When Alberto R. Gonzales was asked during his January 2005 confirmation hearing whether the Bush administration would ever allow wiretapping of U.S. citizens without warrants, he initially dismissed the query as a “hypothetical situation.”
But when Sen. Russell Feingold (D-Wis.) pressed him further, Gonzales declared: “It is not the policy or the agenda of this president to authorize actions that would be in contravention of our criminal statutes.”
By then, however, the government had been conducting a secret wiretapping program for more than three years without court oversight, possibly in conflict with federal intelligence laws. Gonzales had personally defended the effort in fierce internal debates. Feingold later called his testimony that day “misleading and deeply troubling.”
The accusation that Gonzales has been deceptive in his public remarks has erupted this summer into a full-blown political crisis for the Bush administration, as the beleaguered attorney general struggles repeatedly to explain to Congress the removal of a batch of U.S. attorneys, the wiretapping program and other actions.
In each case, Gonzales has appeared to lawmakers to be shielding uncomfortable facts about the Bush administration’s conduct on sensitive matters. A series of misstatements and omissions has come to define his tenure at the helm of the Justice Department and is the central reason that lawmakers in both parties have been trying for months to push him out of his job.