Gonzales and the Law

GONZALES AND THE LAW….The Washington Post is reporting, essentially, that Attorney General Alberto Gonzales perjured himself during his confirmation hearings last year. Gonzales said that it was “not the policy or the agenda of this president” to authorize actions that conflict with existing law, but since Gonzales knew perfectly well the White House had repeatedly authorized warrantless wiretaps in violation of the FISA act, he was lying.

But here’s the funny thing: I’d take a different lesson from the transcript of that testimony. Think Progress reported on this last December, and here’s a fuller extract of Gonzales’s testimony:

SEN. FEINGOLD: [Does the president] have the authority to authorize violations of the criminal law under duly enacted statutes simply because he?s commander in chief?….

MR. GONZALES: ….There is a presumption of constitutionality with respect to any statute passed by Congress. I will take an oath to defend the statutes. And to the extent that there is a decision made to ignore a statute, I consider that a very significant decision, and one that I would personally be involved with, I commit to you on that, and one we will take with a great deal of care and seriousness.

SEN. FEINGOLD: Well, that sounds to me like the president still remains above the law.

MR. GONZALES: No, sir.

….If Congress passes a law that is unconstitutional, there is a practice and a tradition recognized by presidents of both parties that he may elect to decide not to enforce that law. Now, I think that that would be ?

SEN. FEINGOLD: I recognize that, and I tried to make that distinction, Judge, between electing not to enforce as opposed to affirmatively telling people they can do certain things in contravention of the law.

MR. GONZALES: Senator, this president is not ? I ? it is not the policy or the agenda of this president to authorize actions that would be in contravention of our criminal statutes.

What’s notable is that Gonzales rather plainly didn’t promise that the president would never violate the law. What he said is that if he did ignore a statute, he would do it with a “great deal of care and seriousness.” And furthermore that it was not the president’s “policy or agenda” to violate the law ? meaning, I suppose, that he would only do it occasionally.

The real lesson here is that everything these guys say has to be deconstructed word by painstaking word to find out what it really means. Gonzales never said flatly that the president wouldn’t violate the law, and that’s exactly what he meant. Hell, Feingold even recognized that at the time.

Honor and dignity, baby, honor and dignity.