But Gonzales downplayed interpretations of the visit to Ashcroft.
Describing why he and Card urgently needed to talk to Ashcroft, Gonzales testified July 24 that the attorney general could have reclaimed his powers. "And he could always reclaim that. There are no rules" against it, he said.
Gonzales indicated that Ashcroft had previously authorized the program, saying, "From the inception, we believed that we had the approval of the attorney general of the United States for these activities."
He also noted that the White House briefing involved "other intelligence activities."
Two senators on the Senate Judiciary panel, Russ Feingold, D-Wis., and Sheldon Whitehouse, D-R.I., both also members of the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence, jumped on that assertion, which has been contradicted by two participants in the March 10, 2004, briefing — Sen. Jay Rockefeller, D-W.V., and Rep. Jane Harman, D-Calif.
A letter from then-Director of National Intelligence John Negroponte to then-House Speaker Dennis Hastert, R-Ill. also confirms that the March 10 meeting addressed the TSP.
On July 26, four Senate Democrats, Sens. Charles Schumer, D-N.Y. and Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif., joined by Feingold and Whitehouse, called for the Justice Department to assign a special prosecutor to investigate the apparent discrepancies.
"I believe it's perjury," Feingold said of Gonzales' July 24 testimony. "Not just misleading — perjury."
The Senate Judiciary Committee's senior Republican, Pennsylvania's Arlen Specter, has publicly called for the attorney general's resignation. He also alluded to the possibility that the panel would examine whether Gonzales had lied to Congress, telling Gonzales at the July 24 hearing, "My suggestion to you is that you review your testimony very carefully."
"The chairman's already said that the committee's going to review your testimony very carefully to see if your credibility has been breached to the point of being actionable," Specter continued.
But Specter did not join in on his colleagues' latest move, the call for a special prosecutor.
"Do I support Sen. Schumer's request for a special prosecutor? No," Specter said. "I think Sen. Schumer has made a practice of politicizing this matter."
Specter has been very critical of Gonzales, but he called Schumer's request "precipitous" and says it's "highly significant" that Leahy, the chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee, is not a signatory on Schumer's letter.
"We have a little bit of Don Quixote here. Everybody is riding off in different directions trying to get on a front page," Specter said.
Specter's comments echoed the White House's stance.
White House Press Secretary Tony Snow defended Gonzales' statements in a July 27 press briefing, saying, "I understand it's difficult to parse because what you have involved here are matters of classification — attempts to discuss those in an open congressional setting."
"Sometimes it's going to lead people to talk very carefully and there's going to be plenty room for interpretation or conclusion," he continued.
Snow also added that Mueller's statements to the House Judiciary Committee did not stand at odds with Gonzales' words.