NBC's Nightly News reported on Democratic call for perjury investigation of Gonzales, but not the alleged lie

››› ››› MATT GERTZ

On NBC's Nightly News, correspondent Chip Reid reported that senators "called for a special counsel to investigate whether Attorney General Alberto Gonzales perjured himself on matters ranging from the administration's domestic eavesdropping to the firing of U.S. attorneys," but he did not repeat any of the testimony Gonzales gave that the senators alleged were false or misleading, nor did he note FBI Director Robert Mueller's July 26 testimony before the House Judiciary Committee, which called Gonzales' testimony into question.

On the July 26 edition of NBC's Nightly News, discussing a request by Sens. Charles E. Schumer (D-NY), Dianne Feinstein (D-CA), Russell D. Feingold (D-WI), and Sheldon Whitehouse (D-RI) for a special counsel to investigate Attorney General Alberto R. Gonzales, correspondent Chip Reid reported that the senators "called for a special counsel to investigate whether Gonzales perjured himself on matters ranging from the administration's domestic eavesdropping to the firing of U.S. attorneys," but not the evidence supporting the senators' allegations. Reid's report included statements from Sens. Schumer and Feinstein asserting that Gonzales had failed to tell the truth during his July 24 testimony before the Senate Judiciary Committee, as well as statements made during the hearing by Sen. Patrick Leahy (D-VT), who said that he "did not trust" Gonzales, and Sen. Arlen Specter (R-PA), who told the attorney general, "I do not find your testimony credible." However, Reid did not report any of the testimony Gonzales gave that the senators alleged were false or misleading, nor did he mention FBI Director Robert S. Mueller III's July 26 testimony before the House Judiciary Committee, which called Gonzales' testimony into question and appeared to support the senators' assertions.

The July 26 broadcast was the first in which Nightly News reported on Gonzales' July 24 testimony or the controversy surrounding it, having not done so on either the July 24 or July 25 editions of the program.

As Media Matters for America has documented, The Washington Post noted on May 17 that Gonzales told two congressional committees in February 2006 that the NSA warrantless domestic wiretapping program "had not provoked serious disagreement involving [former deputy Attorney General James B.] Comey or others." At a May 15 hearing before the Senate Judiciary Committee, however, Comey testified that on March 10, 2004, Gonzales, who was White House counsel at the time, had attempted to pressure then-Attorney General John Ashcroft to approve the warrantless domestic surveillance program. At the time, Ashcroft was ill at a hospital and had transferred his official powers to Comey, who had refused to recertify the legality of the program. But during his July 24 testimony, Gonzales claimed that a March 10, 2004, briefing with the congressional "Gang of Eight" and the subsequent confrontation among Gonzales, Comey, Ashcroft, and others in Ashcroft's hospital room concerned "other intelligence activities," not the NSA warrantless wiretapping program:

SPECTER: First of all, Mr. Attorney General, what credibility is left for you when you say there's no disagreement and you're a party to going to the hospital to see Attorney General Ashcroft under sedation to try to get him to approve the program?

GONZALES: The disagreement that occurred, and the reason for the visit to the hospital, Senator, was about other intelligence activities. It was not about the terrorist surveillance program that the president announced to the American people. Now, I would like the opportunity --

SPECTER: Mr. Attorney General, do you expect us to believe that?

GONZALES: Well, may I have the opportunity to talk about another very important meeting in connection with the hospital visit that puts it into context?

It was an emergency meeting in the White House situation room that afternoon. It involved senior members of the administration and senior -- the bipartisan leadership of the Congress, both House and Senate, as well as the bipartisan leadership of the House and Senate intel committees, the "Gang of Eight."

The purpose of that meeting was for the White House to advise the Congress that Mr. Comey had advised us that he could not approve the continuation of vitally important intelligence activities despite the repeated approvals during the past two years of the same activities.

