Gonzales Rejects Calls for Resignation
Wednesday, March 14, 2007; 12:53 AM
WASHINGTON -- Attorney General Alberto Gonzales rejected growing calls for his resignation Tuesday as scores of newly released documents detailed a two-year campaign by the Justice Department and White House to purge federal prosecutors.
Gonzales acknowledged his department mishandled the dismissals of eight U.S. attorneys and misled Congress about how they were fired. He said he was ultimately to blame for those "mistakes" but stood by the firings.
"I acknowledge that mistakes were made here," Gonzales told reporters at a news briefing after he canceled an out-of-town trip. "I accept that responsibility." He promised changes "so that the mistakes that occurred in this instance do not occur again in the future."
He focused on his department's dealings with Congress concerning the firings rather than the actual dismissals _ which Democrats have suggested were politically motivated _ and the planning behind them.
"I believe very strongly in our obligation to ensure that when I provide information to the Congress that it's accurate and that it's complete. And I am very dismayed that that may not have occurred here," he said.
Gonzales also accepted the resignation of his chief of staff, Kyle Sampson. The aide, along with then-White House Counsel Harriet Miers, had begun discussing possible firings of U.S. attorneys in early 2005, according to e-mails released Tuesday.
It was the second time in as many weeks that Gonzales was under fire. Last week, the attorney general and FBI Director Robert S. Mueller admitted the FBI improperly, and at times illegally, used the USA Patriot Act to secretly pry out personal information about Americans in terrorism investigations.
Gonzales, himself a former White House counsel, has been friends with President Bush for years, going back to when he served as Bush's secretary of state in Texas. Bush retains full confidence in the attorney general, said spokesman Dan Bartlett, traveling with Bush in Mexico.
"He's a standup guy," Bartlett said of Gonzales.
As for the firings, Bartlett said White House officials had heard complaints from members of Congress regarding prosecutors and Bush had raised the subject during an October 2006 meeting with Gonzales. He described the exchange as "offhand" and said Bush did not name any specific prosecutors but did identify their states.
"This briefly came up and the president said, 'I've been hearing about this election fraud issue from members of Congress and want to be sure you're on top of it as well,'" Bartlett said.
Bartlett said Gonzales responded, "I know and we're looking at those issues."