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Sen. Russ Feingold opened the questioning and Sen. Patrick Leahy pushed Specter to swear in the witness, especially since the attorney general said he didn't mind.
Specter responded: "Attorney General Gonzales is not the chairman. I am and I make the rules."
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.
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.
"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.
...my son steals a bag of candy from our corner store – and is caught.
Store Owner: You son’s a thief.
Bob’s Wife: No, he’s not.
Store Owner: But he stole a bag of candy.
Bob’s Wife: He’s eight years old and loves candy. That’s gives him a reason.
Store Owner: But it’s illegal.
Bob’s Wife: He doesn’t think it’s illegal if you really want Skittles and don’t like the law against stealing candy. So it’s OK.
“And so it comes with huge shock, as Senator Leahy said, that the president of the United States in Buffalo, New York, in 2004, would say, and I quote, ‘Any time you hear the United States government talking about wiretap, it requires — a wiretap requires a court order. Nothing has changed, by the way. When we’re talking about chasing down terrorists, we’re talking about getting a court order before we do so.’
“Mr. Attorney General, in light of what you and the president have said in the past month, this statement appears to be false. Do you agree?”
Now get a load of Gonzales’s hilarious reply.
“No, I don’t, Senator. In fact, I take great issue with your suggestion that somehow the president of the United States was not being totally forthcoming with the American people.”
He’s such a kidder.
We expect there will be other hearings. That is a start, but it will take more than just hearings to get the job done.
We know that in part because the President’s Attorney General has already shown a willingness to mislead the Congress.
At the hearing yesterday, I reminded the Attorney General about his testimony during his confirmation hearings in January 2005, when I asked him whether the President had the power to authorize warrantless wiretaps in violation of the criminal law. We didn’t know it then, but the President had authorized the NSA program three years before, when the Attorney General was White House Counsel. At his confirmation hearing, the Attorney General first tried to dismiss my question as “hypothetical.” He then testified that “it’s not the policy or the agenda of this President to authorize actions that would be in contravention of our criminal statutes.”
[The President] said that he had authorized the NSA’s domestic spying program, and he made a number of misleading arguments to defend himself. His words got rousing applause from Republicans, and even some Democrats.
The President was blunt, so I will be blunt: This program is breaking the law, and this President is breaking the law. Not only that, he is misleading the American people in his efforts to justify this program.
How is that worthy of applause? Since when do we celebrate our commander in chief for violating our most basic freedoms, and misleading the American people in the process? When did we start to stand up and cheer for breaking the law? In that moment at the State of the Union, I felt ashamed.