SPECTER: OK. Assuming you're leveling with us on this occasion --

In a July 25 article, The New York Times reported that Sen. Jay Rockefeller IV (WV) and Rep. Jane Harman (CA), who in 2004 were the ranking Democrats on the House and Senate Intelligence Committees and attended the March 10, 2004, meeting at the White House, "insisted that there was only one N.S.A. program, making Mr. Gonzales's assertions inaccurate." Indeed, a May 2006 memorandum sent by then-National Intelligence Director John Negroponte to then-Speaker of the House Dennis Hastert (R-IL) also stated that the briefing concerned the so-called "Terrorist Surveillance Program," the administration's preferred name for the NSA program.

Further, a July 27 Washington Post article reported that "FBI Director Robert S. Mueller III yesterday contradicted the sworn testimony of his boss, Attorney General Alberto R. Gonzales, by telling Congress that a prominent warrantless surveillance program was the subject of a dramatic legal debate within the Bush administration." As the Post noted, Mueller confirmed during his testimony that, based on a discussion he had with Ashcroft after Gonzales left Ashcroft's hospital room, the March 10, 2004, hospital room confrontation, which Mueller did not observe firsthand, concerned "an NSA program that has been much discussed":

REP. SHEILA JACKSON LEE [D-TX]: So my question to you, first of all: Did you ever speak with either Mr. Gonzales or Mr. [then-White House chief of staff Andrew] Card while they were at the hospital?

MUELLER: No, ma'am.

JACKSON LEE: And if you did not do that, did any of your agents speak to those individuals?

MUELLER: I don't believe so. We -- I arrived at the hospital after Mr. Gonzales and Mr. Card had left.

JACKSON LEE: The discussion -- and I don't know if you did arrive -- it was -- did you have an opportunity to talk to General [sic] Ashcroft or did he discuss what was discussed in the meeting with Attorney General Gonzales and the chief of staff?

MUELLER: I did have a brief discussion with Attorney General Ashcroft.

JACKSON LEE: I'm sorry?

MUELLER: I did have a brief discussion with Attorney General Ashcroft after I arrived.

JACKSON LEE: And did he indicate the details of the conversation?

MUELLER: I prefer not to get into conversations that I had with the attorney general. At the time I -- again, he was entitled to expect that our conversations --

JACKSON LEE: And I respect that. Could I just say, did you have an understanding that the discussion was on TSP?

MUELLER: I had an understanding that the discussion was on a NSA program, yes.

JACKSON LEE: I guess we use "TSP," we use "warrantless wiretapping," so would I be comfortable in saying that those were the items that were part of the discussion?

MUELLER: I -- it was -- the discussion was on a national -- a NSA program that has been much discussed, yes.

In their request for an investigation, made in a July 26 letter to Solicitor General Paul D. Clement, Schumer, Feinstein, Feingold, and Whitehouse specifically alleged that Gonzales' statements regarding the March 10, 2004, meeting and subsequent hospital room confrontation were among the "half-truths and misleading statements" made by Gonzales before the Senate Judiciary Committee which required the appointment of a special counsel:

  • "Attorney General Gonzales testified on February 6, 2006 that within the Administration 'there has not been any serious disagreement about the [Terrorist Surveillance Program].' Yet. Attorney General Gonzales indicated in his testimony this week that the purpose of the March 10, 2004 briefing for the 'gang of eight' was to advise them 'that Mr. Comey had informed us that he would not approve the continuation of a very important intelligence activity.' General Hayden stated in unclassified testimony on May 18, 2006 that the very same briefing for the 'gang of eight' was on the 'warrantless surveillance program.' Thus, Mr. Gonzales's statements about the lack of disagreement regarding the surveillance program are deeply troubling."
  • "Attorney General Gonzales testified that the purpose of the March 10, 2004, meeting 'was for the White House to advise the Congress that Mr. Comey had advised us that he could not approve the continuation of vitally important intelligence activities,' which the Attorney General later testified was 'not' the NSA wiretapping program. This is contradicted by an unclassified letter from John Negroponte, then Director of National Intelligence, to then-Speaker of the House Dennis Hastert on May 17, 2006, describing the same 'Gang of Eight' briefing as being 'on the Terrorist Surveillance Program.' "

