On Monday, Attorney General Alberto Gonzales testifies before the Senate Judiciary Committee about President Bush’s warrantless domestic surveillance programs. Here are some critical questions he must address —
1. Why did you mislead the Judiciary Committee about Bush’s warrantless surveillance during your confirmation hearing last year?
While under oath during his confirmation hearings in January 2005 Gonzales dismissed an inquiry by Sen. Russ Feingold questions about warrantless wiretapping as a “hypothetical situation” and said that it is “not the policy or the agenda of this president to authorize actions that would be in contravention of our criminal statutes.” In fact, Gonzales had personally approved warrantless domestic wiretapping in contravention of the Foreign Intelligence surveillance act on multiple occasions.
2. If you are so confident that this program is legal, why don’t you let the FISA court review it and make an independent legal judgment?
Sen. Arlen Specter (R-PA), the chairman of the Judiciary Committee, suggested this today during his appearance on Meet the Press:
SEN. SPECTER: I think this issue, Tim, of the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court is really big, big, big, because the President””the administration could take this entire program and lay it on the line to that court and go through what is involved in some detail, but they don’t want to deal with Congress because of leaks. That court has really an outstanding record of not leaking, out of being experts, and they would be preeminently well-qualified to evaluate this program and either say it’s OK or it’s not OK. And if they said it was OK, it would give the American people great reassurance; and if they said it wasn’t OK, knowing all the facts, then that ought to be changed.
MR. RUSSERT: Have you asked the administration, the President, to take the program and present it to the court?
SEN. SPECTER: Yeah, I have. I did that, in effect, in the letter that I sent to the attorney general, and his answer was unresponsive, simply said something like, “Well, we’ll exhaust all alternatives.”
As Specter said, the FISA court would be an ideal body to review the legality of the program because they are experts in this area of the law and regularly deal with highly classified information.
3. Can you guarantee this program has never — either intentionally or unintentionally — captured communications of political opponents or journalists?
Here, the burden of proof is on the administration. The Pentagon has already admitted to improperly targeting anti-war protesters with its domestic surveillance program. General Michael Hayden, who headed NSA when the program was created, was asked today on Fox News Sunday and refused to answer directly:
FOX’s CHRIS WALLACE: Let me ask another question which I’m sure concerns a lot of people. Can you assure Americans that there is no spying on political opponents or political critics of the Bush administration?
HAYDEN: Chris, this is focused on al Qaeda. The only justification we have to undertake this program is to detect and prevent attacks against the United States. We don’t have the time or the lawful authority to do anything except that.
It sounds nice, but it doesn’t answer the question. We’ll be expecting more from Gonzales on Monday.