Gonzales Continues Senate Testimony
ALEX COHEN, host:
This is DAY TO DAY. I'm Alex Cohen.
ALEX CHADWICK, host:
I'm Alex Chadwick. In Washington, it's a modest day weather-wise, temperatures is in the 80s. It probably feels much warmer for Attorney General Alberto Gonzales. He's been talking with the Senate Judiciary Committee again, testifying. This is not a happy event. Here's a sample moment with the committee chair, Senator Patrick Leahy of Vermont.
Senator PATRICK LEAHY (Democrat, Vermont; Chairman, Senate Judiciary Committee): Is there anybody left in the Department of Justice who could answer the question?
Mr. ALBERTO GONZALES (Attorney General, U.S. Department of Justice): Of course there is.
Sen. LEAHY: Who?
Mr. GONZALES: With respect to these kinds of decisions…
Sen. LEAHY: Who?
Mr. GONZALES: …will be made by the solicitor general. It was not about the terrorist surveillance program that the president announced to the American people. Now, I would like the opportunity…
Senator ARLEN SPECTER (Republican, Pennsylvania): Mr. Attorney General, do you expect us to believe that?
CHADWICK: And that was Senator Specter there, a Republican but also not a friend to the attorney general in this moment.
Here with us is NPR's Dina Temple-Raston, who covers the Justice Department. Dina, the attorney general has been before the committee before. This truly is not his setting.
DINA TEMPLE-RASTON: No. They've been fairly hostile before and they were equally so today. I mean, the big mystery seems to be how the attorney general has been able to survive this long. Senator Kohl asked the attorney general to explain why the country wouldn't be better served with an attorney general who didn't have all the credibility problems that he clearly has now. And I think we have tape on that question.
Senator HERBERT KOHL (Democrat, Wisconsin): What keeps you in the job, Mr. Attorney General?
Mr. GONZALES: That's a very good question, Senator. I've decided to stay and fix the problem. That's what I - and that's what I have been doing.
TEMPLE-RASTON: Well, this is sort of a new strategy for the attorney general to say that the reason why he's staying in his job is to try and fix the problems within the department. And the truth is people in Washington have been putting bets on how long the attorney general would last for some time. And the reason why he has been able to last is because he's been very true to a constituency of one, and that's President Bush. President Bush has said he has confidence in him and he can stay in office.
CHADWICK: Well, a problem would have been the testimony before this committee a few months ago about how Mr. Gonzales and the then-White House chief of staff, Andrew Card, had gone to the hospital bed of the then-Attorney General John Ashcroft to get him to recertify a domestic surveillance program that needed recertification if it was to continue. And Mr. Gonzales provided his version of the events for the first time about what happened there.
The kind of suggestion was that he had really pressured Mr. Ashcroft when he was not in any condition to kind of defend his views. So what did Mr. Gonzales say?
TEMPLE-RASTON: Well, Gonzales - his version of the events is that he had met with congressional leaders from both parties just before he had made the decision to go and talk to Ashcroft with Andrew Card in - at that hospital in 2004. And he said that congressional leaders had told him that they wanted the domestic surveillance program to be recertified. And that he was not entirely sure that Ashcroft knew that they wanted this or that Comey was going to stand against it. So Gonzales said that he…
CHADWICK: Mr. Comey is the - he was the deputy attorney general then.
TEMPLE-RASTON: Who, at that time, because Mr. Ashcroft was in the hospital for an operation, was acting attorney general, which meant that they needed his approval if they wanted to go ahead with this particular program. And Gonzales essentially said today that he went there to merely apprise Ashcroft in the situation and not to pressure him. And there was a fair bit of skepticism on the part of the committee when he gave that part of the story.
CHADWICK: Any new issues come up today?
TEMPLE-RASTON: Well, you know, we've been covering the same old ground over and over again now with a lot of these committee hearings. You know, who put the U.S. attorneys who were going to be fired on the list, that sort of thing. But the most interesting new tidbit that we had today came from California Senator Dianne Feinstein. She opened up a manual of the Federal Prosecution of Election Offenses, in which she noted that some interesting things were missing from the latest edition. In…
CHADWICK: You know what, Dina? We're going to have to catch that later. We're out of time for this segment now. Thank you. NPR's Dina Temple-Raston from Washington.
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