It is so easy to let a witness slip through your fingers. Loosen your grip even slightly and the witness flies away.
On Thursday, the House Judiciary Committee had a golden opportunity to fix in amber FBI Director Robert Mueller's testimony about the infamous bedside exhortation of ailing (then) Attorney General Ashcroft by Alberto Gonzales. It would be a record that we could all look at and say sure enough, that's what happened, a record that a prosecutor could use to investigate and perhaps prosecute Gonzales for perjury. Regrettably, this is what we got:
In his own sworn testimony Thursday, Mueller contradicted Gonzales, saying under questioning that the terrorist surveillance program, or TSP, was the topic of the hospital room dispute between top Bush administration officials.
Mueller was not in the hospital room at the time of the March 10, 2004, confrontation between Ashcroft and presidential advisers Andy Card and Gonzales, who was then serving as White House counsel. Mueller told the House Judiciary Committee he arrived shortly after they left, and then spoke with the ailing Ashcroft.
"Did you have an understanding that the discussion was on TSP?" asked Rep. Sheila Jackson Lee, D-Texas, in a round of questioning that may have sounded to listeners like bureaucratic alphabet soup.
"I had an understanding the discussion was on a NSA program, yes," Mueller answered.
Jackson Lee sought to clarify: "We use 'TSP,' we use 'warrantless wiretapping,' so would I be comfortable in saying that those were the items that were part of the discussion?"
"The discussion was on a national NSA program that has been much discussed, yes," Mueller responded.
Do you remember our little discussion about foundation the other day, boys and girls? Let's consider: Mueller wasn't in the room, but he testified that the conversation in the room was about the much-discussed warrantless wiretap program. He wasn't at the intersection, but he still testified that the light was green. There wasn't anybody there to say "Objection, foundation!" to Rep. Jackson Lee, but Spot wishes that there had been someone.
If Jackson Lee had been more intent on creating a good record, she might have followed up with questions like this:
Why were you called to the hospital that night? By whom?
You said you weren't in the room for the meeting. Did someone present at it tell you what was discussed? Who? What did he/they say?
Did you see the authorization that Alberto Gonzales sought to have John Ashcroft sign? Did you keep a copy of it? What surveillance program did it address?
Were there subsequent discussions or communications concerning this hospital meeting that you had with anyone? What was said and by whom?
Spotty is very glad that Jackson Lee is "comfortable," but he would have preferred a better record. Couple this with the flim-flam job that Gonzales pulled on the Senate the same day, as ably described by Hammer at Three Way News, and you can see, boys and girls, that Alberto Gonzales beats a perjury rap on the current record. That's in essence what the Friday night pundit class found out when they asked legal experts whether Alberto Gonzales had committed perjury. It need further investigation, they said. If the House had been better at nailing Mueller down, it would be easier to demonstrate Gonzales' prevarication. As it stands, all we have is more fodder for the talking heads.