The political firestorm surrounding embattled Attorney General Alberto Gonzales is far from subsiding, with Democrats calling for a perjury investigation and Gonzales' own FBI director seeming to contradict his sworn statements.
Politicians usually shun using words like "lying" -- they prefer to use tamer diction such as "misleading."
Not so at a Thursday press conference held by four Senate Democrats, who called for the appointment of a special prosecutor to investigate Gonzales for perjury after mounting challenges to his sworn testimony before Congress.
Sen. Charles Schumer, D-N.Y., who also led the charge to have a special prosecutor appointed in the CIA Leak investigation, called it a "sad moment" at the press conference on Capitol Hill.
"Enough is truly enough," he said. "For months we have seen the department of justice unravel like a ball of yarn."
Sens. Schumer, Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif., Russ Feingold, D-Wisc., and Sheldon Whitehouse, D-R.I., hurled invectives at Gonzales.
"He just doesn't tell the truth," said Feinstein, accusing Gonzales of "obfuscation, prevarication and untruths."
"I have never seen an Attorney General as contemptuous of Congress," she said.
"I believe it's perjury," said Feingold. "Not just misleading -- perjury."
Feingold was referring to Gonzales's Tuesday testimony before the Senate Judiciary Committee. The attorney general dismissed then-Acting Attorney General James Comey's statement that a March 10, 2004 White House briefing with congressional leaders specifically addressed the Terrorist Surveillance Program, which allowed the government to use wiretaps without court authorization. A still-classified program, possibly related to TSP, was set to expire the following day.
It was after that meeting that Gonzales, at the time White House counsel, along with then-White House chief of staff Andy Card, went to the hospital, apparently to ask that then-Attorney General John Ashcroft re-authorize the program, despite having ceded his powers to Comey while he recovered from surgery.
In May, Comey provided dramatic testimony to Congress about racing to the hospital to get to Ashcroft. "I was angry," Comey testified. "I thought I had just witnessed an effort to take advantage of a very sick man who did not have the powers of the attorney general."
Elsewhere on Capitol Hill Thursday, FBI Director Robert Mueller backed Comey's account during a hearing held by the House Judiciary Committee.
In his first public comments about the now-infamous visit, Mueller confirmed to the panel that he and Comey scrambled to post agents outside Ashcroft's hospital room.
Mueller in his usual crisp, blunt style said, "I don't dispute what Mr. Comey said."
The Senate Judiciary Committee's senior Republican, Sen. Arlen Specter of Pennsylvania, expressed his dismay over the event, telling Gonzales Tuesday: "You're going to the hospital of the attorney general, who's no longer in power -- he's delegated his authority -- and seek to extract approval from him. It seems to me that it is just decimating, Mr. Attorney General, as to both your judgment and your credibility."
Describing why they needed to talk to Ashcroft, Gonzales said the attorney general could have reclaimed his powers, "and he could always reclaim that...there are no rules" against it.