FBI Director Robert S. Mueller said Thursday the government’s terrorist surveillance program was the topic of a 2004 hospital room dispute between top Bush administration officials, contradicting Attorney General Alberto Gonzales’ sworn Senate testimony.
Mueller’s statement came hours after Senate Democrats called for a perjury investigation against Gonzales and subpoenaed top presidential aide Karl Rove in a deepening political and legal clash with the Bush administration.
Mueller was not in the hospital room at the time of the dramatic March 10, 2004, confrontation between then-Attorney General John Ashcroft and presidential advisers Andy Card and Gonzales, who was then serving as White House counsel. Mueller told the House Judiciary Committee he arrived shortly after they left, and spoke with the ailing Ashcroft
“Did you have an understanding that that the conversation was on TSP?” asked Rep. Sheila Jackson Lee, D-Texas. TSP stands for terrorist surveillance program.
“I had an understanding the discussion was on a NSA program, yes,” Mueller answered.
Jackson asked again: “We use ‘TSP,’ we use ‘warrantless wiretapping,’ so would I be comfortable in saying that those were the items that were part of the discussion?”
“The discussion was on a national NSA program that has been much discussed, yes,” Mueller responded.
The NSA, or National Security Agency, runs the program that eavesdropped on terror suspects in the United States, without court approval, until last January, when the program was put under the authority of the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court.
On Tuesday, Gonzales repeatedly and emphatically denied that the dispute was about the terrorist surveillance program.