The NYT seems to think that Gonzo lied at the press conference rather than before Congress and that the "program" they were trying were trying to sneak by a heavily sedated Ashcroft was in fact data mining rather than wire-tapping. That's certainly a relief, but Digby
I think the Times is probably right about this. The wiretapping statutes, to my recollection, do place some limits even on the ability to gather pen registers, and while they also provide much more stringent limits on the ability to monitor the content of phone conversations, I could see Ashcroft objecting to the mining program and not the wiretapping if only the latter involved US citizens with no connection to foreign powers. And I could also see Gonzo forgetting which was which when commenting on them in a press conference. Or lying. Gonzo's behavior is only so probative, since I think for him a lie is as good as the truth. But Ashcroft seems to have objected on a principle of some kind, and the citizens/non-citizens distinction seems like a more plausible animating distinction to me than the conversation content/information distinction. Recent events have increased my opinion of Ashcroft, and the FBI in general (they seemed to have been the only thing resembling a conscience in the administration when Abu Ghraib became known outside of Iraq) but he is still the man who lead the 2001 Palmer, I mean Ashcroft raids that detained thousands of immigrants, so I have a hard time believing that the foreign/domestic distinction was not, for him, the salient one.
In any case, let's not forget the dark horse possibility, the one floated by a number of liberal bloggers, that the program in question was neither, that it was something still yet to be disclosed, and that it was even more constitutionally putrid. I mean, this was closer in time to 9/11, when they were up to shit like this. Gonzo's strategic choices during this phase of the scandal seem kind of puzzling -- he is willing to admit that Ashcroft had constitutional objections to a program he now seeks to protect, that he had to go to Ashcroft during a goddamn gall-bladder surgery to secure his approval for that program, that he never disclosed these objections, and that he trumpeted the lack of dissent as to another closely related program without ever acknowledging the objections by the most conservative AG since the 19th century.
It is certainly the behavior of someone who fears something more than losing approval for the data-mining program, or than losing public support generally. Yes, an even more obnoxious effort, say one designed to silence and investigate domestic dissent a la Hoover and Mitchell could be the culprit. The more likely possibility, however, is that he is simply afraid of a perjury prosecution.
As well he should be.
Main and Central provides about as good a defense of the Hoover hypothesis as can be mounted. The fun part? I think we are actually going to know the truth soon. There are an awful lot of people breaking ranks here.