During the White press briefing today, a reporter asked press secretary Tony Snow whether Alberto Gonzales had lost his “credibility” due to his apparently misleading testimony to Congress. Snow said he hadn’t, claiming “nobody’s really laid a glove” on the Attorney General yet:
QUESTION: But has it reached the point for the attorney general to — he’s lost his effectiveness and his credibility?
SNOW: Well, you know, what’s interesting is that there have been all these hearings on the attorney general and yet nobody’s really laid a glove on him. [...] At this point, we have hundreds of hearings that have produced bupkis.
Snow is dead wrong. Attorney General Alberto Gonzales’ multiple appearances before Congress have left his reputation in tatters. Sen. Patrick Leahy said, “I don’t trust you.” Sen. Arlen Specter said, “I do not find your testimony credible.” The Washington Post writes, “At what point does someone lose so much credibility that he should no longer serve in public office?”
In particular, the contradictions in Gonzales statements regarding the administration’s warrantless wiretapping program has members of the Senate Judiciary Committee considering an inquiry into whether he has perjured himself. In attempting to “clarify” his previous misstatments, Gonzales only appears to have lied again to Congress.
In fact, contrary to Snow’s claim that Congress never “laid a glove” on Gonzales, lawmakers yesterday leveled one blow after another to the Attorney General’s already-bruised credibility. Watch a compilation of some of the most vigorous exchanges:
SEN. PATRICK LEAHY (D-VT): This supposed self-examination, with no involvement by the courts, no reports to Congress, no other outside check, essentially translates to trust us.
Well, with a history of civil liberty abuses and cover-ups, this administration has squandered our trust. I am not willing to accept a simple statement of trust us. I don’t trust you.
SEN. ARLEN SPECTER (R-PA): if you won’t answer that question, my suggestion to you, Attorney General Gonzales, is that you review this transcript very, very carefully. I do not find your testimony credible, candidly.
When I look at the issue of credibility, it is my judgment that when Mr. Comey was testifying he was talking about the terrorist surveillance program and that inference arises in a number of ways, principally because it was such an important matter that led you and the chief of staff to Ashcroft’s hospital room.
When you say that you were going to get Ashcroft’s approval on another intelligence matter, it’s strains credulity that it would be other than the foremost program to go to his hospital room when he’s under sedation. And when you testified here this morning earlier that you were looking to see if Attorney General Ashcroft had sufficient capacity to answer the question as to the — as to his giving his approval, the man was under sedation.
It just — all the attendant circumstances make it appear, lead to the inference that we’re dealing with the terrorist surveillance program.
So my suggestion to you is that you review your testimony very carefully. The chairman’s already said that the committee’s going to review your testimony very carefully to see if your credibility has been breached to the point of being actionable.
SEN. SHELDON WHITEHOUSE (D-RI): And yet here, where there is something that you could do about it, since our past discussion, nothing has been done, the memo that has your signature makes it worse, and we’ve agreed that this connection between the White House and the Department of Justice is the most dangerous one from a point of view of the potential for the infiltration of political influence into the department.
How, in the light of all those facts, can I give you any credibility for being serious about the promises you’ve made that you intend to clean up the mess you’ve made?
SEN. CHARLES SCHUMER (D-NY): in all due respect, you’re just saying, Well, it was clarified with the reporter, and you don’t even know what he said. You don’t even know what the clarification is.
Sir, how can you say that you should stay on as attorney general when we go through exercise like this, where you’re bobbing and weaving and ducking to avoid admitting that you deceived the committee? And now you don’t even know.
I’ll give you another chance: You’re hanging your hat on the fact that you clarified the statement two days later. You’re now telling us that is was a spokesperson who did it. What did that spokesperson say?
Tell me now, how do you clarify this?
GONZALES: I don’t know, but I’ll find out and get back to you.
SCHUMER: How do you clarify this? This is serious, because it looks like you’ve deceived us.
LEAHY: In your own words, how would you clarify it?
SCHUMER: How would you clarify it? You don’t need to — if you, sir…
GONZALES: What I would — what I would say — let me answer the question.
SCHUMER: If you want to be attorney general, you should be able to clarify it yourself, right now, and not leave it to a spokesperson who you don’t know what he said.
Tell me how you clarify it.
GONZALES: Mr. Comey’s testimony about the hospital visit was about other intelligence activities — disagreement over other intelligence activities. That’s how we’d clarify it.
SCHUMER: That is not what Mr. Comey says. That is not what the people in the room say.
[...]Who sent you to the hospital?
GONZALES: Senator, what I can say is we’d had a very important meeting at the White House over one of the most…
SCHUMER: I didn’t ask that. I didn’t ask…
SCHUMER: You’ve discussed the meeting…
GONZALES: I’m answering your question, Senator…
SCHUMER: Who sent you?
GONZALES: … if I could.
SCHUMER: Did anyone tell you to go?
GONZALES: It was one of the most important programs for the United States. It was important — had been authorized by the president.
I’ll just say that the chief of staff to the president of the United States and the counsel to the president of the United States went to the hospital on behalf of the president of the United States.
SCHUMER: Did the president ask you to go?
GONZALES: We were there on behalf of the president of the United States.
SCHUMER: I didn’t ask you that.
GONZALES: I understand…
SCHUMER: Did the president ask you to go?
GONZALES: Senator, we were there on behalf of the president of the United States.
SCHUMER: Why can’t you answer that question?
GONZALES: That’s the answer that I can give you, Senator.
SCHUMER: Well, can you explain to me why you can’t answer it directly?
GONZALES: Senator, again, we were there on an important program for this president, on behalf of the president of the United States.
SCHUMER: Did you talk to the president about it beforehand?
GONZALES: Senator, obviously, there were a lot of discussions that happened during that period of time. This involved one of the president’s premier programs…
SCHUMER: I understand. But, sir, you’re before this committee. You are before this committee. You’re supposed to answer questions. You’ve not claimed any privilege. I don’t think there is any here. And I asked you a question. And you refuse to answer it.
GONZALES: Senator, if…
GONZALES: I’ll go back — if I can answer the question, I will answer the question…
SCHUMER: I know. But could you tell me why you can’t answer this question?
GONZALES: Senator, because, again, this relates to activities that existed when I was in the White House. And because of that, with respect to your specific questions, I will go back and see whether or not I can answer the question.
SEN. RUSS FEINGOLD (D-WI): hen 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.