Key members of the Senate Judiciary Committee formally asked Solicitor General Paul Clement on Thursday to appoint a special counsel to investigate possible perjury charges against Attorney General Alberto Gonzales.
Meanwhile, Judiciary Chairman Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.) issued subpoenas Thursday for both White House Deputy Chief of Staff Karl Rove and White House Deputy Director of Political Affairs Scott Jennings, in order to compel their testimony before the panel on the U.S. attorneys firing scandal.
Acting without Leahy but apparently with his tacit consent, Sens. Charles Schumer (D-N.Y.), Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.), Russ Feingold (D-Wis.) and Sheldon Whitehouse (D-R.I.) said Gonzales has lied to Congress repeatedly in his testimony regarding both disagreements over a classified terrorist surveillance program as well as the scandal over the firing of nine U.S. attorneys last year.
Calling Gonzales “a man who has potentially misled Congress and the American people time and time again,” Schumer said, “We simply cannot stand for this any longer.”
The letter — which was sent to Clement because Gonzales and his deputy have recused themselves from many of the matters the Democrats want investigated — asks for a special counsel from outside the Justice Department to be named to ensure that there is not even the appearance of a conflict of interest.
The letter cites examples in which the four contend the attorney general may have committed perjury. All examples, Schumer said, show that Gonzales clearly lied and gave him “no wiggle room” to clarify otherwise.
First, the four point out that Gonzales testified on Feb. 6, 2006, that “there has not been any serious disagreement about” the warrantless wiretapping terrorist surveillance program. That does not jibe, the four Senators said, with Gonzales’ testimony this week, in which he told the committee that a Congressional briefing on March 10, 2004, involved an intelligence program that then-Deputy Attorney General James Comey had refused to reauthorize. Unclassified testimony from then-Deputy Director of National Intelligence Michael Hayden in May 2006, however, shows the Congressional briefing was about the “warrantless surveillance program.”
Gonzales has contended that the briefing and disagreements within the Justice Department were about “other intelligence activities.”
Secondly, the letter asks that a special counsel look into the discrepancies in the attorney general’s testimony regarding the U.S. attorneys investigation. On April 19, Gonzales testified that he had not talked to any potential witnesses with information on the firing of the U.S. attorneys. However, Monica Goodling, who served as special counsel to Gonzales and White House liaison to the department, told the House Judiciary Committee that she had an “uncomfortable” conversation with Gonzales about the events leading up to the firings.
Schumer said Leahy did not sign onto the letter because he is giving Gonzales a week to revise his testimony from Tuesday’s hearing on oversight of the department. Schumer also said Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) supports the group’s efforts.
Schumer said he would seek Republican support for the special counsel and already has tried to reach Senate Judiciary ranking member Arlen Specter (R-Pa.) about the matter. Specter also has floated the notion of asking for a special counsel to investigate Gonzales.
Bush administration officials have repeatedly defended Gonzales since the U.S. attorneys scandal first emerged and have accused Democrats of politicizing the issue.
In issuing subpoenas today for Rove and Jennings, Leahy said in a statement, “The evidence shows that senior White House political operatives were focused on the political impact of federal prosecutions and whether federal prosecutors were doing enough to bring partisan voter fraud and corruption cases.”
The subpoenas also call for related documents. Both men’s testimony and the documents are due by Aug. 2 at 10 a.m.
The White House has offered to allow Rove and other administration officials to talk to the committee, but only in private and without allowing a transcript of the proceedings. Committee Democrats flatly refused to agree to those terms.
Meanwhile, Specter today said he has asked the Bush administration to provide both him and Leahy with classified briefings on intelligence operations that Gonzales referenced Tuesday.
Specter said he is concerned that Gonzales appeared to indicate that there may be more than one secret intelligence program besides the warrantless wiretapping terrorist surveillance program the president confirmed last year.
“We’ve got to look at the facts. Is Attorney General Gonzales correct that there was a second intelligence program at issue?” Specter said at a news conference.
Saying it was a “work in progress,” Specter said the Bush administration “may be about to read us in as a result of what happened.” Specter has said repeatedly that he and Leahy, as ranking member and chairman, should have been privy to the TSP prior to media revelations about its existence in December 2005.
Specter said he wanted to talk to the Republican Members of Congress who attended the March 2004 briefing to help him determine the facts.
Specter also said the Democratic effort to investigate Gonzales for perjury was “precipitous” and a political stunt.
“Senator Schumer has made a practice of politicizing this matter,” Specter said. He added, “I think the most significant factor about that letter is that Senator Leahy is not on the letter.”
Still, Specter held out the possibility that he would later support a call for a special counsel to investigate Gonzales if his review of the transcripts shows “there was probable cause that perjury had been committed.”
Either way, Specter said he does not think “with the lay of the land the way it is, that the administration is going to let the solicitor general” appoint a special prosecutor.