WASHINGTON - His job in jeopardy, Attorney General Alberto Gonzales insisted Thursday he played only a minor role in the dismissal of eight federal prosecutors. Skeptical senators reacted with disbelief.
"We have to evaluate whether you are really being forthright," Sen. Arlen Specter bluntly informed the nation's chief law enforcement officer.
The Pennsylvania Republican said Gonzales' description was "significantly if not totally at variance with the facts."
In a long turn in the witness chair, Gonzales said that despite initial administration claims that the prosecutors had been fired for inadequate performance, he approved their dismissals without looking at their job evaluations.
Offering an apology to the eight and their families for their treatment, he said he had "never sought to mislead or deceive the Congress or the American people" on that or any other matter.
Both Senator Leahy and Specter were highly skeptical of Gonzales' testimony. Specter, the ranking Republican on the committee (who has on previous Gonzales appearances while he was Chairman had refused to let him be sworn in) at one point even stated as Gonzales insisted that his involvement was "limited" that either "You are not being candid with us or we have to begin to seriously question your judgement and competence."
Gonzales offered a scenario to the Senators where he claims to have approved the removal of eight U.S. Attorneys based on recommendations primarily compiled by his Chief of Staff Kyle Sampson even though he himself had only cursory knowledge with any reasons for six of those included on the final list and no knowledge of the reasons for two of of the firings at the time of his approval.
Of those attorney's which he had heard complains, such as allegations that Prosecutor Carol Lam in San Diego had not persued enough gun and immigration cases, or complaints from Senator Dominici about Prosecutor David Iglesias in New Mexico, Gonzales claimed neither to have investigated the veracity of these complaints, used the nominal U.S. Attorney evaluation E.A.R.S. system in his determination or even talked to any of the U.S. Attorney's in question as part of a management effort to help them correct any problems in their handling their duties - with the exception of Prosecutor Bogden whom who spoke too after he had been fired.
Update:During his testimony he confirmed that he had spoken not only with Dominici (about whom the Senate has confirmed an ethics investigation) regarding Iglesias, but also with Karl Rove and President Bush. Iglesias vigorously maintains that he was fired for political reasons.
Regarding the removal of H. E. "Bud" Cummins in Arkansas, Gonzales maintained that his resignation was approved in June, prior to the late 2006 purge, and that it's justifications had to do with his own desire to spend time with his family and that fact that their was already another "Well Qualified Candidate" available. That candidate was Karl Rove's former assistant and Monica Goodling's former boss in 2000.
To say that most Senators, which the exception of Jeff Sessions (R-AL) and Orrin Hatch (R-UT) who did little but praise the beseiged Attorney General's service and qualifications, where highly dubious and visibly angered by some of Gonzales claims would be an understatment. Even Republican Senator Sam Brownback looked nothing but pained as he asked Gonzales to explain the reasons for each firing decision in the most prefunctory way imaginable.
In response to Senator Herb Kohl (D-WI) Gonzales vigorously claimed that they persure cases without a partisan bias or regard to party. "We prosecuted Republican Bob Ney." They also prosecuted Republican Randy "Duke" Cunningham and rewarded the U.S. Attorney responsible for that successful prosecuting, Carol Lam, with being fired.
Senator Tom Coburn (R-OK) reflected what may be the general sentiment even among some Republicans on the committee.
COBURN: Mr. Attorney General, it’s my considered opinion that the exact same standards should be applied to you in how this was handled. It was handled incompetently, the communication was atrocious. It was inconsistent. It’s generous to say that there was misstatements, that’s a generous statement. And I believe you ought to suffer the consequences that these others have suffered, and I believe the best way to put this behind us is your resignation.The Newspaper Op-ed Pages have been even less kind than the Senate. The New York Times editorial page:
Gonzales v. Gonzales
Published: April 20, 2007
If Attorney General Alberto Gonzales had gone to the Senate yesterday to convince the world that he ought to be fired, it’s hard to imagine how he could have done a better job, short of simply admitting the obvious: that the firing of eight United States attorneys was a partisan purge.
Mr. Gonzales came across as a dull-witted apparatchik incapable of running one of the most important departments in the executive branch.
Dana Milbank writes in Maybe Gonzales Won't Recall His Painful Day on the Hill:
Alberto Gonzales's tenure as attorney general was pronounced dead at 3:02 p.m. yesterday by Tom Coburn, M.D.
