GOP Senator roasts Gonzales
Attorney General Alberto Gonzales is getting pummeled by senators, mostly but not exclusively Democrats this morning, in a Capitol Hill equivalent of a prize fight.
True, some Republicans, notably Sen. Orrin Hatch of Utah are serving as his cut men, attempting to patch him up whereever they can.
But the senators with doubts about Gonzales so far seem to be ahead on points.
The reason: Gonzales appears to be saying he was involved in the firing of the eight federal prosecutors up to his ankles but not to his neck even though he was the decider but didn't really know a lot about what he was basing his decision on. It's a strategy not likely to win him a lot of confidence.
Gonzales's strategy coming in was to do a mea culpa, say he had learned a lot and would be a better attorney general going forward.
He was wrong, he admitted, when he said during a press conference earlier this year that he wasn't involved in the firings of the eight attorney generals, an assertion contradicted by his former chief of staff.
My misstatements were my mistakes, no one else's, and I accept complete and full responsibility here, as well. That said, I've always sought the truth in every aspect of my professional and personal life. This matter has been no exception. I never sought to mislead or deceive the Congress or the American people. To the contrary, I have been extremely forthcoming with information.
He reiterated his defense at every opportunity that his involvement in the firings was slight. Consider this exchange after Sen. Patrick Leahy, chair of the Judiciary committee, asked Gonzales about the firing of former Attorney General David Iglesias of New Mexico and why he was added to the list of undesirable prosecutors. It was a noteworthy exchange for the mention of a certain famous White House political aide.
SEN. LEAHY: Do you know why he was added?
ATTY GEN. GONZALES: Again, Senator, I was not responsible for compiling that information. The recommendation was made to me. I was not surprised that Mr. Iglesias was recommended to me because I had heard about concerns about the performance of Mr. Iglesias.
SEN. LEAHY: From?
ATTY GEN. GONZALES: Certainly, I'd heard -- I'd heard concerns from Senator Domenici.
SEN. LEAHY: And who else?
ATTY GEN. GONZALES: Well, Senator, certainly --
SEN. LEAHY: And Karl Rove?
ATTY GEN. GONZALES: -- what I know -- what I know -- I heard concerns raised by Mr. Rove. And what I know today -- what I don't recall, the specific mention of this conversation, I recall the meeting -- is that there was a meeting in October with the president in which the president, as I understand it, relayed to me similar concerns about pursuing election fraud â€“
Sen. Arlen Specter, the top Republican on the panel, wasn't buying Gonzales's description of his role as nominal. He had this real testy exchange with Gonzales, with Specter connecting with a roundhouse that landed hard on Gonzales.
Sen. SPECTER: Now, let me review some of the record with you. And we don't have much time, and it's necessary to go through it at a rather summary basis, but I know you're familiar with this record because I know you've been preparing for this hearing.
ATTY GEN. GONZALES: I prepare for every hearing, Senator.
SEN. SPECTER: Do you prepare for all your press conferences? Were you prepared for the press conference where you said there weren't any discussions involving you?
ATTY GEN. GONZALES: Senator, I've already said that I misspoke. It was my mistake.
SEN. SPECTER: I'm asking you were you prepared. You interjected that you're always prepared. Were you prepared for that press conference?
ATTY GEN. GONZALES: Senator, I didn't say that I was always prepared. I said I prepared for every hearing.
SEN. SPECTER: Well, and I'm asking you, do you prepare for your press conferences?
ATTY GEN. GONZALES: Senator, we do take time to try to prepare for the press conference.
SEN. SPECTER: And were you prepared when you said you weren't involved in any deliberations?
ATTY GEN. GONZALES: Senator, I've already conceded that I misspoke at that press conference. There was nothing intentional. And the truth of the matter is, Senator, I --
SEN. SPECTER: Let's -- let's -- let's move on. I don't think you're going to win a debate about your preparation, frankly. But let's get -- let's get to the facts. I'd like you to win this debate, Attorney General Gonzales.
ATTY GEN. GONZALES: I appreciate that.
SEN. SPECTER: I'd like you to win this debate.
ATTY GEN. GONZALES: I apologized, Senator.
