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Gonzales Continues Senate Testimony


This is DAY TO DAY. I'm Alex Cohen.


I'm Alex Chadwick. In Washington, it's a modest day weather-wise, temperatures in the 80s. It probably feels much warmer for Attorney General Alberto Gonzales. He's been talking with the Senate Judiciary Committee again, testifying. This is not a happy event. Here's a sample moment with the committee chair, Senator Patrick Leahy of Vermont.

Senator PATRICK LEAHY (Democrat, Vermont; Chairman, Senate Judiciary Committee): Is there anybody left in the Department of Justice who could answer the question?

Mr. ALBERTO GONZALES (Attorney General, U.S. Department of Justice): Of course there is.

Sen. LEAHY: Who?

Mr. GONZALES: With respect to these kinds of decisions…

Sen. LEAHY: Who?

Mr. GONZALES: …will be made by the solicitor general.

Here with us is NPR's Dina Temple-Raston. Dina, the attorney general has testified before this committee, and truly these were pretty hostile encounters in the past. What do you see today?

DINA TEMPLE-RASTON: Well, nod different. The big mystery seems to be how the attorney general has been able to survive this long, frankly. Senator Kohl had asked the attorney general today to explain why the country wouldn't be better served with an attorney general who had more credibility. Here's how he wrapped up his question. I think we have the tape here.

Senator HERBERT KOHL (Democrat, Wisconsin): What keeps you in the job, Mr. Attorney General?

Mr. GONZALES: That's a very good question, Senator. I've decided to stay and fix the problem. That's what I - and that's what I have been doing.

TEMPLE-RASTON: And this is sort of a new strategy coming from the Gonzales camp. Basically to now, he has not actually said that he's the one who's going to be there to fix it. But, in fact, he seems to have been the basis of the problems. Now he says he's the only man who can bring credibility back to the attorney general's office.

CHADWICK: Also we got to hear from him today his version of a story that we first heard several months ago. This involved a bedside visit to the then-attorney general, John Ashcroft, who was in the hospital earlier in Mr. Bush's administration. So the original account now, this had come from a former deputy attorney general, James Comey, and he told the story about how Mr. Gonzales, when he was White House counsel to the president, went to see John Ashcroft in the hospital and almost sort of took advantage of him to get him to recertify a domestic surveillance program. And so here is Mr. Gonzales' chance to comment on that, something that had upset the committee earlier. What did he have to say?

TEMPLE-RASTON: Well, it's interesting because this is the first time that Gonzales has actually addressed this. And he - according to his version of the events, he had met with congressional leaders from both parties just before he decided to go and see then-Attorney General Ashcroft in the hospital. And he said that congressional leaders had told him that they wanted this domestic surveillance program continued. And that he wasn't altogether sure that Ashcroft knew that Comey, who was acting as attorney general at the time because Ashcroft was in the hospital, was against renewing it. So Gonzales said that he and the president's chief of staff went to Ashcroft's room to make sure that he understood that Comey was standing in the way of this recertification of the program and it had nothing to do with pressuring him.

Needles to say, people on the committee were a little dubious about that version of events.

CHADWICK: Okay, new issues today? Was there something the attorney general faced that he had not encountered before?

TEMPLE-RASTON: What was new this time was this interesting new tidbit that came from California Senator Dianne Feinstein. She opened up a manual of the Federal Prosecution of Election Offenses, in which she noted that some interesting things were missing from the latest edition. Previously, the manual had told U.S. attorneys not to spend time on small-time election fraud cases because they had more important things to do with their time. Now that whole section is deleted, and here's why that's interesting.

There's some question as to whether some of the U.S. attorneys who were fired were fired for not pursuing voter fraud cases. Now, with this new manual, they would have nothing to protect them if they decided not to pursue these kinds of cases. So it's an interesting little wrinkle in the U.S. attorney controversy.


TEMPLE-RASTON: My pleasure. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

TEMPLE-RASTON: Well, you know, we've been covering the same old ground over and over again now with a lot of these committee hearings. You know, who put the U.S. attorneys who were going to be fired on the list, that sort of thing. But the most interesting new tidbit that we had today came from California Senator Dianne Feinstein. She opened up a manual of the Federal Prosecution of Election Offenses, in which she noted that some interesting things were missing from the latest edition. In…

CHADWICK: You know what, Dina? We're going to have to catch that later. We're out of time for this segment now. Thank you. NPR's Dina Temple-Raston from Washington.

Alex Chadwick
For more than 30 years, Alex Chadwick has been bringing the world to NPR listeners as an NPR News producer, program host and currently senior correspondent. He's reported from every continent except Antarctica.
Dina Temple-Raston
Dina Temple-Raston is a correspondent on NPR's Investigations team focusing on breaking news stories and national security, technology and social justice.