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The Gonzales factor

By
May 3, 2007

At least two people don’t think Attorney General Alberto Gonzales should resign, Gonzales and the only person whose opinion in this matter counts, President Bush. But this week there were clear indications that Gonzales’ continued tenure is beginning to hurt the administration with Congress.

The Senate Intelligence Committee greeted with skepticism and suspicion a Bush administration request to pass a bill giving it a freer hand in using warrantless wiretaps to eavesdrop on Americans.

In 2001, the White House secretly ordered the National Security Agency to begin eavesdropping on overseas telephone calls and e-mails without first obtaining a warrant. The opinion saying the president could ignore the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act was drafted by Gonzales, then at the White House.

Committee Chairman Jay Rockefeller, D-W.Va., and his Republican counterpart, Kit Bond of Missouri, have been trying for a year to obtain that opinion and its supporting documents. Rockefeller indicated the committee was getting impatient at the stonewalling.

Gonzales’ changing explanations and inexplicable memory gaps over the firings of eight U.S. attorneys hasn’t helped his credibility, nor have revelations about the FBI’s indiscriminate use of National Security Letters to spy on Americans.

"The attorney general has thoroughly and utterly lost my confidence," said Democratic Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse of Rhode Island.

In January, the White House finally and grudgingly agreed that the National Security Agency would have to obtain eavesdropping warrants from a secret court as the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act requires. But the lawmakers believe Bush still reserves the right to ignore the law. And, as Sen. Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif., pointed out, "There’s nothing in this bill that confines the president to work within FISA."

The administration is invoking its standard mantra to the lawmakers: Trust us. Thanks in part to Gonzales, it seems that they no longer do and the wiretap bill could be a casualty of that.

–DALE McFEATTERS