Gonzales the truthteller?
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:
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.
NSA, Comey, Gonzales, politics, midtopia