Justice Dept. Inspector General Announces Investigation of A.G. Gonzales Congressional Testimony

By DAVID STOUT  The New York Times  August 30, 2007
WASHINGTON, Aug. 30 — The Justice Department’s inspector general said today that he was investigating whether Attorney General Alberto R. Gonzales deliberately misled Congress about dissent within the Bush administration over a terrorist surveillance program and the firings of federal prosecutors.
The inquiry, disclosed in a letter from Inspector General Glenn A. Fine to the Senate Judiciary Committee, suggested the possibility of a wider and deeper investigation into the activities and truthfulness of Mr. Gonzales conducted by the very department that he heads. Mr. Gonzales announced on Monday that he was resigning, effective Sept. 17.
It has been known for some time that Mr. Fine’s office has been looking into the actions of Mr. Gonzales and other high Justice Department officials regarding the dismissals of nine United States attorneys last year, under circumstances that even Mr. Gonzales and his allies have acknowledged were puzzling and were accompanied by vague and contradictory explanations.
But in his letter to Senator Patrick J. Leahy, the Vermont Democrat who is chairman of the judiciary panel, Mr. Fine made it clear that he was also looking into whether Mr. Gonzales made statements to Congress that were “intentionally false, misleading, or inappropriate,? both about the firing of the prosecutors and about the terrorist-surveillance program, as Mr. Leahy had asked him to do.
His office “has ongoing investigations that relate to most of the subjects addressed by the attorney general’s testimony that you identified,? Mr. Fine told Mr. Leahy.
“In particular,? Mr. Fine went on, his office is conducting a review “relating to the terrorist-surveillance program, as well as a follow-up review of the use of national security letters,? which investigators use to obtain information on e-mail messages, telephone calls and other records from private companies without court approval.
In addition, Mr. Fine said, his office is conducting an inquiry, along with the department’s Office of Professional Responsibility, into the removal of the prosecutors and other hiring and firing practices at the Justice Department.
Senator Leahy has been one of Mr. Gonzales’s severest critics, and he has vowed to continue to press for investigations of Mr. Gonzales, even though Mr. Gonzales is stepping down.
Mr. Leahy and other Gonzales critics have zeroed in on testimony the attorney general gave five weeks ago before the Judiciary Committee, suggesting that a heated dispute within the Bush administration early in 2004 was not about the warrantless terrorist-surveillance program, which had not yet been made public then; “other intelligence activities? were the subject of the dispute, he testified.
Lying to Congress is a crime. But courts have held that a person cannot be convicted of perjury just because he is a “wily witness? who tries to restrict his answers to the literal truth. Some Gonzales supporters who reviewed his testimony said his answers may have been deliberately narrow, perhaps to avoid revealing national security secrets, but were not necessarily intentional falsehoods.
But Mr. Leahy has said publicly that he simply does not trust Mr. Gonzales.
In a statement today, Mr. Leahy said he was pleased at the scope of Mr. Fine’s inquiry. “His investigations can help restore independence and accountability, which have been sorely lacking at the Justice Department,? the senator said.

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