DOJ Investigating Gonzales Testimony

Though Attorney General Alberto Gonzales announced his resignation Monday, he is still is in the crosshairs of investigations by Congress and his own department.

A letter sent to Senate Judiciary Chairman Sen. Patrick Leahy, D-Vt., from Justice Department Inspector General Glenn Fine Thursday indicates that Gonzales is the subject of at least three separate ongoing internal investigations.

In an Aug. 16 letter to Fine, Leahy asked that his office "investigate and evaluate potential misleading, evasive, or dishonest testimony" by Gonzales. Gonzales had come under strident criticism from members of the House and Senate Judiciary committees for his testimony on the firings of nine U.S. attorneys and the administration's legal basis for the National Security Agency's warrantless wiretapping program.

Fine responded to Leahy Thursday, writing, "You identified five issues and asked that we investigate whether the statements made by the attorney general were intentionally false, misleading, or inappropriate. The OIG has ongoing investigations that relate to most of the subjects addressed by the attorney general's testimony that you identified."

"The OIG is conducting a joint investigation with the Department's Office of Professional Responsibility into allegations regarding the removal of certain United States attorneys and improper hiring practices. We believe that through those investigations and other OIG reviews we will be able to assess most of the issues that you raise in your letter," Fine wrote.

Terrorist Surveillance Program Review

It has previously been disclosed that the DOJ inspector general has been conducting a review of the NSA's Terrorist Surveillance Program, along with a review of the use of national security letters. Controversy swirled in recent weeks over comments and testimony relating to the NSA's intelligence program.

Gonzales' past testimony differed from accounts of former Deputy Attorney General James Comey and FBI director Robert Mueller, who both stated that in March 2004, Gonzales, then serving as White House counsel, visited Attorney General John Ashcroft while he was hospitalized, seeking reauthorization of a controversial National Security Agency surveillance program. Then-White House Chief of Staff Andy Card accompanied Gonzales on the trip.

In May, Comey recounted the hospital run-in, testifying to Congress that he raced to the hospital to head off Gonzales and Card.

"I was angry," Comey said of the encounter. "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."

Asked if the visit was about the Terrorist Surveillance Program, Gonzales only acknowledged the visit was about "other intelligence activities."

In a July 26 congressional hearing, lawmakers asked Mueller about the incident. Mueller simply stated, "I don't dispute what Mr. Comey said."

During that same hearing, a member of Congress asked Mueller if he had concerns about the NSA program Mueller simply replied, "Yes." Gonzales had previously testified that no senior DOJ officials had concerns about the program.

The 'Uncomfortable' Conversation

The Justice Department also confirmed in June that an internal investigation into the firing of at least nine U.S. attorneys last year is also looking into a meeting between Gonzales and former DOJ White House liaison Monica Goodling, which she told Congress made her "uncomfortable."

Goodling told the House Judiciary Committee in May that in her conversation with Gonzales, the attorney general wanted to discuss his role in the controversial U.S. attorney firings. Goodling's account of the conversation appeared to contradict April testimony in which Gonzales told Congress, "I haven't talked to witnesses because of the fact that I haven't wanted to interfere with this investigation and department investigations."

DOJ expanded the internal probe into the U.S. attorney firings to include Goodling, after the former aide testified that she might have broken the law by using political considerations to hire career officials.

Dems' Calls for Action

Fine's letter comes one month after four Senate Democrats called for a special prosecutor to look into allegations that the attorney general lied to Congress under oath when testifying about the fired federal prosecutors debacle and terror surveillance programs.

Sens. Charles Schumer, D-N.Y, Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif., Russ Feingold, D-Wis., and Sheldon Whitehouse, D-R.I. had asked the Justice Department's Solicitor General Paul Clement to make the move.

DOJ regulations allow the attorney general or deputy attorney general to appoint special counsel, but Gonzales has recused himself from the ongoing U.S. attorneys investigation. Clement is the highest-ranking official at DOJ that was in his post while the process unfolded, though not involved to the firings. The White House also named Clement acting attorney general upon Gonzales' Sept. 17 departure.

In what was seen as a largely symbolic move earlier in the summer, Democrats in the House had also called for a perjury investigation to be opened against Gonzales.