No Comment — August 18, 2007, 2:37 pm

Counting Fredo’s Whoppers

He just keeps serving them up. It reflects a new vision of the function of the office of Attorney General. Not as the nation’s chief law enforcement office, as a person above politics. But just the opposite: the consigliere, an advisor who knows a thing or two about the law and who uses it to facilitate the dubious to overtly corrupt objectives of his syndicate.

We’ve reached the point where Gonzales’s credibility is no longer a political issue in Washington. Democrats and Republicans alike accept the fact that he’s an outrageous, sustained liar. The debate at this point is simply over whether technical defenses can be built to overcome the perjury charges. As Senator Orin Hatch (a person known to be covetous of the office of attorney general) would have us believe, Gonzales is so pathological that he actually believes his lies. However, I believe that Gonzales has his feet firmly planted in the world of reality—which makes a criminal defense that much tougher.

Yesterday TPM Muckraker’s Paul Kiel went over the record to pull up the Top Six: the six most spectacular lies uttered by Alberto Gonzales so far. He focuses, appropriately, on the lies that really matter, rather than the far-too-many-to-count peripheral lies. And here are the Kiel “Pick Six,” six for the perjury charge sheet:

1) “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.”

–7/24/07 testimony before the Senate Judiciary Committee

In fact it very clearly was about the terrorist surveillance program, as the evidence of Deputy Attorney General Comey and FBI Director Mueller, now reinforced by Mueller’s own handwritten notes, establishes. The evasion was designed to throw the committee off the track of an important issue.

2) “The consensus in the room from the congressional leadership [the gang of eight] was that we should continue the activities, at least for now, despite the objections of Mr. Comey. There was also consensus that it would be very, very difficult to obtain legislation without compromising this program, but that we should look for a way ahead. It is for this reason that within a matter of hours Andy Card and I went to the hospital.”

“I just wanted to put in context for this committee and the American people why Mr. Card and I went. It’s because we had an emergency meeting in the White House Situation Room, where the congressional leadership had told us, “Continue going forward with this very important intelligence activity.”

— 7/24/07 testimony before the Senate Judiciary Committee

As Paul notes, Gonzales pursues the classic strategy of a white collar criminal trapped in a lie. He admits all the outward facts, which he can no longer really contradict. He just insists that the dealings had a different internal meaning to him than they had to all the other participants. He is directly contradicting Comey and Mueller on these points. This is the sort of thing that generally winds up convincing juries that white collar criminals are crooked liars and gets them sent to prison.

3) “I was not involved in seeing any memos, was not involved in any discussions about what was going on.”

— A March 13th press conference on the U.S. attorney firings.

Hmmm. I suppose Gonzales is going to explain that “it depends on what the meaning of ‘not involved in’ means.” If it means—were they prepared further to his instructions, on consultation with him, and for his use in making decisions, then yes, Gonzales was involved. However, Gonzales has a secret understanding of the meaning of the word “involved.” I haven’t figured out yet what it is.

4) “I haven’t done — I haven’t talked to witnesses because of the fact that I haven’t wanted to interfere with this investigation and department investigations.””

— 4/19/07 testimony before the Senate Judiciary Committee

“….as I’ve indicated, I have not gone back and spoken directly with Mr. Sampson and others who are involved in this process, in order to protect the integrity of this investigation and the investigation of the Office of Professional Responsibility and the Office of Inspector General.”

— 5/11/07 testimony before the House Judiciary Committee

A direct, conscious lie and an effort to obstruct an investigation of his misconduct. Gonzales had a long conversation, subsequently admitted, in which he coached Monica Goodling on how to testify and what account to give of her dealings with him. And how do we know it was a conscious lie, rather than an innocent slip up? Because Gonzales had spent a month doing next to nothing but reviewing the course of dealings, including his meetings with Sampson and Goodling, before going in to the hearing.

5) “The track record established over the past three years has demonstrated the effectiveness of the safeguards of civil liberties put in place when the act was passed. There has not been one verified case of civil liberties abuse.”

— 4/27/05 testimony before the House intelligence committee

It would be easy to dismiss this as the sort of hyperbole that often characterizes the Congressional testimony of political functionaries. But this case is a bit more serious. Congress had specifically asked Gonzales to discuss an internal FBI report dealing with surveillance abuses based on the Patriot Act and other legislation. He had received the report in the couple of days before the hearing and had reviewed it in preparation for the hearing. The report detailed and verified thousands of cases of civil liberties abuse. That’s what converts this from a case of simple political hyperbole into a case of perjury.

6) “…[L]et me publicly sort of preempt, perhaps, a question you’re going to ask me, and that is, I am fully committed, as the administration’s fully committed, to ensure that, with respect to every United States attorney position in this country, we will have a presidentially appointed, Senate-confirmed United States attorney.”

— 1/18/07 testimony before the Senate Judiciary Committee

I was on Capitol Hill right after Gonzales gave this testimony and know from discussions with Republican staffers on both the Senate and House Judiciary Committees, that this produced a small firestorm. “What a brazen lie,” one told me. What was up here? The normal appointments process involves what is called “senatorial courtesy,” which is to say the White House usually confers with senators of its own party (and sometimes, particularly if there is no such senator, with those representing the other party) about appointments of U.S. Attorneys. (Yes, this is a political process, within important limits). By an act of legerdemain which involved manipulating Senate staffers to do things that their bosses didn’t know about, Gonzales secured an amendment of the Patriot Act allowing him to make unilateral appointments—a power which was actually secured for the benefit of, and delegated to, Karl Rove through the involvement of the man nicknamed “mini-Rove,” namely Kyle P. Sampson and the Rove-DOJ liaison, Monica Goodling. The main victim of this entire ploy was the Senate G.O.P. And here is Gonzales brazenly lying about the entire maneuver.

I want to congratulate Paul for a good effort. I think he has picked the six most important whoppers. But in fact there are many, many more. Why we haven’t even gotten into Gonzales’s confirmation testimony in which he lied incessantly about his role in the preparation of the torture memoranda, his dealings with other Government lawyers in the process, and how the torture memoranda were implemented. This was, as it now appears, merely a harbinger of things to come. And who knows, it might actually even help Gonzales. It might show that his lies really are pathological.

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