Fredo, you’re my attorney general and I love you. But don’t ever potentially commit perjury while testifying before Congress again: Washington Post columnist Ruth Marcus finds herself in “an unaccustomed and unexpected position: defending Attorney General Alberto Gonzales.” Marcus thinks Gonzales chose his language carefully enough to avoid committing perjury when he misled Congress about the nature of the conversation that took place in John Ashcroft’s hospital room. But that’s about the only nice thing she has to say about him:
In his Senate testimony last week, Gonzales once again dissembled and misled. He was too clever by seven-eighths. He employed his signature brand of inartful dodging — linguistic evasion, poorly executed. The brutalizing he received from senators of both parties was abundantly deserved.
But I don’t think he actually lied about his March 2004 hospital encounter with then-Attorney General John Ashcroft.
Although “Congress deserves better than technically correct linguistic parsing,” Marcus writes, perjury is still “a crime that demands parsing.” She writes:
The Supreme Court could have been writing about Gonzales when it ruled that “the perjury statute is not to be loosely construed, nor the statute invoked simply because a wily witness succeeds in derailing the questioner — so long as the witness speaks the literal truth” — even if the answers “were not guileless but were shrewdly calculated to evade.”
Consequently, the calls by some Democrats for a special prosecutor to consider whether Gonzales committed perjury have more than a hint of maneuvering for political advantage. What else is to be gained by engaging in endless Clintonian debates about what the meaning of “program” is?
Rather, lawmakers need to concentrate on determining what the administration did — and under what claimed legal authority — that produced the hospital room showdown. They need to satisfy themselves that the administration has since been operating within the law; to see what changes might guard against a repetition of the early, apparently unlawful activities; and to determine where the foreign intelligence wiretapping statute might need fixes.