On December 14, 2005, Alberto Gonzales participated in an online question and answer session for the Washington Post. One of the questioners made the following comment:
I have a vague memory of reports of thousands of wire taps, many without the required authorization.
To which Gonzales responded:
You mention wiretaps. All wiretaps must be authorized by a federal judge. In addition, investigators must show probable cause and comply with other requirements before the court may authorize the wiretap. This has always been the case, and the PATRIOT Act did nothing to diminish these safeguards.
Two days later, on December 16, 2005, James Risen and Eric Lichtblau of the New York Times published their blockbuster story revealing that the Bush Administration had been wiretapping U.S. citizens without warrants for years.
On December 19, 2005--just five days after his Post chat--Gonzales once again appeared for a question and answer session, this time acknowledging that, well, he was lying through his teeth before:
Q. General, can you tell us why you don't choose to go to the FISA court?
ATTORNEY GENERAL GONZALES: Well, we continue to go to the FISA court and obtain orders. It is a very important tool that we continue to utilize. Our position is that we are not legally required to do, in this particular case, because the law requires that we -- FISA requires that we get a court order, unless authorized by a statute, and we believe that authorization has occurred. . . .
ATTORNEY GENERAL GONZALES: This is not about wiretapping everyone. This is a very concentrated, very limited program focused at gaining information about our enemy . . .
ATTORNEY GENERAL GONZALEZ: I guess I disagree with that characterization. I think that this electronic surveillance is within the law, has been authorized. I mean, that is our position. We're only required to achieve a court order through FISA if we don't have authorization otherwise by the Congress, and we think that that has occurred in this particular case.
This is as blatant an example of lying as you'll find in politics. One day, Gonzales was willing to assure the public that ALL wiretapping was done pursuant to a court order, as required by law. Less than a week later, he was forced to acknowledge that not all wiretapping was being conducted pursuant to a court order, and in fact, the Bush Administration believed that it had the constitutional and statutory authority to disregard the law.
And it's not as if Gonzales was somehow out of the loop. As James Comey's testimony this week made perfectly clear, Gonzales was intimately involved in the warrantless surveillance program from its inception. Indeed, he had once tried to coax his incapacitated predecessor into authorizing the program from his hospital bed. And since becoming Attorney General, Gonzales had presumably reauthorized that very program every 45 days.
But in order to convince the public to support the reauthorization of the Patriot Act (a law the administration was actively violating), Gonzales simply lied. He told the questioner that "all wiretaps must be authorized by a federal judge" and that this had "always been the case."
This was not the first or last time Alberto Gonzales would lie. But it's a particularly egregious example of it.