A short while ago, the Associated Press reported that Alberto Gonzales has agreed to testify before the Senate — under oath — on the domestic spying program.
Gonzales said he reached an agreement with Sen. Arlen Specter, R-Pa., chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee, to answer questions about the legal basis for the National Security Agency’s warrantless eavesdropping on telephone conversations between suspected terrorists and people in the United States.
“We believe the legal authorities are there,” Gonzales said at a news conference at the Justice Department. “The president acted consistent with his legal authority in a manner that he thought was necessary and appropriate to protect the country against this new kind of threat.”
The attorney general said he will not discuss operational aspects of the program at the hearing, which is expected to occur next month. Specter said Sunday that he had asked Gonzales to testify publicly.
More details and reaction to follow, as they become available.
(Update: Here’s the transcript of the press conference in which Gonzales commented about his upcoming appearance. Note how he dodges repeated questions about his direct involvement in promulgating the Administration’s policy, and whether reporters who disclosed elements of the program could be jailed for disclosing classified information.)
These hearings will still most likely be little more than a dog-and-pony show for the Administration to appear to be cooperating with the Congressional investigation, but of course there’s always a wee little bit of hope that under oath, someone such as Gonzales could say something that either a) opens up another can of worms for the Bushies, or b) is plainly perjurious.
With Gonzales, who was White House counsel at the time that the domestic surveillance program was formally approved in secret, there’s obviously a real opportunity to box him into a corner. I wonder if — should the questions get a little bit too uncomfortable — Gonzales might resort to having to assert his 5th Amendment rights. Either way, he’s got to know that at minimum, there will be people gunning for him.
All in all, there’s clearly the possibility for some fireworks, and a slightly lesser chance that some actual good could result, in the form of real oversight. But I wouldn’t hold my breath. Chances are, it will mostly end up being an opportunity for the GOP senators to huff and puff about how important our liberties are and how the Administration has satisfied them that the only people who’ve been spied upon are those who are “seeking to destroy the American way of life”, or some such nonsense.
But you never know.