ABC News: Gonzales "held his own" even though "it got personal" at NSA hearings


Reporting on Attorney General Alberto Gonzales's appearance before the Senate Judiciary Committee, Elizabeth Vargas of ABC News said Gonzales "held his own." ABC News chief Washington correspondent George Stephanopoulos agreed and added that, at times, "it got personal."

On the February 6 broadcast of ABC's World News Tonight, anchor Elizabeth Vargas and ABC News chief Washington correspondent George Stephanopoulos agreed that Attorney General Alberto R. Gonzales "held his own" at the February 6 Senate Judiciary Committee hearings into the Bush administration's warrantless domestic surveillance program, and Stephanopoulos further commented that "at times ... it got personal."

From the February 6 World News Tonight:

VARGAS: Good evening. We begin with a profound difference of opinion on the government's power to eavesdrop on Americans without getting a warrant. There's been a lot of debate about this, since President Bush's secret domestic surveillance program was revealed in the press two months ago. Today, U.S. Attorney General Alberto Gonzales defended the program before the Senate Judiciary Committee. He said it was essential for catching terrorists. And he claimed Congress authorized the program, even if most lawmakers didn't realize it. ABC's chief Washington correspondent, George Stephanopoulos, joins us with the latest. And the attorney general, George, held his own today.

STEPHANOPOULOS: He sure did. He could not give an absolute assurance that the program had only captured the communications of people tied to Al Qaeda, but he insisted the administration had done nothing wrong. The committee pushed back hard. And at times, Elizabeth, it got personal.

In saying that "it got personal," Stephanopoulos appeared to be referring to Sen. Russ Feingold's (D-WI) accusation that Gonzales made misleading statements under oath at his January 2005 confirmation hearing. ABC aired footage of Feingold questioning Gonzales at both the 2005 and the February 6 hearing. Feingold, in a January 30, 2006, letter to the Justice Department, claimed Gonzales gave "misleading testimony" at his confirmation hearing, in which Gonzales, under oath, responded to a question from Feingold about whether the president could authorize warrantless domestic wiretaps by suggesting that Feingold had described a "hypothetical situation," despite the fact that the warrantless surveillance program had been in place since 2001 and that President Bush had reauthorized it numerous times. In the letter, Feingold also stated his intention to question Gonzales about his 2005 statements at the February 6 hearing.

Neither Vargas nor Stephanopoulos expanded upon their assertion that Gonzales "held his own." Given that Gonzales's responses to questions were greeted with skepticism by senators -- Republicans and Democrats -- including Judiciary Committee chairman Arlen Specter (R-PA) and Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-SC), one can only assume that Vargas and Stephanopoulos feel that Gonzales "held his own" simply because he made it through the hearing without breaking down in tears or dramatically confessing to widespread administration law-breaking.

Posted In
Justice & Civil Liberties, Domestic Spying
George Stephanopoulos
ABC World News Tonight
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