WASHINGTON – LAWFUEL – The Legal Newswire – The Justice Department’s…

WASHINGTON – LAWFUEL – The Legal Newswire – The Justice Department’s inspector general acknowledged Thursday that he was examining whether outgoing Atty. Gen. Alberto R. Gonzales made false or misleading statements to Congress about the National Security Agency’s terrorist surveillance program, the fired U.S. attorneys affair and other subjects.

Responding to a congressional query, Inspector General Glenn A. Fine said his office was investigating Gonzales’ conduct as part of several ongoing probes into the activities of department lawyers on Gonzales’ watch. Though it had long been assumed that the statements Gonzales had made would be part of those inquiries, it was the first public confirmation by the department’s internal watchdog.

“You identified five issues and asked that we investigate whether the statements made by the attorney general were intentionally false, misleading or inappropriate,” Fine wrote in a letter to Sen. Patrick J. Leahy (D-Vt.). “The OIG has ongoing investigations that relate to most of the subjects addressed by the attorney general’s testimony that you identified.”

Gonzales on Monday announced his resignation, effective Sept. 17, after a tumultuous 2 1/2 years as attorney general. The White House has launched a search for a new attorney general, but President Bush is not expected to announce his choice for a successor before leaving Monday for the Asia-Pacific economic summit in Australia.

In recent months, Democratic and Republican lawmakers had lost confidence in Gonzales because of his perceived lack of candor.

“The current attorney general is leaving, but these questions remain,” said Leahy, chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee. “It is appropriate that the inspector general will examine whether the attorney general was honest with this and other congressional committees about these crucial issues.”

At a news conference in March, Gonzales denied that he was involved in deliberations that led to the firing of nine U.S. attorneys last year. But internal Justice Department documents that surfaced later showed he attended at least one meeting in which the firings were discussed and approved.

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