Gonzales Testifies on U.S. Surveillance
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Today, Attorney General Alberto Gonzales confirmed that President Bush called off the Justice Department's investigation into the president's wireless domestic spying program. NPR's Ari Shapiro reports that the attorney general's comment was part of a Senate Judiciary Committee oversight hearing.
ARI SHAPIRO reporting:
In May, the Justice Department's Office of Professional Responsibility shut down its investigation of domestic spying. OPR investigators said they were denied security clearances. At today's hearing, Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Arlen Specter asked who denied those clearances. Attorney General Alberto Gonzales answered...
Mr. ALBERTO GONZALES (Attorney General of the United States): The president of the United States makes decisions about who is ultimately...
Unidentified Man: The president makes the decision not to clear OPR?
GONZALES: As with all decisions that are non operation, in terms of who has access to the program, the president of the United States makes the decision.
SHAPIRO: At a White House briefing later in the day, spokesman Tony Snow explained why the president decided to block the investigation.
Secretary TONY SNOW (White House Press Secretary): There were proper channels for doing legal review and in fact, legal review is done every 45 days and the attorney general himself was involved in it. The Office of Professional Responsibility was not the proper venue for conducting that.
SHAPIRO: Snow said the president wants to limit the number of people who know the details of the program. The tone of today's hearing was occasionally tense. Chairman Specter used part of his opening statement to scold the attorney general for submitting his opening statement late.
Senator ARLEN SPECTER (Republican, Pennsylvania): Serious consideration has been given to you not permitting you to make an opening statement because of your failure to comply with the rules. And let me say, if there is a repetition we will do just that.
Mr. SHAPIRO: Gonzales was allowed to make an opening statement and in it he said terrorism remains his department's top concern.
Mr. GONZALES: Mr. Chairman, today is September 12th to the people of the Department of Justice. And tomorrow will be September 12th again. We are fighting every single day for the security and safety of Americans.
SHAPIRO: But some members of the committee charged the administration with using the fight against terrorism as an excuse to break laws. Ranking democrat Patrick Leahy called the administration allergic to accountability.
Senator PATRICK LEAHY (Democrat, Vermont): I agree with President Reagan, who said trust but verify. This administration asks an enormous amount of trust from us. They don't give much in the way of verification.
SHAPIRO: On another issue, Democrat Charles Schumer of New York accused the White House of a double standard when it investigates leaks. He pointed out that the president lambasted The New York Times disclosure of domestic surveillance but a report about troop movement in the conservative Washington Times newspaper went relatively unnoticed.
Senator CHARLES SCHUMER (Democrat, New York): It seems to the casual observer that it's where the leak appeared, a friendly newspaper, it's okay; a non friendly, not okay.
SHAPIRO: Gonzales said he makes no such distinction.
Mr. GONZALES: For the record, sir, let me just say - whether or not I say anything publicly here on out - I condemn all leaks.
SHAPIRO: Chairman Specter concluded the hearing by noting a story that aired on NPR yesterday morning. That piece described the tense relationship between the Judiciary Committee chairman and the attorney general. Specter said today's four-hour hearing was civil despite the challenging issues being debated.
Sen. SPECTER: This ranks among the real tasks of separation of powers and our respective responsibilities. So we thank you and we renew our request that NPR play our session in its entirety. That concludes our hearing.
SHAPIRO: Ari Shapiro, NPR News - Washington.
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