In a letter to the Senate Judiciary Committee on Feb. 28, Gonzales recanted testimony he gave on Feb. 6 when he declared that Bush had only authorized a narrowly constructed warrantless wiretapping program by the National Security Agency against Americans in touch with foreign terror suspects.
Referring to a part of his testimony in which he said Bush had approved the NSA program "and that is all that he has authorized, " Gonzales withdrew that language, saying "I did not and could not address ... any other classified intelligence activities. " [Washington Post, March 1, 2006]
The strained wording of Gonzales 's letter and the fact that he deemed it necessary to correct his testimony suggest that other warrantless surveillance programs exist outside the framework of the NSA program, which began shortly after the Sept. 11, 2001, terror attacks and was exposed by the New York Times in December 2005.
Sen. Arlen Specter of Pennsylvania, the committee 's Republican chairman, didn 't put Gonzales under oath at the Feb. 6 hearing, but false statements to Congress still constitute a potential criminal offense.
The dubious testimony came during close questioning by Sen. Patrick Leahy of Vermont, the committee 's ranking Democrat. Leahy pressed Gonzales on the administration 's claim that Congress gave Bush the power to wiretap without a court warrant when it authorized use of force against al-Qaeda after the Sept. 11 attacks.
In his testimony, Gonzales argued that the congressional use-of-force authorization, combined with the President 's Commander-in-Chief power in the Constitution, permitted Bush to approve a wiretapping program for communications between Americans and terror suspects operating outside the United States.
But in challenging Bush 's right to ignore the 1978 Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act, which requires a special court to approve wiretaps Leahy demanded to know if the administration 's legal interpretation also let Bush conduct other warrantless spying on Americans, including tapping purely domestic phone calls, mail openings and "black bag " break-ins into people 's homes and offices.
"Under that (administration) logic, is there anything that stops you from wiretapping without a warrant somebody inside the United States that you suspect of having al-Qaeda connections? " Leahy asked.
"Clearly, Senator, that is not what 's going on here, " Gonzales responded. "The President had authorized a much more narrow program. We are always, of course, subject to the Fourth Amendment. So the activities of any kind of surveillance within the United States would, of course, be subject to the Fourth Amendment, " which requires "probably cause " and a court warrant before the property of Americans can be searched.
Leahy persisted. "Under your interpretation of this, can you go in and do mail searches? Can you go into e-mails? Can you open mail? Can you do black-bag jobs? ... Can you go and do that (to) Americans? "
Gonzales responded, "Sir, I've tried to outline for you and the committee what the President has authorized, and that is all that he has authorized. "
"Did it authorize the opening of first-class mail of U.S. citizens? " Leahy continued. "That you can answer, yes or no. "
Gonzales: "There is all kinds of wild speculation about... "
Leahy: "Did it authorize it? "