SEN. SPECTER: But you're going to have to win it. This is what some of the record shows. And this is according to sworn testimony from your chief of staff, Kyle Sampson, from the acting associate attorney general, Bill Mercer, and by the executive director of the Office of U.S. Attorneys, Michael Battle. You had a first conversation with Sampson in December of 2004 about replacing U.S. attorneys. Then there were intervening events, but I'll come to some of the highlights.
On June 1st, 2006, in an e-mail, Sampson described your statements on a plan addressing U.S. Attorney Lam's problems with the option of removing her. Certainly sounds like more than discussions, deliberations and judgments. I'm going to go on because I want to feed you -- I want to give you the whole picture here.
Then on June 4th or 5th, according to sworn testimony, Attorney -- Mercer discussed with you Lam's performance.
ATTY GEN. GONZALES: Senator, I did not do that, and I -- this is my -- I did not do that as part of Mr. Sampson's project of trying to analyze and understand the performance of United States attorneys upon
SEN. SPECTER: Nevermind Mr. Sampson's project. Weren't you involved in the evaluation of U.S. Attorney Lam?
ATTY GEN. GONZALES: Senator, of course I was involved in trying to understand --
SEN. SPECTER: Weren't you involved in the decision on the removal of Arkansas U.S. Attorney Bud Cummins, as Kyle Sampson testified?
ATTY GEN. GONZALES: Senator, I have no recollection about that, but I presume that that is true.
SEN. SPECTER: Weren't you involved in the decisions with respect to U.S. Attorney Iglesias in New Mexico, as you've already testified in response to the chairman's questions?
ATTY GEN. GONZALES: Senator, I do recall having a conversation with Mr. Rove. I now understand that there was a conversation between myself and the president, and at some point, Mr. Sampson brought me what I understood to be the consensus recommendation of the senior leadership that we ought to make a change in that district.
SEN. SPECTER: Okay. Now, we've got to evaluate -- and this is a final statement before I yield -- as to whether the limited number of circumstances that I recited -- and it's only a limited number; there
are many, many more -- whether you are being candid in saying that you were involved only to a limited -- you only had a, quote, "limited involvement in the process," as to being candid and also as to having
sound judgment, if you consider that limited.
And as we recite these, we have to evaluate whether you are really being forthright and saying that you, quote, "should have been more precise," closed quote, when the reality is that your characterization of your participation is just total -- significantly, if not totally, at variance with the facts.
ATTY GEN. GONZALES: Senator, you're talking about a series of events that occurred over possibly 700 days. I probably had thousands of conversations during that time, and so putting it in context, Senator, I would say that my involvement was limited. I think that is an accurate statement. It was limited involvement.
And with respect to certain communications -- such as the communication with the president, such as the discussions about Carol Lam -- I did not view it at the time as part of this review process. I simply considered those as doing part of my job. We'd heard complaints about the performance of Ms. Lam. I directed the department to try to ascertain whether or not those complaints were legitimate, and if not, we ought to look at perhaps doing something about it.
SEN. SPECTER: The chairman says I can ask one more question. You're saying it's not part of the process, it's not a part of your job? Is that what you're saying?
ATTY GEN. GONZALES: Senator --
SEN. SPECTER: Because if you are, I don't understand it.
ATTY GEN. GONZALES: Senator, I didn't consider this part of this project that Mr. Sampson was working on. I -- simply because we had this process ongoing by Mr. Sampson doesn't mean that we -- that I quit doing my job as attorney general of supervising the work of the United States attorneys, and that's what I
attempted to do.
SEN. LEAHY: But it was intimately connected with her qualifications to stay on.
ATTY GEN. GONZALES: Senator, of course in hindsight I look back now that of course that that may have affected the recommendations made to me, yes. But, Senator, when I focused on those complaints, Iwasn't thinking about this process, to remove U.S. attorneys. When I was focusing on a complaint that I had received about her performance, that's what I was focused on. I wasn't focused on the review process itself. I wasn't focused on whether or not her name would go on this list. I was focused on making sure she was doing her job. That's what I was focused on.
"If spending money you don't have is the height of stupidity, borrowing money to give it away is the height of insanity." -- anon