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What are the legalities of taking an oath?
February 9, 2006 2:20 PM   Subscribe

Why was Alberto Gonzales not under oath before the Senate Judiciary Committee? Specific legal nuances are what I'm looking for.

On Monday, Attorney General Gonzales appeared before the Senate Judiciary Committee to be questioned about the NSA wiretapping program. (Video available on c-span*)

Chairman Arlen Specter decided that he would not be sworn in, or given an oath.

What are the legal differences between being under oath or not in this circumstance? Why would Specter have even considered the question before coming to the hearing? Obviously, this was done for a specific reason - what is it?

I don't buy the "let's not insult Gonzales' honor" defense provided by Jeff Sessions.

I might buy the "it's perjury anyway" defense, if the oath didn't even exist.

* The debate over whether he would be sworn in or not begins during the Morning Session clip at 7:20, when it was announced that he wouldn't be sworn in, and continues at 12:00 when that decision is challenged by Patrick Leahy.
posted by odinsdream to Law & Government (12 answers total)
 
I don't know about this specific case, and I certainly don't know the details. But sometimes members of the executive branch testify before Congress without being under oath because of separation of powers. The executive member is not compelled to testify, but is there as a favour of sorts and therefore is not required to submit to an oath.
posted by Nelson at 2:22 PM on February 9, 2006


Slate's explainer explains it all.
posted by grouse at 2:29 PM on February 9, 2006


what are the legal differences between being under oath or not in this circumstance? Why would Specter have even considered the question before coming to the hearing? Obviously, this was done for a specific reason - what is it?

I think the only reason not to do it is that it's somewhat humiliating, but the vast majority of people who testify before congress do it under oath.

Other then that, I believe lying to congress is also against the law.
posted by delmoi at 2:31 PM on February 9, 2006


I think the "its humiliating" defense is pretty tenuous. Why would promising to tell the truth be humiliating?
posted by odinsdream at 2:43 PM on February 9, 2006


Lying under oath is called perjury, which is a felony. It's the crime for which Scooter Libby is under indictment (he is accused of lying to a grand jury about when, exactly, he found out that Valerie Plame was an undercover CIA agent) and for which Clinton was impeached (again, lying to a grand jury).
The main reason that Gonzales wasn't sworn in is that the Republicans on the committee were afraid that one of the lies that they knew he was going to tell would be found out, and then they'd really have little choice but to escalate the situation into impeachment hearings against Gonzales, which might then lead to impeachment hearings for Bush and/or Cheney, which is obviously something that none of them want.
Lying while not under oath is not a crime.
posted by robhuddles at 2:54 PM on February 9, 2006


Someone on the blue speculated it was to avoid the image of him being sworn from appearing in campaign ads in the future.
posted by Mitheral at 2:55 PM on February 9, 2006


And, tomorrow, former FEMA director Michael Brown will be under oath before the Senate Homeland Security Committee.

He has indicated that he is prepared to reveal his correspondence with President Bush and other officials during Hurricane Katrina despite the White House's directive to administration staffers not to reveal such.

Since he is no longer a staffer, a lawyer for Brown said that unless the White House offers legal support or otherwise forbids him from revealing the correspondence, Brown will testify specifically about his communication with several high-ranking administration officials during the emergency.

CNN is reporting that the White House is preparing a response to the lawyer.

Here's the lawyer's letter (February 6) to the White House. [PDF]
posted by ericb at 3:11 PM on February 9, 2006


Telling the truth will get him drummed out of the Bush Whitehouse.
posted by jsteward at 3:29 PM on February 9, 2006


When oil executives testified to Congress last November, Ted "Bridge to Nowhere" Stevens, the head of the Senate Commerce Committee, refused requests by Democratic committee members to have the executives sworn in. The executives all denied meeting with Vice President Cheney's energy task force in 2001 (video), but they lied. I'm confident they'll be prosecuted to the full extent of the law.
posted by kirkaracha at 4:21 PM on February 9, 2006


Telling the truth will get him drummed out of the Bush Whitehouse.

He's already out of the Bush White House. That's his lawyer's point.
posted by lambchop1 at 4:35 PM on February 9, 2006


If you're not sworn in is it ok to lie to a congressional committee?
posted by Xurando at 5:37 PM on February 9, 2006


Only sometimes. It has to be in the context of "any investigation or review, conducted pursuant to the authority of any committee, subcommittee, commission or office of the Congress, consistent with applicable rules of the House or Senate."
posted by smackfu at 6:32 PM on February 9, 2006


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