Deadline Looms for Gonzales to Clarify Testimony
RENEE MONTAGNE, host:
It's the deadline today for the attorney general to revise testimony he gave to the Senate Judiciary Committee. That testimony was about domestic spying and other issues. The chairman of the committee says if he isn't satisfied with Alberto Gonzalez's response, he may request an investigation into whether Gonzales intentionally misled senators.
Several Democrats on the committee have already said they want Gonzales investigated for perjury. They've asked the Justice Department solicitor general to appoint a special prosecutor. That puts the solicitor general in an uncomfortable and unusual position.
NPR's Ari Shapiro reports.
ARI SHAPIRO: These three former Justice Department officials all agree that solicitor general is one of the best jobs in the federal government. And they agree that right now they're really happy not to be him.
Professor DREW DAYS (Law, Yale University; Former Solicitor General): It's a very difficult situation in which he finds himself.
Mr. CHUCK COOPER (Former Solicitor General): I wouldn't want to be in his shoes.
Professor DOUG KMIEC (Law, Pepperdine University; Former Solicitor General): I'm certain the solicitor general would say, oh, but would this cup pass from me?
SHAPIRO: That's Drew Days, who was solicitor general under President Clinton, and Chuck Cooper and Doug Kmiec, both of whom worked under Republicans.
As solicitor general, you get to argue cases before the Supreme Court on behalf of the federal government. People sometimes call you the 10th justice, and as Yale Law Professor Days says…
Prof. DAYS: It has really the tradition of being removed from the day-to-day rough and tumble of politics.
SHAPIRO: The solicitor general is third in line at the Justice Department. During the three years that Days held the post that rarely came up.
Prof. DAYS: As solicitor general, there were few occasions when I served as acting attorney general, but that was for a matter of hours, in some cases, or a day at the most.
SHAPIRO: And you we're never asked to appoint a special prosecutor to investigate your boss?
Prof. DAYS: No. Thankfully, I was not asked to do anything remotely like that.
SHAPIRO: But that's what Solicitor General Paul Clement is being asked to do now. In the controversy surrounding fired U.S. attorneys, the top Justice Department officials are the subjects of an ongoing investigation. Clement is the most senior Justice Department official untouched by the scandal.
So, when a group of Democrats wanted a special prosecutor to investigate Attorney General Gonzales, they sent the request to Clement who is now acting attorney general in this controversy. Chuck Cooper says, although it's a difficult situation for anyone to be in…
Mr. COOPER: I know Paul Clement. He is a man of scrupulous integrity, and whatever responsibility his office calls upon him to do, he will do and do it according to all the facts and circumstances.
SHAPIRO: Even if that means initiating a perjury investigation into the attorney general. Cooper doesn't believe that step is necessary since the Justice Department's inspector general is already investigating related issues. This isn't the first time a solicitor general has been put in this kind of uncomfortable position. During Watergate, the attorney general and his deputy both refused to follow President Nixon's order to fire a special prosecutor. They were dismissed, which left the job to Solicitor General Robert Bork.
Professor NEIL KINKOPF (Law, Georgia State University): And Robert Bork carried out the order.
SHAPIRO: Neil Kinkopf is a Georgia State University law professor.
Prof. KINKOPF: That's sort of a black eye on the solicitor general's office, and Clement is being presented with an opportunity to go the other way and perhaps redress that a little bit.
SHAPIRO: Pepperdine law professor Doug Kmiec thinks the case just isn't strong enough to require a special prosecutor.
Prof. KMIEC: There has been allegations of wrongdoing, but there really is not, in hand, a coherent body of evidence that gives right to believe that you have probable cause to prove a crime beyond a reasonable doubt. The four Democrats who called on Clement to appoint a special prosecutor did not specifically ask for a reply, and Clement has not yet made any public about the request.
Justice Department spokesman Dean Boyd said Clement received the letter and he's reviewing it.
Ari Shapiro, NPR News, Washington.
NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by Verb8tm, Inc., an NPR contractor, and produced using a proprietary transcription process developed with NPR. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.