Why bother swearing in a witness?
Attorney General Gonzales testified before the Senate Judiciary Committee about the NSA spying program on Monday, and you’ve probably already heard that he was not sworn in. If you haven’t heard, well then by golly, he wasn’t sworn in. Why not? Let’s go to the tapes:
SPECTER [Chairman]: There has been some question about swearing in the attorney general and I discussed that with the attorney general. He said he would be willing to be sworn.
After reflecting on the matter, I think it is unwarranted because the law provides ample punishment for a false official statement or a false statement to Congress
FEINGOLD: Mr. Chairman, I’d just say that the reason that anyone would want him sworn has to do with the fact that certain statements were made under oath at the confirmation hearing. So it seems to me logical that, since we’re going to be asking about similar things, that he should be sworn in this occasion, as well.
LEAHY: And, Mr. Chairman, if I might on that point — if I might on that point, of course, the attorney general was sworn in on another occasion other than his confirmation, when he and Director Mueller appeared before this committee for oversight. [...] I also recall the chairman and other Republicans insisting that former Attorney General Reno be sworn, which she came up here on occasions other than her confirmation.
SPECTER: [...I]t is my judgment that it is unnecessary to swear the witness.
LEAHY: But, Mr. Chairman, may I ask, if the witness has no objection to being sworn, why not just do it and then not have this question raised here?
SPECTER: [...T]he reason I’m not going to swear him in is not up to him. Attorney General Gonzales is not the chairman; I am. And I’m going to make the ruling.
FEINGOLD (?): Chairman, I move the witness be sworn.
SPECTER: The chairman has ruled. If there is an appeal from the ruling of the chair, I have a pretty good idea how it’s going to come out.
FEINGOLD (?): Mr. Chairman, I appeal the ruling of the chair.
I’ve elided a lot of verbiage in which, among other things, Specter argues that he’s reviewed records and applicable law to arrive at his decision. After the exchange above, there was a vote by role call. All the Republicans voted not to swear in the witness, all the Democrats voted that he be sworn. There are, of course, more Republicans on the committee than Democrats.
LEAHY: Mr. Chairman, I don’t…
SPECTER: Let’s not engage in protracted debate on this subject. We’re not going to swear this witness, and we have the votes to stop it.