By contrast to Reid's report, on the July 26 edition of ABC's World News, correspondent Jake Tapper, while quoting the same remark from Comey, noted that Comey was testifying that the confrontation at the hospital room involved an attempt to obtain Ashcroft's approval of "the surveillance program" and that Gonzales testified that the "dispute was about different classified programs."

From the July 26 edition of NBC's Nightly News:

WILLIAMS: Now we go to Capitol Hill, where Democrats in Congress today ratcheted up their showdown with the Bush administration on two major fronts today, beginning with a call for a special prosecutor to investigate the United States attorney general. NBC's Chip Reid has the latest.

LEAHY [video clip]: Mr. Attorney General, please stand.

REID: The question: Has Attorney General Alberto Gonzales repeatedly misled Congress while testifying under oath? The answer, four Democratic senators said today, is yes.

SCHUMER: [video clip] He tells the half truth, the partial truth, and everything but the truth.

REID: In a letter to the Justice Department, the four called for a special counsel to investigate whether Gonzales perjured himself on matters ranging from the administration's domestic eavesdropping to the firing of U.S. attorneys.

FEINSTEIN: [video clip] -- Because he just doesn't tell the truth.

REID: It's been a long, hot spring and summer for Gonzales. He denies the charges, but members of both parties have urged him to step down.

SEN. TOM COBURN [R-OK]: [video clip] And I believe the best way to put it behind us is your resignation.

REID: In May, a former top Justice official testified that as White House counsel, Gonzales tried to get then-Attorney General John Ashcroft -- who was in intensive care -- to sign off on an extension of the controversial secret wiretap program.

COMEY: [video clip] I thought I'd just witnessed an effort to take advantage of a very sick man.

REID: This week, the lack of trust boiled over.

LEAHY [video clip]: I am not willing to accept a simple statement of "trust us." I don't trust you.

SPECTER: [video clip] I do not find your testimony credible, candidly.

REID: The Justice Department insists Gonzales has not lied under oath, and the White House today reiterated its strong support for the president's longtime friend.

TONY SNOW (White House press secretary) [video clip]: They've been trying to go after Alberto Gonzales all year. They've come up with dry holes. They've been basically waging a war of character assassination against him, of insinuation.

REID: David Gergen, who's advised four previous presidents, says this president can be loyal to the point of stubbornness.

GERGEN [video clip]: He just starts saying, "The hell with people. I'm going to do what I think is right, and to hell with the critics."

From the July 26 edition of ABC's World News:

TAPPER: Comey was then temporarily running the department while then-Attorney General John Ashcroft recovered from emergency surgery. After Comey refused to sign off on the surveillance program, he says Gonzales, then the White House counsel, went to the intensive care unit to try to get Ashcroft to overrule Comey.

COMEY [video clip]: I was very upset. I was angry. I thought I had just witnessed an effort to take advantage of a very sick man.

TAPPER: Mueller backed that story today.

MUELLER [video clip]: I don't dispute what Mr. Comey says.

TAPPER: But Gonzales, this week, insisted that dispute was about different classified programs.

GONZALES [video clip]: It was about other intelligence activities.

TAPPER: And the White House says some of this confusion stems from the difficulty of discussing classified matters in public.

SNOW [video clip]: There are attempts right now for political reasons to try to draw into the public arena information about classified programs that has remained classified, and so people are being very careful.

TAPPER: But that's not enough for Democrats, who today called for a special prosecutor to investigate whether or not Gonzales perjured himself in his testimony before Congress. One Democrat saying, quote, "His instinct is not to tell the truth, but to dissemble and deceive."

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