingly misleading and false questions to Gonzales in public simply to embarrass him.

Even if you believe that about Democrats, why would you believe it about the Republicans on the panel? And what would keep Gonzales from making a pointed rebuttal, along the lines of "I've explained all that in private, as you well know, Senator"? So that, too, seems unlikely.

All in all, it seems difficult to reconcile Gonzales' and Comey's testimony in a way that results in outcome #3. Might the Times story be correct? Yes. But if it is, then Comey either lied or misled. Of the two, though, Gonzales is less trustworthy and had more incentive to lie. So the answer seems more likely to be #2, with #1 as a possibility.

Update: Tully over at Stubborn Facts does, indeed, assume the worst about the members of Congress. He doesn't address the inconsistencies with that theory, though.

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14 Comments:

Anonymous Anonymous said...

"Of the two, though, Gonzales is less trustworthy and had more incentive to lie. So the answer seems more likely to be #2, with #1 as a possibility."

Typical Democrat conclusion: give Schumer's friend and the Dems EVERY benefit of the doubt and none to the Republican!!

"So to adopt this scenario, you must further believe that the Congressmembers have been so briefed, and are posing knowingly misleading and false questions to Gonzales in public simply to embarrass him."

BINGO!! You hit on the answer right there. That is EXACTLY what Leahy and Schumer are engaging in: a partisan gotcha game of semantics. It's absolutely PATHETIC what these guys are doing. TRULY pathetic.

And all the while the FISA program is so out-dated and they sit on their thumbs and do NOTHING about new legislation for it. These Senators are content that parts of our national security has been weakened through their efforts and some of it is operating on 1970's technology. And yet...they do NOTHING.

JP5

7/30/2007 2:15 PM  
Blogger Sean Aqui said...

Typical Democrat conclusion: give Schumer's friend and the Dems EVERY benefit of the doubt and none to the Republican!!

I find Comey -- not exactly a Democrat -- more credible than Gonzales. That's hardly an unreasonable conclusion to draw.

That is EXACTLY what Leahy and Schumer are engaging in: a partisan gotcha game of semantics.

A nice theory, but again you ignore the shortcomings of that theory -- namely, the involvement of Congressional Republicans and how easy it would be for Gonzales or the White House to expose the fraud.

7/30/2007 2:25 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

"I find Comey -- not exactly a Democrat -- more credible than Gonzales. That's hardly an unreasonable conclusion to draw."

Comey is a friend of Senator Schumer who is on the Judiciary Committee that is drilling Gonzales. I find Gonzales more credible.

"A nice theory, but again you ignore the shortcomings of that theory -- namely, the involvement of Congressional Republicans and how easy it would be for Gonzales or the White House to expose the fraud."

You call being forced to divulge highly classified programs in an effort to defend yourself "easy?"

And yes, anyone with 1/2 a brain KNOWS that Leahy and Schumer are simply playing a partisan political game of gotcha over semantics.

BTW, what does any of this have to do with the U.S. Attorney firings? A bit off-track, are we not? And oooohhhhh.....a really big deal: they claim he LIED about whether or not there was an argument back then. Geez. How incredibly unimportant and immaterial to anything.

Leahy & Schumer: two PATHETIC peas in a pod. Even one of our Rino's.....Arlen Specter is now saying that Schumer is just politicizing this. When they have Specter turn away from them.....you know it's bad.

JP5

7/30/2007 2:50 PM  
Blogger Sean Aqui said...

I find Gonzales more credible.

I'm shocked. ;)

So are you calling Comey a liar, then? You almost have to, if you believe Gonzales.

You call being forced to divulge highly classified programs in an effort to defend yourself "easy?"


Yep, when it's done in private briefings. In the public hearings Gonzales could still have called the senators to task by referring to the private meetings, without divulging anything meaningful to the public. I gave an example above.

BTW, what does any of this have to do with the U.S. Attorney firings?

Not much; does it have to? That's simply one of the controversies surrounding Gonzales, not the only one. Congresscritters understandably get irritated when they think they're being lied to, regardless of what it's about.

they claim he LIED about whether or not there was an argument back then. Geez. How incredibly unimportant and immaterial to anything.

Well, he lied about it (allegedly) in an effort to paint it as uncontroversial, in order to head off criticism or curtailment of the program. So that's a little bit of a big deal. As is lying to Congress, period.

But in general, I agree. As I stated in my very first post on the topic, that the lie, if it was a lie, wasn't about anything very important.

That doesn't excuse the lie, of course, nor suggest he should not be pilloried for lying if indeed he did.

7/30/2007 3:12 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

"So are you calling Comey a liar, then? You almost have to, if you believe Gonzales."

And YOU are NOT calling Gonzales a liar? But no----I'm not calling Comey a liar. I think memories of things differ and they get a bit slanted and embellished. Just because it was his OPINION that they were putting pressure on the poor sick man in the hospital, doesn't mean they were....or even that Ashcroft thought they were.

"In the public hearings Gonzales could still have called the senators to task by referring to the private meetings, without divulging anything meaningful to the public."

And that is EXACTLY what he did. He mentioned the debate about the other intelligence activities. In fact, these entire hearings could be done in private where the Senators could get more specific answers....but of course, they are not interested in that. They want the show!!!

"But in general, I agree. As I stated in my very first post on the topic, that the lie, if it was a lie, wasn't about anything very important.

That doesn't excuse the lie, of course, nor suggest he should not be pilloried for lying if indeed he did."

