Documents show that eight congressional leaders were briefed about the Bush administration’s terrorist surveillance program on the eve of its expiration in 2004, contradicting sworn Senate testimony this week by Attorney General Alberto Gonzales.
The documents, obtained by The Associated Press, come as senators consider whether a perjury investigation should be opened into conflicting accounts about the program and a dramatic March 2004 confrontation leading up to its potentially illegal reauthorization.
A Gonzales spokesman maintained Wednesday that the attorney general stands by his testimony.
At a heated Senate Judiciary Committee hearing Tuesday, Gonzales repeatedly testified that the issue at hand was not about the terrorist surveillance program, which allowed the National Security Agency to eavesdrop on suspects in the United States without receiving court approval.
Instead, Gonzales said, the emergency meetings on March 10, 2004, focused on an intelligence program that he would not describe.
Gonzales, who was then serving as counsel to Bush, testified that the White House Situation Room briefing sought to inform congressional leaders about the pending expiration of the unidentified program and Justice Department objections to renew it. Those objections were led by then-Deputy Attorney General Jim Comey, who questioned the program’s legality.
“The dissent related to other intelligence activities,” Gonzales testified at Tuesday’s hearing. “The dissent was not about the terrorist surveillance program.”
“Not the TSP?” responded Sen. Charles E. Schumer, D-N.Y. “Come on. If you say it’s about other, that implies not. Now say it or not.”
“It was not,” Gonzales answered. “It was about other intelligence activities.”
A four-page memo from the national intelligence director’s office shows that the White House briefing with the eight lawmakers on March 10, 2004, was about the terror surveillance program, or TSP.
The memo, dated May 17, 2006, and addressed to then-House Speaker Dennis Hastert, details “the classification of the dates, locations, and names of members of Congress who attended briefings on the Terrorist Surveillance Program,” wrote then-Director of National Intelligence John Negroponte.
It shows that the briefing in March 2004 was attended by the Republican and Democratic House and Senate leaders and top Intelligence Committee members, as Gonzales testified.