FBI Director Robert Mueller has contradicted the sworn testimony of Attorney General Alberto Gonzales, telling Congress that a prominent warrantless surveillance program was the subject of a dramatic legal debate within the Bush administration, reports the Washington Post. It apparently is the first public confirmation from an administration official that the National Security Agency’s Terrorist Surveillance Program was at issue in an unusual nighttime visit by Gonzales to the hospital bed of then-Attorney General John Ashcroft, who was under sedation recovering from surgery.
Mueller’s remarks to the House Judiciary Committee differed from testimony this by Gonzales, who told a Senate panel that a legal disagreement aired at the hospital did not concern the NSA program. Details of the program, kept secret for four years, were confirmed by President Bush in December 2005, provoking wide controversy on Capitol Hill. The Mueller testimony presents a new problem for the beleaguered attorney general, whose credibility has come under attack from Democrats and some Republicans. The Justice Department said Gonzales’s testimony and statements about the NSA program have been accurate, but that “confusion is inevitable when complicated classified activities are discussed in a public forum.”