Well, I'll tell ya; this calling every little word or phrase "LIES" when some things are clearly a person's opinion on a matter is getting just a bit ridiculous. AND remember......your guy or gal's administration may be in there next. Be careful what might come back around to you. These games of political "gotcha" need to stop. Save the hearings and investigations for truly IMPORTANT matters; not witch hunting, hoping to find something simply because you don't like an administration.

For instance, has there been a HEARING yet on Congressman William Jefferson's $90,000 cold cash? Is he STILL sitting in Congress???

JP5

7/30/2007 5:39 PM  
Blogger Sean Aqui said...

And YOU are NOT calling Gonzales a liar?

#1, if I were it would be irrelevant to your answer. #2, I'm not. I'm saying "Gonzales lied" is one of two possible explanations.

But no----I'm not calling Comey a liar. I think memories of things differ and they get a bit slanted and embellished.

I find it unlikely that Comey, who was present for the entire time, would be confused as to whether or not Ashcroft was being pressured, and about what.

And that is EXACTLY what he did. He mentioned the debate about the other intelligence activities.

He mentioned them. He did not use them as a rebuttal or a chastisement, as he would if he the senators were knowingly hatchet-jobbing him.

For instance, has there been a HEARING yet on Congressman William Jefferson's $90,000 cold cash? Is he STILL sitting in Congress???

Why would Congress hold a hearing into a case that already involves a criminal investigation? They didn't do it for Cunningham or DeLay or Ney or any of the other Republicans accused of crimes.

7/31/2007 12:38 PM  
Blogger PatHMV said...

Sean, from what I've read, the Democrats running the committee have repeatedly declined private briefings on the subject from the Attorney General.

Also, I'd suggest double-checking exactly what Comey actually said, rather than any newspaper's characterization of it. The Washington Post article you linked to was lacking in direct quotes from Comey about which program was under discussion. In the portion of the transcript available here, he only refers to "a certain classified program."

Later on, Comey was questioned by Sen. Specter, with this exchange:

SPECTER: So the president backed you up. And it was necessary to make changes in the terrorist surveillance program to get the requisite certification by the acting attorney general -- that is you? COMEY: And I may be being overly cautious, but I'm not comfortable confirming what program it was that this related to.

(Full transcript is available here [pdf].

7/31/2007 2:21 PM  
Blogger Sean Aqui said...

Pat: Thanks for the transcript. You're right, Comey was deliberately vague about which program he was discussing. So that puts #3 -- both Comey and Gonzales told the truth -- back into play.

7/31/2007 3:44 PM  
Blogger PatHMV said...

Any time, Sean.

7/31/2007 5:33 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

"I find it unlikely that Comey, who was present for the entire time, would be confused as to whether or not Ashcroft was being pressured, and about what."

I doubt he knew better than Gonzales himself or Ashcroft.


"He mentioned them. He did not use them as a rebuttal or a chastisement, as he would if he the senators were knowingly hatchet-jobbing him."

HUH????

"For instance, has there been a HEARING yet on Congressman William Jefferson's $90,000 cold cash? Is he STILL sitting in Congress???"

"Why would Congress hold a hearing into a case that already involves a criminal investigation? They didn't do it for Cunningham or DeLay or Ney or any of the other Republicans accused of crimes."

I wasn't referring to a criminal investigation. How about the ethics committee? They don't see anything wrong with Jefferson's cohort already admitting guilt and saying he bribed Jefferson? They don't have a problem with the evidence.....$90,000 in the freezer? I'm talking about "ethics"....the kind of hearings they would have surely had on all those you mentioned had they not immediately resigned.


And besides, the Dem leadership has been too busy investigating the Bush administration....about six oversight hearings a day since Democrats took control of Congress. ALL witch hunts.

JP5

7/31/2007 8:34 PM  
Blogger Sean Aqui said...

Ney certainly didn't resign immediately. And DeLay only resigned his leadership position, not his seat. No investigations in either case.

Stop trying to apply a standard to one party that you're unwilling to apply to both.

7/31/2007 8:54 PM  
Blogger Tully said...

DeLay's still fighting his court thing, though he's won all the rounds so far.

But no one really cried much on either side of the aisle when he left Congress. His nickname "The Hammer" was not a term of endearment. Many Republicans breathed a sigh of relief at his exit.

8/01/2007 1:03 PM  
Blogger Sean Aqui said...

DeLay's still fighting his court thing, though he's won all the rounds so far.

Well, except the one to have the whole thing dismissed. Given the huffing and puffing on all sides, we'll have to wait for trial to see whether the case is legit or simply a political smear job.

But no one really cried much on either side of the aisle when he left Congress.

Agreed. Not that that would excuse a political prosecution, but it couldn't have happened to a more deserving guy.

8/01/2007 1:10 PM  
Blogger Tully said...

Oh, it's certainly a political hit job--the question is whether it can hold up. The smart money is against that. The initial indictment (from grand jury #5) was booted with prejudice by the Texas Supremes, who were apparently surprised it even reached them. The second set (from grand jury #7) is all that's left. When you have to keep shopping grand juries like that, it's a hit job.

As I said at the time, it's a tough case to make. That has nothing to do with whether or not DeLay is a sleazoid (he is). But even if the indictments were solid (and they aren't--eminently appealable on several grounds) it's a very iffy conspiracy case and the evidence to estabish the particulars is pretty much vapor.

Not that anyone outside the DeLay camp is crying about that. "Deputy Dan has no friends."

8/01/2007 8:46 PM  

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