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Gonzales to senators: 'I may have created confusion'

  • Story Highlights
  • Attorney General Alberto Gonzales says his testimony wasn't clear
  • Gonzales says he didn't mean to "mislead" senators
  • Gonzales offers to let Sen. Patrick Leahy have a private briefing with him
  • Leahy declines that invitation and urges Gonzales to correct his testimony
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WASHINGTON (CNN) -- With potential perjury accusations hanging over him, embattled Attorney General Alberto Gonzales sent a letter to Senate leaders Wednesday acknowledging he "may have created confusion" in his previous testimony.

Attorney General Alberto Gonzales writes of his concern with "suggestions that my testimony was misleading."

But he said he did not mean to mislead senators and was "determined to address any such impression."

In a two-page letter to Sen. Patrick Leahy, the Vermont Democrat who is chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee, Gonzales defended his testimony while conceding he was not clear when he described highly classified National Security Agency surveillance activities.

"I am deeply concerned with suggestions that my testimony was misleading, and am determined to address any such impression," Gonzales told Leahy.

"I recognize that the use of the term 'Terrorist Surveillance Program' and my shorthand reference to the 'program' publicly 'described by the President' may have created confusion, particularly for those who are knowledgeable about the NSA activities authorized in the presidential order described by the DNI [director of national intelligence], and who may be accustomed to thinking of them or referring to them together as a single NSA 'program,' " Gonzales wrote.

The distinction of whether there was only one program or whether "other intelligence activities" constituted a separate program from the confirmed Terrorist Surveillance Program is critical.

Gonzales had insisted under oath that there was no dissent within the administration over the president's program.

Later, Gonzales' former deputy, James Comey, and FBI Director Robert Mueller testified there was intense debate within the administration.

Gonzales testified there was no dissent over the no-warrant eavesdropping program acknowledged by President Bush in December 2005. Gonzales said that dissent erupted over "other intelligence activities."

He would not discuss what he meant by "other."

On Tuesday, Director of National Intelligence Mike McConnell sent a letter to the committee explaining that the no-warrant eavesdropping program is "the only aspect" of surveillance activities run by the NSA that can be discussed publicly.

As the heat turns up on Gonzales, the attorney general offered to give Leahy a special briefing.

But Leahy declined.

"The attorney general's legalistic explanation of his misleading testimony under oath before the Senate Judiciary Committee last week is not what one should expect from the top law enforcement officer of the United States," Leahy said.

"It is time for full candor to enforce the law and promote justice, rather than word parsing."

Leahy said that Gonzales has until the end of this week to correct and supplement his testimony.

"I hope he will take that opportunity to clarify the many issues on which he appears not to have been forthcoming and to tell the Senate Judiciary Committee and the American people the whole truth," Leahy said.

Meanwhile Wednesday, Bush administration officials and the Democratic congressional leadership struggled to reach agreement on a proposal to enhance the government's ability to eavesdrop on the communications of foreign targets abroad.

The administration is pressing Congress to act before it leaves on its August recess at the end of the week, citing concerns about a heightened terror threat.

McConnell and Congressional Democrats have been exchanging proposals that would amend the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA) and allow for surveillance of foreign targets.

One of the sticking points involves intercepted communications where one end turns out to be in the United States.

The proposal gives the attorney general the authority to approve and monitor the surveillance.

However, the Democrats want the FISA court -- the special panel that has to approve any wiretaps involving people in the U.S. -- to oversee the eavesdropping and authorize warrants when there is a pattern of calls from a foreign target to the United States. E-mail to a friend E-mail to a friend

All About Alberto Gonzales

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