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Kennedy Seeks More Gonzales Memos

Invoking the specter of Watergate, Sen. Edward Kennedy (D-Mass.) has renewed his request for White House documents that may link Attorney General nominee Alberto Gonzales to the formulation of U.S. policy on the torture of terrorism detainees.

In a letter last week to Senate Judiciary Chairman Arlen Specter (R-Pa.), Kennedy warned that Gonzales could find himself in the same shoes as Nixon-era Attorney General Richard Kleindienst, who was prosecuted for failing to testify truthfully in his Senate nomination hearings.

In the letter, Kennedy asserted that a recent White House search for documents was too limited and “suggests that [the White House] may be consciously hiding something important from us.”

Kleindienst initially resigned from Nixon’s Cabinet amid allegations that he and others had tried to obstruct the Watergate investigation. However, it was his testimony before the Senate that actually tripped him up.

Charges were brought against Kleindienst for failure to tell the Senate that, in 1971, Nixon had ordered him to drop an antitrust suit against International Telephone and Telegraph. Nixon reportedly withdrew the order when Kleindienst threatened to resign over the matter. At the time of the ITT suit, Kleindienst was serving as deputy attorney general.

“It is not too late for us to urge the nominee [Gonzales] and the White House to give us what we actually asked for, so that if the Senate does confirm the nominee, we are not at risk of serious hindsight regret,” Kennedy wrote.

Despite substantial opposition among Democrats, the Senate is expected to confirm Gonzales on Thursday.

Kennedy was responding to a Specter memo to the full committee about a Jan. 19 search conducted by White House Deputy Counsel David Leitch. According to the Specter memo, Leitch searched for electronic records in the general counsel’s office containing the words “torture” or “interrogation.”

Specter had requested the search after Kennedy complained that Gonzales responded to many of Kennedy’s written questions by saying he had not performed a search of documents that could answer Kennedy’s inquiries. Kennedy had principally asked for more information on Gonzales’ role in formulating and approving Justice Department memos on whether the United States could use heavy-handed interrogation tactics on terrorism suspects.

Specter’s request for the search was much more narrow than what Kennedy had originally sought, namely, all documents, including e-mails and meeting notes, in the White House general counsel’s office that related to torture.

Kennedy complained that numerous types of materials were not searched including non-electronic documents, non-“word-processing” documents, documents not on the shared general counsel’s office directory, e-mails, documents written for Gonzales’ signature, documents written to Gonzales, documents copied to Gonzales, documents written by others reflecting Gonzales’ actions or statements, and notes of meetings.

Kennedy said that even the search of electronic documents on the shared office directory, Gonzales’ personal directory and Gonzales’ hard drive was flawed because it looked only for the words “torture” and “interrogation,” rather than synonyms such as “questioning,” “extreme measures” and “abuse.”

“It’s hard to be comforted by the White House assurances that ‘there was a very high probability’ that their search would have produced anything useful that existed,” wrote Kennedy. “In fact, their search looks as though it was carefully tailored not to find the relevant documents.”

During last week’s Judiciary meeting to approve Gonzales’ nomination, Sen. Orrin Hatch (R-Utah) ridiculed Kennedy’s complaints about the inadequacy of the White House’s response to requests for memos.

Kennedy’s requested search “is not limited to documents written by, addressed to or relied upon by Judge Gonzales, but conceivably apply to any documents written by anyone anywhere with regard to [torture] memorandum. Now, how can Judge Gonzales or anybody else be expected to conduct such an open-ended search?” asked Hatch.

Specter has said he was satisfied by the search.

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