Gonzales: 'Mistakes Were Made'

Attorney General Alberto R. Gonzales said he knew little about how his chief of staff, who resigned Monday, was handling the dismissals.
Attorney General Alberto R. Gonzales said he knew little about how his chief of staff, who resigned Monday, was handling the dismissals. (By Preston Keres -- The Washington Post)
By Dan Eggen and Paul Kane
Washington Post Staff Writers
Wednesday, March 14, 2007

Attorney General Alberto R. Gonzales took responsibility yesterday for "mistakes" related to the firing of eight U.S. attorneys last year but rejected calls for his resignation from Democrats who accuse him of misleading Congress.

"I acknowledge that mistakes were made here. I accept that responsibility," Gonzales said. He said he did not know the details of the plan to fire the prosecutors, but he defended the dismissals: "I stand by the decision, and I think it was a right decision."

The remarks came after the Justice Department released e-mails and other documents showing that, despite months of administration statements to the contrary, the White House more than two years ago initiated the process that led to the dismissals, and that the decisions were heavily influenced by assessments of the prosecutors' political loyalty. President Bush and senior White House adviser Karl Rove also separately passed along complaints to Gonzales that prosecutors were not aggressively pursuing voter-fraud cases, officials said.

The revelations prompted another outcry on Capitol Hill over the firings and new demands for Gonzales's resignation from key Democrats, including Senate Majority Leader Harry M. Reid (Nev.), Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton (N.Y.) and Sen. Edward M. Kennedy (Mass.). "It appears he's over his head in this job," Reid said.

Even Republicans who have supported the ousters sharply criticized the attorney general.

But Gonzales said he is "here not because I give up," and White House counselor Dan Bartlett said Bush has "all the confidence in the world" in Gonzales, who has served Bush for more than 12 years in Texas and Washington.

Democrats also renewed calls for testimony from Rove and Harriet E. Miers, the former White House counsel who first suggested in February 2005 that all 93 U.S. attorneys be removed and whose office was provided with evolving lists of at least a dozen prosecutors targeted for ouster. The White House signaled that it would resist the demands.

E-mails released yesterday show that White House deputy political director J. Scott Jennings communicated with Justice officials about the appointment of Tim Griffin, a former Rove aide, to be the U.S. attorney in Little Rock. Jennings used an e-mail account registered to the Republican National Committee, where Griffin had worked as an opposition researcher.

Democratic congressional aides said they will investigate whether using the private address for government business violated laws against using taxpayer resources for political work or signaled that White House officials considered the firing of U.S. attorneys to be primarily a political issue. Jennings did not return a call to his office seeking a comment.

"As a matter of course, the RNC provides server space and equipment to certain White House personnel in order to assist them with their political efforts," RNC spokeswoman Tracey Schmitt said.

Seven U.S. attorneys were fired on Dec. 7, and another was let go months earlier, with little explanation from Justice Department officials, who later told Congress that the dismissals were related to their performance in office. Several former prosecutors have since alleged intimidation, including improper telephone calls from GOP lawmakers or their aides, and have alleged threats of retaliation by a Justice Department official.

Although Bush and President Bill Clinton each dismissed nearly all U.S. attorneys upon taking office, legal experts and former prosecutors say the firing of a large number of prosecutors in the middle of a term appears to be unprecedented and threatens the independence of prosecutors.

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