The good doctor, who also happens to be a Republican member of the Senate Judiciary Committee, made this clinical judgment after watching Gonzales suffer through four hours of painful testimony. The Oklahoman listed the cause of death as management failure and other complications of the Justice Department's firing of eight federal prosecutors.
Andrew Cohen writes in a WaPo columnn called Out of Touch, Out of Line, and Running Out of Time:
If there was one single moment in this morning's testimony by Attorney General Alberto R. Gonzales before the Senate Judiciary Committee that encapsulates the sheer gall and shamelessness of the man in the hot seat, it occurred at about 10:52 when he said that questions about "partisan politics" within the Justice Department actually are an insult to (and criticism of) the career attorneys who bring controversial cases. For that cruelly cynical statement alone-- pretending that legitimate criticism of his own failed leadership as Attorney General actually is instead unfair criticism of some of the victims within the Justice Department-- Gonzales deserves to be fired. Not in a month. Not in a week. Today.
...for Gonzales to try to defend himself and his lackeys from attack before the Committee by playing the "career professionals" card is not only disingenuous it is downright appalling. It demonstrates once and for all that Gonzales isn't merely a hapless hack in over his head and a lethargic lapdog for the White House. It demonstrates that he is willing to say or do anything to protect himself and his allies at the expense of the people he purports to lead. It demonstrates that he is still unable or unwilling to accept responsibility for his own lack of leadership that has led directly to this controversy. And it proves conclusively that he is a big part of the problem and certainly not the solution at the Department.
Editorial from the Boston Globe:
No support for either Gonzales
April 20, 2007
The reactions to the testimony from some of the fired U.S. Attorney's has been even more scathing if possible: Former Washington U.S. Attorney John McKay:
IT IS DIFFICULT to say which version of Attorney General Alberto Gonzales's role in the firing of eight US attorneys more disqualifies him as the nation's chief law enforcement officer. There is his version, in which he was only tangentially involved in an unprecedented mid term purge of federal prosecutors. If that is true, he allowed unsupervised underlings to handle one of the most important responsibilities of the Justice Department.
The other version is the one described by three of those aides: that Gonzales was closely involved in selecting US attorneys to be fired and building a case against them. If that version is true, Gonzales was lying again yesterday when he downplayed his role in his testimony before the Senate Judiciary Committee. In either case, he should have long since resigned.
Gonzales cited McKay’s authorship of a letter criticizing delays in implementing a law enforcement information-sharing program, as well as comments he made to the Seattle P-I last fall about the staffing levels in his office.
“Generally I recollect there being serious concerns about his judgment,” Gonzales told the Senate Judiciary Committee. […]
“I think it’s a sad day for the Department of Justice,” said McKay, who previously represented the Western District of Washington. “The attorney general missed an opportunity to testify with honor.”
Asked to elaborate, McKay declined, saying, “The senators savaged him enough. I certainly don’t want to talk about his absurd allegations. He’s obviously so disconnected he has no idea what my performance was like and what my judgment was like, and I’ll just leave it at that.”
Former New Mexico U.S. Attorney David Iglesias:
Iglesias watched the hearings from a naval base at Newport, R.I. He’s finishing a naval reserve deployment and called the hearings “painful to watch.”
“I can only liken Mr. Gonzales’ testimony to a bloodied swimmer in a shark tank. He’s really getting beat up,” Iglesias said. […]
“Now we’re hearing from the A.G. that he apologized on how this was handled. That doesn’t quite get us to where we need to go which was that they shouldn’t have done it. Kyle Sampson stated that under oath a couple of weeks ago, that the Department of Justice should have never gone down this path and if he had it to do over he would have never put me on that list,” Iglesias said.
With the President continuing in his bubble-tinted-view of the situation with claims that "Gonzales performed well" before the Senate, the likelyhood that he'll ask for Gonzales' resignation is about the same as the likelyhood that Abu will give it. Republican Senators have shown that they'd like this entire embarrising episode to end, but the choice before Democrats is weather it's better for the nation to continue to draw this out - as they've reportedly already issued subpoenas for the testimony of Karl Rove and Harriet Miers - or look at the information they already have before them, which clearly indicates that Gonzales may have Obstructed Justice and knowingly lied to Congress, and seek his immediate Impeachment and Removal from Office as is their constitutional right.