TELECOM Digest OnLine - Sorted: Gonzales Is Challenged on Wiretaps

Gonzales Is Challenged on Wiretaps

Carol D. Leonnig (
Tue, 31 Jan 2006 20:59:23 -0600

Feingold Says Attorney General Misled Senators in Hearings

By Carol D. Leonnig, Washington Post writer

Sen. Russell Feingold (D-Wis.) charged yesterday that Attorney General
Alberto R. Gonzales misled the Senate during his confirmation hearing
a year ago when he appeared to try to avoid answering a question about
whether the president could authorize warrantless wiretapping of
U.S. citizens.

In a letter to the attorney general yesterday, Feingold demanded to
know why Gonzales dismissed the senator's question about warrantless
eavesdropping as a "hypothetical situation" and "nonsense" during a
Senate Judiciary Committee hearing in January 2005. At the hearing,
Feingold asked Gonzales where the president's authority ends and
whether Gonzales believed the president could, for example, act in
contravention of existing criminal laws and spy on U.S. citizens
without a warrant.

Gonzales said that it was impossible to answer such a hypothetical
question but that it was "not the policy or the agenda of this
president" to authorize actions that conflict with existing law. He
added that he would hope to alert Congress if the president ever chose
to authorize warrantless surveillance, according to a transcript of
the hearing. "President Bush always obeys the law," Gonzales claimed.

In fact, the president did secretly authorize the National Security
Agency to begin warrantless monitoring of calls and e-mails between
the United States and other nations soon after the Sept. 11, 2001,
terrorist attacks. The program, publicly revealed in media reports
last month, was unknown to Feingold and his staff at the time Feingold
questioned Gonzales, according to a staff member. Feingold's aides
developed the 2005 questions based on privacy advocates' concerns
about broad interpretations of executive power.

Gonzales was White House counsel at the time the program began and has
since acknowledged his role in affirming the president's authority to
launch the surveillance effort. Gonzales is scheduled to testify
Monday before the Senate Judiciary Committee on the program's legal

"It now appears that the Attorney General was not being straight with
the Judiciary Committee and he has some explaining to do," Feingold
said in a statement yesterday.

A Justice Department spokesman said yesterday the department had not
yet reviewed the Feingold letter and could not comment.

Copyright 2006 The Washington Post Company

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