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Russ Feingold Challenges Alberto Gonzales' Truthfulness on NSA Surveillance Program

Sen. Russ Feingold Monday charged that Attorney General Alberto Gonzales misled the Judiciary Committee at his Senate confirmation hearing on January 6, 2005, when repsonding to questions about the President's authority to order warrantless surveillance. [link fixed]

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" 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.

Let's go to the transcript: (Panel I, afternoon transcript of January 6, 2005, available on Lexis.com)

Sen. Feingold: And I also would like you to answer this: does the president, in your opinion, have the authority acting as commander in chief to authorize warrantless searches of Americans' homes and wiretaps of their conversations in violation of the criminal and foreign intelligence surveillance statutes of this country?

MR. GONZALES: Senator, the August 30th memo has been withdrawn. It has been rejected, including that section regarding the commander in chief authority to ignore the criminal statutes. So it's been rejected by the executive branch. I categorically reject it. And in addition to that, as I've said repeatedly today, this administration does not engage in torture and will not condone torture. And so, what you really are -- what we're really discussing is a hypothetical situation that --

SEN. FEINGOLD: I -- Judge Gonzales, let me ask a broader question. I'm asking you whether in general the president has the constitutional authority, does he at least in theory have the authority to authorize violations of the criminal law under duly enacted statutes simply because he's commander in chief? Does he -- does he have that power?

MR. GONZALES: Senator, I -- you -- in my judgment, you phrase it sort of a hypothetical situation. I would have to know what -- what is the -- what is the national interest that the president may have to consider. What I'm saying is, it is impossible to me, based upon the question as you've presented it to me, to answer that question. I can say, is that there is a presumption of constitutionality with respect to any statute passed by Congress. I will take an oath to defend the statutes. And to the extent that there is a decision made to ignore a statute, I consider that a very significant decision, and one that I would personally be involved with, I commit to you on that, and one we will take with a great deal of care and seriousness.

SEN. FEINGOLD: Well, that sounds to me like the president still remains above the law.

MR. GONZALES: No, sir.

SEN. FEINGOLD: Again, you know, if this is something where -- where it -- you take a good look at it, you give a presumption that the president ought to follow the law, that -- you know, that's -- to me, that's not good enough under our system of government.

MR. GONZALES: Senator, if I might respond to that, the president is not above the law. Of course he's not above the law. But he has an obligation, too. He takes an oath as well. And if Congress passes a law that is unconstitutional, there is a practice and a tradition recognized by presidents of both parties that he may elect to decide not to enforce that law. Now, I think that that would be --

SEN. FEINGOLD: I recognize that, and I tried to make that distinction, Judge, between electing not to enforce as opposed to affirmatively telling people they can do certain things in contravention of the law.

MR. GONZALES: Senator, this president is not -- I -- it is not the policy or the agenda of this president to authorize actions that would be in contravention of our criminal statutes.

SEN. FEINGOLD: Finally, will you commit to notify Congress if the president makes this type of decision and not wait two years until a memo is leaked about it?

MR. GONZALES: I will to advise the Congress as soon as I reasonably can, yes, sir.

SEN. FEINGOLD: Well, I hope that would be a very brief period of time. And I thank you, again, Judge Gonzales.

MR. GONZALES: Thank you, Senator.

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    I can't wait for him to testify next month. I want to watch him squirm.

    What makes you think he'll squirm? For five years, the Bush administration's answer to any pressure at all from Congress has been to lie under oath, to the point of its members denying that they said things in the public record. Why is this going to be any different?

    Re: Russ Feingold Challenges Alberto Gonzales' Tr (none / 0) (#3)
    by Edger on Tue Jan 31, 2006 at 01:15:44 AM EST
    What I'm saying is, it is impossible to me, based upon the question as you've presented it to me, to answer that question. Wouldn't it be something if the senators on the Judiciary Committee all turn their backs on him when he starts with this kind of crap next month? Hey, I can dream, right?

    Turn their backs on him?? How 'bout they ask U.S. marshals to take him into custody on charges of perjury and/or lying to Congress? It's the 21st century, people. I'm tired of coddling criminals.

    Re: Russ Feingold Challenges Alberto Gonzales' Tr (none / 0) (#5)
    by john horse on Tue Jan 31, 2006 at 03:42:20 AM EST
    If the Bush administration is not truthful then can it be trustworthy?

    Re: Russ Feingold Challenges Alberto Gonzales' Tr (none / 0) (#8)
    by Sailor on Tue Jan 31, 2006 at 08:27:48 AM EST
    "This entire question hinges on one's opinion on whether we are at war or not" 1) No, it doesn't. Declaring war has nothing to do with lying to congress. 2) Gee, congress declared war!? 3) Please follow TL's commenting policy in he future instead of shilling for your site.

    Re: Russ Feingold Challenges Alberto Gonzales' Tr (none / 0) (#9)
    by Repack Rider on Tue Jan 31, 2006 at 08:28:26 AM EST
    This entire question hinges on one's opinion on whether we are at war or not. Orwell would be proud of that answer. If we are at war, where are the recruiting poseters? What sacrifices is the public being asked to make (other than their civil rights)? What would define the "end" of this "war," or is it to be conducted forever? Did Congress declare war, as the Constitution requires? Nope. We are only "at war" for public relations, profiteering and civil-rights stripping purposes.

    Your link to the WaPo story is broken by the addition of a few extraneous letters at the begining of the URL; might want to fix that. I've linked to this and swiped your transcript with credit and thanks here.

    Earlier today I joked about the committee having U.S. marshals meet Gonzalez when he arrived for the hearings, but I've got a serious question (and I'm not a lawyer): How would you instigate prosecution of Gonzalez on perjury and/or lying-to-Congress charges? Could Feingold refer the matter to the U.S. Attorney for D.C.? Could the committee itself (ignoring, for the purposes of this discussion, the political reality) issue an arrest warrant? How would this work?

