Sen. Russ Feingold (D-WI), a member of the Senate Intelligence Committee, challenged Gonzales on his statements regarding the administration’s wiretapping activities. “I’ve had the opportunity to review the classified matters at issue here,” said Feingold. “And I believe that your testimony was misleading, at best. … It’s hard to see anything but a pattern of intentionally misleading Congress again and again.” Watch it:
SEN. RUSS FEINGOLD (D-WI): With respect to the NSA’s illegal wiretapping program, last year in hearings before this committee and the House Judiciary Committee, you stated that, quote, There has not been any serious disagreement about the program that the president has confirmed, unquote, that any disagreement that did occur, quote, did not deal with the program that I am here testifying about today, unquote and that, quote, The disagreement that existed does not relate to the program the president confirmed in December to the American people, unquote.
Two months ago, you sent a letter to me and other members of this committee defending that testimony and asserting that it remains accurate. And I believe you said that again today.
Now, as you probably know, I’m a member of the Intelligence Committee. And therefore, I’m one of the members of this committee who has been briefed on the NSA wiretapping program and other sensitive intelligence programs.
I’ve had the opportunity to review the classified matters at issue here. And I believe that your testimony was misleading, at best.
I am prevented from elaborating in this setting, but I intend to send you a classified letter explaining why I have come to that conclusion.
Mr. Attorney General, the integrity of the congressional testimony of the highest law enforcement official in this country is an extremely important matter. I’d therefore ask that after reviewing that letter, you provide clarification in a classified setting.
But also please consider how you can address this issue publicly to dispel the doubts about your veracity that this episode has raised.
Will you agree to do that?
GONZALES: I certainly would endeavor to do that, Senator.
I guess I’m very surprised at your conclusion that I may have been misleading, if, in fact, you understood the briefings in the Intel Committees, quite frankly.
I find your statement surprising, so I look forward to your correspondence.
FEINGOLD: I look forward to your — the information in the classified setting and to your public attempts to set this straight. And I strongly disagree with your analysis of how somebody would come down as to whether you were misleading.
And, in fact, I’m appalled in addition by your efforts today to try to shift responsibility for the effort to strong-arm Attorney General Ashcroft.
First, given your history of misleading this committee, I don’t know why we should trust your account of the situation.
Secondly, unless you’re talking about a covert action, the limited gang of eight briefing itself was a violation of the National Security Act.
And, third, it was you, Mr. Attorney General, who visited the hospital to try to strong-arm a sick man who had temporarily relinquished his responsibility. You — you are responsible for those actions.
PROTESTER: You are shameful!
FEINGOLD: At your confirmation hearing in January, 2005, I asked you whether the president has the power to authorize warrantless wiretapping under the theories of the torture memo, and you called my question, quote, hypothetical, unquote, when you knew full well — full well — that this had been going on for years.
You could have spoken to me after the hearing and told me that there was something I should know that you couldn’t explain in open session, but you did not.
Then, during your campaign to reauthorize the Patriot Act, you told Congress that there were no abuses of that law that we needed to worry about, even though you had documents showing there had actually been problems with the Patriot Act and other surveillance authorities.
Then again last year you came to this committee and told us that there had not been any serious disagreement about the warrantless wiretapping program the president confirmed in late 2005, a statement I believe was misleading at best.
In every case you somehow managed to come up with some convoluted theory for why your statement was technically accurate. When you look at all these incidents together, it’s hard to see anything but a pattern of intentionally misleading Congress again and again.
Shouldn’t the attorney general of the United States meet a higher standard?
GONZALES: The attorney general of the United States should try to meet the highest standard. And I have tried to meet that standard, Senator.
FEINGOLD: Do you feel you’ve met that standard?
GONZALES: Obviously, there have been instances where I have not met that standard, and I’ve tried to correct that.
When those standards have not been met, I’ve tried to make amends and try to clarify to the committee and to the American people about statements that I’ve made.