WASHINGTON – Democrats raised new questions Tuesday about whether Attorney General Alberto Gonzales may have known about FBI abuses of civil liberties when he told a Senate committee that no such abuses occurred.
Lying to Congress is a crime, but it wasn't immediately clear if Gonzales knew about the violations when he made those statements to the Senate Intelligence Committee or intentionally misled its members.
One Democrat called for a special counsel. President Bush, meanwhile, continued to support his longtime friend.
"He still has faith in the attorney general," White House spokesman Scott Stanzel told reporters Tuesday.
On April 27, 2005, while seeking renewal of the broad powers granted law enforcement under the USA Patriot Act, Gonzales told the Senate Intelligence Committee, "There has not been one verified case of civil liberties abuse" from the law enacted after the 9/11 terror attacks.
Six days earlier, the FBI sent Gonzales a copy of a report that said its agents had obtained personal information to which they were not entitled, according to The Washington Post. Gonzales had received a least half a dozen reports describing such violations in the three months before he made that statement. The newspaper obtained the internal FBI documents under the Freedom of Information Act.
The violations, the Post reported, included unauthorized surveillance and an illegal property search.
Rep. Jerrold Nadler, a longtime critic of the Patriot Act, called for a special counsel.
"Providing false, misleading or inaccurate statements to Congress is a serious crime, and the man who may have committed those acts cannot be trusted to investigate himself," Nadler, D-N.Y., said in a statement.
Each of the FBI's violations cited in the reports copied to Gonzales was serious enough to require notification of the President's Intelligence Oversight Board, which helps police the government's surveillance activities, the Post reported.
Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Patrick Leahy, D-Vt., said the inconsistency was troubling and pointed out what he said was another one: the Justice Department's accounting of when Gonzales became aware of the FBI's abuses of so-called National Security Letters — which allow agents to secretly obtain private information on ordinary Americans in terrorism investigations.
According to the department, Gonzales became aware of the abuses "prior" to March 9 this year, when Justice's inspector general released a report documenting them. Gonzales had been receiving reports of FBI abuses in terrorism investigations for months before that, according to the Post.
Leahy said the contradictions warrant further inquiry and said he'd be asking Gonzales about them prior to the attorney general's scheduled testimony before Leahy's committee July 24.
"It appears the attorney General also failed to disclose the truth about when he first knew of widespread abuses by the FBI of National Security Letters (NSLs)," Leahy said in a statement.