Gonzales finds `safe haven' in Florida

The Miami HeraldJuly 30, 2007 

MIAMI — Alberto Gonzales, the embattled U.S. attorney general facing possible perjury charges, traded in the hot water created by his congressional testimony for a much warmer reception Monday morning in Fort Lauderdale, Fla.

During his short speech at the annual training conference for the National Organization of Black Law Enforcement Executives, Gonzales avoided the controversy swirling around him as senators back in Washington take sides on a potential perjury probe.

Instead, the attorney general found a "safe haven" at the Fort Lauderdale Convention Center by focusing on federal efforts to curb violent crime, said conference attendee Elsie Scott, a former executive director for the organization and current president of the Congressional Black Caucus.

"He didn't step into any muddy waters," Scott said.

The crowd of more than 300 law enforcement officers welcomed Gonzales with applause.

And although Gonzales didn't answer any questions from the media, he did stop to pose for a couple of pictures.

In his speech, which lasted less than five minutes, Gonzales talked about the importance of tackling violent crime. He told attendees that although most of the burden falls to local law enforcement, the U.S. government can help with training advice, grant money and the use of stiffer federal charges.

"We are proud of our partnerships with state and local law enforcement," Gonzales said. "But I recognize that effort alone is no comfort to the good people living in communities that are still tormented by violent crime."

Gonzales has been under fire in Washington for his testimony before the Senate Judiciary Committee, with senators calling his answers about last year's firing of nine U.S. attorneys and about a controversial domestic spying program "intentionally misleading."

On Thursday, four Senate Democrats asked for an independent prosecutor to lead a perjury investigation against Gonzales because of possible contradictions between his comments and the testimony of other members of the U.S. Justice Department.

For example, federal lawmakers question Gonzales' testimony about a nighttime hospital visit to then-Attorney General John Ashcroft.

On Thursday, FBI Director Robert S. Mueller told the House Judiciary Committee that the visit was about the federal government's controversial warrantless surveillance program, a claim Gonzales had earlier denied.

Political supporters of Gonzales have said there are no actual contradictions in the attorney general's statements and said the congressional hearings are legislative fishing expeditions.

Sen. Patrick Leahy, a Vermont Democrat and chairman of the Judiciary Committee, told Gonzales Thursday that the attorney general has one week to resolve inconsistencies in his testimony.

And Sen. Arlen Spector, a Pennsylvania Republican and the committee's ranking Republican, attended a national intelligence briefing to determine whether the attorney general and FBI director were talking about different elements of the same program. Spector issued a statement Monday evening saying a letter to be released at noon Tuesday will provide further clarification.

Monday's speech was Gonzales' second public appearance since senators called for the perjury investigation.

Tuesday, he will speak at a drug enforcement conference in Washington, D.C.

The National Organization of Black Law Enforcement Executives, created in 1976 to promote community policing, law enforcement training and diversity in law enforcement leadership, generally tries to get high-ranking Justice Department officials to speak at the group's annual conference, spokeswoman Najuma Thorpe said.

The organization extended an invitation to Gonzales about six months ago. He was not paid for his appearance.


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