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Justice studying Gonzales claims

WASHINGTON – The Department of Justice said Thursday it is investigating whether Attorney General Alberto Gonzales lied or otherwise misled Congress last month in sworn testimony about the Bush administration’s domestic terrorist spying program.

Details of the inquiry by department Inspector General Glenn A. Fine were released three days after Gonzales abruptly announced he was stepping down despite months of vowing to remain on the job.

In a letter to Senate Judiciary Chairman Patrick Leahy, who two weeks ago asked for the inquiry, Fine said his investigators believe they “will be able to assess most of the issues that you raise in your letter.”

Leahy had asked Fine to look into whether Gonzales gave inaccurate testimony about the firings of several U.S. attorneys last year.

“You identified five issues and asked that we investigate whether the statements made by the attorney general were intentionally false, misleading, or inappropriate,” Fine wrote in his four-paragraph response to Leahy in the letter dated Thursday.

“The (Office of the Inspector General) has ongoing investigations that relate to most of the subjects addressed by the attorney general’s testimony that you identified,” Fine told Leahy.

Spokesmen for Gonzales had no immediate comment.

Senate and House lawmakers have said they will continue congressional investigations of Gonzales’ leadership and management at the Justice Department, despite the attorney general’s announcement Monday that he has resigned, effective Sept. 17.

Gonzales’ resignation left the White House scrambling to find a replacement.

So far, no single candidate has emerged from a list of more than two dozen lawyers, judges, GOP politicians and current and former Justice Department officials.

White House spokeswoman Dana Perino said Thursday it was unlikely that Gonzales’ successor will be named until President Bush returns Sept. 9 from the annual Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation forum in Australia.

“We would expect to do it shortly after returning from APEC,” Perino said. “This is something we want to do in an expeditious manner.”

She would not discuss any potential candidates.

Leahy, in a statement, said the internal probe “can help restore independence and accountability, which have been sorely lacking at the Justice Department.”

The investigation is not expected to be finished for several months, and possibly not until early 2008.