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Question of the Day
Democrats raised new questions yesterday about whether Attorney General Alberto R. Gonzales knew about what they called FBI abuses of civil liberties when he told a Senate committee that there had not been a single verified case of such abuse from the USA Patriot Act.
However, a Justice Department official yesterday described the violations as mistakes rather than intentional acts of abuse or misconduct.
Lying to Congress is a crime, but it wasn’t clear whether Mr. Gonzales knew about the violations when he made his statements to the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence, or whether any of the violations rose to the level of what Democrats and the Associated Press called “civil liberties abuse.”
One Democrat, Rep. Jerrold Nadler of New York, called for a special counsel to investigate.
On April 27, 2005, while seeking renewal of the broad powers granted law enforcement under the USA Patriot Act, Mr. Gonzales told the Senate intelligence panel, “There has not been one verified case of civil liberties abuse” from the law enacted after the September 11 terrorist attacks.
Six days earlier, the FBI sent Mr. Gonzales a copy of a report that said its agents had inadvertently obtained personal information to which they were not entitled.
Several of the reported violations were referred to the President’s Intelligence Oversight Board and copied to other officials.
It was not clear whether Mr. Gonzales ever saw the documents reporting the violations, and several Justice Department officials said yesterday that they could not remember discussing specific cases with him before an internal March report by Inspector General Glenn A. Fine that outlined the problems.
The FBI documents released show that many of the suspected violations were the result of wrong phone numbers or of Internet service providers giving agents more information than was requested.
House Minority Whip Roy Blunt says the conventional wisdom has flipped, with his Senate counterparts now becoming more vulnerable to the changing winds of public opinion.
Asked why House Republicans were not seeing the kinds of Iraq war defections now taking place in the Senate, the Missouri Republican said, “Usually the House is less responsive to what appears to be a shift in public opinion than the Senate.”
Eric Pfeiffer reports that Mr. Blunt’s answer got a surprised response from reporters, who noted that the Senate traditionally has been viewed as the more thoughtful, deliberative body.
“It was counterintuitive when the Constitution was written,” Mr. Blunt acknowledged. “[But now] the Senate is often the body that reacts more quickly, and I think, on occasion, overreacts, than the House.”
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