Attorney General Alberto Gonzales acknowledged for the first time that FBI agents used provisions of the Patriot Act during their investigation last year of a Portland attorney who was wrongly jailed for two weeks on suspicion of involvement in the Madrid train bombings.
The Patriot Act allows for covert searches of homes, without conventional search warrants.
Brandon Mayfield, who is a Muslim, was jailed last May after his fingerprint was incorrectly matched to one found on a bag of detonators near the scene of the March 11, 2004, Madrid attack, which killed 191 people. He was released after the FBI admitted its mistake.
“There were certain provisions of the Patriot Act that were used” in the Mayfield case, Gonzales said today at a Senate Judiciary Committee hearing on sections of the law that are set to expire at the end of the year.
The statement was notable because the Justice Department has previously denied that the Patriot Act came into play in the Mayfield case.
In fact, Gonzales said so earlier today at the same hearing. “The Patriot Act was not used in connection with the Brandon Mayfield case,” he said in response to a question from Sen. Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif.
More than an hour later, after Feinstein asked another question, Gonzales said he needed to correct his earlier answer.
One controversial section Gonzales cited tears down the wall separating foreign intelligence cases and U.S. criminal investigations, making it easier to do searches in criminal cases.