The Duck of Minerva

The Duck Quacks at Twilight

Alberto Gonzales: A gifted debater he ain’t

February 7, 2006

[Updated 2/8]

Exhibit A: This exchange between Attorney General Gonzales and Sen. Biden from today’s hearings on NSA domestic wiretapping (hat tip Atrios):

BIDEN: Thank you very much.

General, how has this revelation damaged the program?

I’m almost confused by it but, I mean, it seems to presuppose that these very sophisticated Al Qaida folks didn’t think we were intercepting their phone calls.

I mean, I’m a little confused. How did it damage this?

GONZALES: Well, Senator, I would first refer to the experts in the Intel Committee who are making that statement, first of all. I’m just the lawyer.

And so, when the director of the CIA says this should really damage our intel capabilities, I would defer to that statement. I think, based on my experience, it is true — you would assume that the enemy is presuming that we are engaged in some kind of surveillance.

But if they’re not reminded about it all the time in the newspapers and in stories, they sometimes forget.


Are you kidding me? If we don’t remind them they might forget. That’s the best he could come up with?! The Attorney General of the United States? Harvard freakin’ Law School and the best rebuttle he can come up with is they might forget? I am stunned beyond belief here–I cannot even comprehend this. You mean they sat there, prepped his testimony, investigated every possible question that might be posed and either a) didn’t think this one might come up or b) decided that “sometimes they forget” would be an adequate rhetorical coup de grâce?!!

By the way, the laughter indicated at the end is priceless.


It keeps getting better:

GONZALES: I gave in my opening statement, Senator, examples where President Washington, President Lincoln, President Wilson, President Roosevelt have all authorized electronic surveillance of the enemy on a far broader scale — far broader — without any kind of probable cause standard, all communications in and out of the country.

Atrios has an apt response: “Aside from the rather obvious issue of, you know, lacking electronic communications at the time, what war was President Washington fighting?”

More fun from the hearing:

SPECTER: I don’t think you can use the principle of avoiding a tough constitutional conflict by disagreeing with the plain words of the statute.

Attorney General Gonzales, when members of Congress heard about your contention that the resolution authorizing the use of force amended the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act, there was general shock.

GONZALES: Sir, we’ve never asserted that FISA has been amended. We’ve always asserted that our interpretation of FISA, which contemplates another statute and we have that here in the authorization to use force, that those complement each other. This is not a situation where FISA has been overwritten or FISA has been amended. That’s never been our position.

SPECTER: That just defies logic and plain English.

They should take this act to Vegas…

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Petti is Associate Director of Insights and Analytics at Alexion . Previously, he served as Lead Data Scientist in the Decision Sciences group at Maritz Motivation and a Global Data Strategist and Subject Matter Expert for Gallup.