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Sen. Feinstein grills Neil Gorsuch on torture and wiretapping work during Bush presidency

 (Alex Wong / Getty Images)
(Alex Wong / Getty Images)

California Sen. Dianne Feinstein aggressively questioned Supreme Court nominee Neil M. Gorsuch about his involvement in defending the torture policies of the George W. Bush administration while Gorsuch was an official there.

Feinstein produced documents that she said appear to show Gorsuch condoning the use of waterboarding and other torture techniques, and offering ways to defend or explain their use. Such methods have since been abandoned by national security agencies as inhumane and ineffective. She pointed to a set of talking points she said Gorsuch prepared for former Atty. Gen. Alberto Gonzalez for a 2005 news conference.

Feinstein said the talking points asked whether “aggressive interrogation techniques employed by the administration yielded any valuable information.”

“And in the margin next to this question, you hand wrote, ‘yes’,” she said. Then she asked Gorsuch what information he had showing that the techniques were effective, a finding that was contradicted by a 7,000-page report congressional investigators published on the issue.

Gorsuch demurred. He said he was unfamiliar with the document that Feinstein was quoting from. They agreed he would review it during a break and offer more fully informed answers during the second round of questioning Tuesday afternoon.  

Feinstein then moved onto an anti-torture bill passed by Congress, and quizzed Gorsuch about his advocacy to craft Bush’s signing statement in a way that would enable the administration to continue using techniques like waterboarding and would limit the ability of prisoners subjected to them to sue the government.

Gorsuch said his memory was hazy from the discussions, which took place 12 years ago, but that he recalled there were officials in the White House who were aggressively pushing to preserve some of those techniques in the signing statement, but that he was not among that group. “There was a tug of war among parties in the White House,” he said. Feinstein asked which side Gorsuch was on. He said he was on the side of aggressively preserving the anti-torture provisions in the legislation.

When Feinstein moved to Gorsuch’s apparent advocacy in favor of a White House policy aimed at wiretapping U.S. citizens, he again said the documents she produced did not reflect his point of view.

“I was acting in my capacity as a speech writer,” he said. “I think people liked my writing.”

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