ROBERT SIEGEL, Host:
Pressure is building against Attorney General Alberto Gonzales. Four Democrats on the Senate Judiciary Committee today called for a perjury investigation. They said they believe the attorney general lied to them. Shortly after that, FBI Director Robert Mueller contradicted some of the attorney general's sworn Senate testimony.
NPR's Dina Temple-Raston reports.
DINA TEMPLE: If the attorney general is keeping track of how many bad days he's had lately, today would certainly end up being one of his worst. The day began with Senator Charles Schumer and three other members of the Senate Judiciary Committee accusing Gonzales of lying.
SIEGEL: We're here at a sad moment. We're asking the solicitor general to appoint a special counsel to investigate potential perjury by the attorney general. We had all hoped that it wouldn't come to this, but we simply cannot let this abuse of power continue unchecked.
TEMPLE: Schumer was referring to Gonzales testifying months ago that there had been no serious disagreement within the Justice Department about the Terrorist Surveillance Program or TSP. The Justice Department did not return messages for a response.
Gonzales's version of events contradicts testimony by former Deputy Attorney General James Comey. Comey said there had been a major dispute over the program when Gonzales was White House counsel. He recounted one episode in which Attorney General John Ashcroft was in the hospital and Comey was acting attorney general. Comey said Gonzales went to Ashcroft's hospital room and tried to get him to overrule Comey and reauthorize the program.
Gonzales told senators this week that Comey's recollections were wrong. The disagreement was about a different program.
TEMPLE: The disagreement that occurred and the reason for the visit to the hospital, Senator, was about other intelligence activities. It was not about the Terrorist Surveillance Program that the president announced to the American people.
TEMPLE: Today, Mueller supported Comey's version of events.
TEMPLE: I don't dispute what Mr. Comey says.
TEMPLE: Mueller began recounting a conversation he had with Ashcroft when he arrived at the hospital, and that was just minutes after Gonzales left.
TEMPLE: The discussion was that there had been a prior discussion about an NSA program and that the attorney general deferred to Mr. Comey as the person to make whatever decision was to be made.
TEMPLE: Clearly uncomfortable, Mueller also contradicted Gonzales' view that there had not been a disagreement within the Justice Department. He said he had discussed with Comey some reservations he had with the program.
TEMPLE: At a point in time in conversations with Mr. Comey, I had understand the Department of Justice had some concerns about the legality of an NSA program.
TEMPLE: Mueller also revealed that he took notes of what occurred that evening because, in his words, the events at the hospital were unusual.
H: The exchange is with Representative ARTUR DAVIS OF ALABAMA.]
SIEGEL: Tell me why you decided to make notes of your conversation with Mr. Ashcroft.
TEMPLE: It was out of the ordinary.
SIEGEL: What was out of the ordinary, Mr. Mueller?
TEMPLE: Being asked to go to the hospital and that - and be present at that time.
TEMPLE: The revelation that Mueller made notes about the encounter at the hospital is likely to heat things up for Gonzales. The chairman of the Judiciary Committee, Senator Patrick Leahy, sent him a letter saying he had a week to correct his testimony and make it truthful.
Adding insult to injury on the attorney general's very bad day, the Judiciary Committee sent a subpoena to the White House. They want to talk to President Bush's chief political advisor Karl Rove about why the Justice Department summarily fired nine U.S. attorneys. A White House spokesman said the subpoena shows that Congress is out of control.
Dina Temple-Raston, NPR News, Washington.
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