    Re: Russ Feingold Challenges Alberto Gonzales' Tr (none / 0) (#12)
    by jimakaPPJ on Tue Jan 31, 2006 at 09:59:19 AM EST
    Lex - Why do you think that anyone, AG or not, should be discussing classified material in public? Isn't that the base of the Plame affair? Repack writes:
    If we are at war, where are the recruiting poseters?
    Torn down by anti-war radiacals? Ran off campus by Left wing suits? What specific civil rights have you been asked to scarfice? And why do you think the public should be sacrificing anything? And can you tell me what you, not the publiuc, would like to sacrifice? And if you believe in sacrifice, have you written a check to the treasury, and if so, how much? Remember. No law is required for you to give money to the government. And is our war actions legal? Since the SC has not said it is illegal, what basis do you have, beyond your opinion, that the war is illegal?

    This entire question hinges on one's opinion on whether we are at war or not. If yes, then the Top Secret NSA and the President of the United States are required to defend our nation from all enemies, both foreign and domestic. The wiretap question concerns information being admitted into a court to prosecute a person of a crime. If the information will not be admissible, then just as in casual monitoring, much information is gathered daily. Take a look at: [link deleted, not in html format] I invite your comments.

    Re: Russ Feingold Challenges Alberto Gonzales' Tr (none / 0) (#13)
    by kdog on Tue Jan 31, 2006 at 10:44:13 AM EST
    What specific civil rights have you been asked to scarfice?
    Privacy, to be secure in our effects from govt. surveillance, due process if the executive decides to slap a label on us...I could go on.

    Why should I trust anything said by Russ "no First Amendment for you" Feingold? And lest you wonder, I have the same problem with McCain, Shays, and Meehan. The lot of them are a bigger risk to my civil liberties than Gonzales - by a lot.

    Re: Russ Feingold Challenges Alberto Gonzales' Tr (none / 0) (#16)
    by jimakaPPJ on Tue Jan 31, 2006 at 11:50:31 AM EST
    Dark Avenger - Ah, I have been less than clear.... Wasn't that the base claim of the Left in the Plame affair? You are now free to refocus answers. Sorry about that. BTW - Now weren't you really aware of my meaning?

    Re: Russ Feingold Challenges Alberto Gonzales' Tr (none / 0) (#6)
    by scarshapedstar on Tue Jan 31, 2006 at 01:18:53 PM EST
    Turn their backs on him?? How 'bout they ask U.S. marshals to take him into custody on charges of perjury and/or lying to Congress?
    Do we really have to answer that question anymore? [ethnic reference deleted]

    Re: Russ Feingold Challenges Alberto Gonzales' Tr (none / 0) (#17)
    by scarshapedstar on Tue Jan 31, 2006 at 01:37:58 PM EST
    SEN. FEINGOLD: Finally, will you commit to notify Congress if the president makes this type of decision and not wait two years until a memo is leaked about it? MR. GONZALES: I will to advise the Congress as soon as I reasonably can, yes, sir. SEN. FEINGOLD: Well, I hope that would be a very brief period of time. And I thank you, again, Judge Gonzales. MR. GONZALES: Thank you, Senator.
    HAHAHAHAHAHA Sorry, Jim, no amount of sophistry is going to get around this whopper.

    Re: Russ Feingold Challenges Alberto Gonzales' Tr (none / 0) (#18)
    by Edger on Tue Jan 31, 2006 at 01:47:29 PM EST
    Scar, there's that word again. ;-) That's your cue, Jim...

    Re: Russ Feingold Challenges Alberto Gonzales' Tr (none / 0) (#19)
    by jimakaPPJ on Tue Jan 31, 2006 at 03:49:44 PM EST
    edger - Don't you just qualifiers? ;-)

    Re: Russ Feingold Challenges Alberto Gonzales' Tr (none / 0) (#20)
    by Edger on Tue Jan 31, 2006 at 04:10:24 PM EST
    Don't you just [fill inna da blank] qualifiers? ;-)

    Re: Russ Feingold Challenges Alberto Gonzales' Tr (none / 0) (#21)
    by Sailor on Tue Jan 31, 2006 at 05:44:22 PM EST
    Torn down by anti-war radiacals? Ran off campus by Left wing suits?
    Made up by delusional [fill in the blank]s? But aside from that under the bridge distraction, AbuGonzales lied to congress. That is a federal crime. For the learning impaired; the top law enforcement person in the country should not be able to commit a felony and keep his job.

    Re: Russ Feingold Challenges Alberto Gonzales' Tr (none / 0) (#23)
    by jimakaPPJ on Wed Feb 01, 2006 at 06:19:27 AM EST
    Dark Avenger - The CIA? You mean the organization that hired Mrs. Wilson's husband to do the job of a professional agent? At her urging, I might add. Again, the Left's claim was that the Bush admin had outed a covert agent. That has not been proven. In fact, it has not been charged by the SP. edger - Well, if you are going to be unreasonable about it.... ;-)

    JimakaPPJ: Lex - Why do you think that anyone, AG or not, should be discussing classified material in public? Who said anything about "public"? The National Security Act of 1947 creates a mechanism for properly informing congressional leadership. (Please don't put words in my mouth.)

    Lex, your plea is one that has crossed my mind from time to time in dealing with PPJ. He miscounstrues any remark to be favorable to his side of the argument if he can, even at the price of going against grammar, logic, and something that he accuses the Left of lacking, common sense.

    useful information (none / 0) (#27)
    by Magico on Sun Nov 27, 2016 at 12:03:22 PM EST