Conyers hints at Bush leak on spying to save Gonzales
In a request for information Monday, House Judiciary Committee Chairman John Conyers suggested the Bush administration may have leaked classified information on US spying programs in order to rescue embattled Attorney General Alberto Gonzales from perjury charges.
"[W]e are concerned that this disclosure, stemming from 'current and former officials briefed on the program,' may simply be an effort to respond via Administration leak of potentially classified information designed to rehabilitate previous controversial testimony by you," Conyers, a Michigan Democrat, wrote to the Attorney General.
He went on, "In this regard, we would inquire whether you or anyone in your front office has any knowledge or involvement in these leaks, and if so, who and the nature thereof."
Rep. Conyers was referring to Sunday stories in the Washington Post and New York Times. The reports suggested that the 'intelligence activities' Gonzales insisted before the Senate Judiciary Committee last week were distinct from the National Security Agency's 'warrantless wiretapping' or Terrorist Surveillance Program were part of a broad data mining effort.
"A 2004 dispute over the National Security Agency’s secret surveillance program that led top Justice Department officials to threaten resignation involved computer searches through massive electronic databases, according to current and former officials briefed on the program," New York Times reporters Scott Shane and David Johnston wrote on Sunday.
The Washington Post's Dan Eggen and Joby Warrick offered further details about the legal concerns over the data base program.
"One source familiar with the NSA program said yesterday that there were widespread concerns inside the intelligence community in 2003 and 2004 over how much Internet and telephone data mining could occur, as well as about the NSA's direct intercepts of communications without court approval," they wrote on Sunday.
If Conyers' apparent allegation is correct, the leak was conducted in order to protect Gonzales from charges that he perjured himself before Congress last week. Former Deputy Attorney General James Comey disclosed his 2004 clash with Gonzales, then White House Counsel, over the legality of a surveillance program, but would not identify the program in question.
Conyers also implicitly criticized the administration for allowing this information to leak when they failed to comply with other Congressional requests for information.
"[A]t a time when the Administration is seeking to make changes to the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act, it is imperative that all members of the House Judiciary Committee be fully apprised of these controversial, and possibly unlawful, programs, and any related programs," he wrote to the Attorney General. "It is difficult to craft appropriate legislative responses unless we have all of the relevant facts concerning these programs."
Conyers subsequently asked for "all opinions, memoranda, and background materials, as well as any dissenting views, materials, and opinions regarding the same, concerning the data base program disclosed by the media yesterday."
The letter from Conyers was also signed by Rep. Jerrold Nadler (D-NY), Chairman of the Subcommittee on the Constitution, Civil Rights and Civil Liberties, and Rep. Robert C. Scott (D-VA), Chairman of the Subcommittee on Crime, Terrorism and Homeland Security.