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Attorney General Gonzales On the U.S. Attorney Firings

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Tuesday, March 13, 2007; 2:56 PM

GONZALES: Let me begin with some core principles, some things that I believe in.

One, I believe in the independence of our U.S. attorneys. They are the face of the department. They are my representative in the community. I acknowledge their sacrifice. I acknowledge their courage to step into the arena on behalf of the American people.

Secondly, the attorney general, all political appointees, such as U.S. attorneys, serve at the pleasure of the president of the United States.

Third, I believe fundamentally in the constitutional role of the Senate in advice and consent with respect to U.S. attorneys, and would in no way support an effort to circumvent that constitutional role.

I believe in accountability. Like every CEO of a major organization, I am responsible for what happens at the Department of Justice. I acknowledge that mistakes were made here. I accept that responsibility. And my pledge to the American people is to find out what went wrong here, to access accountability, and to make improvements so that the mistakes that occurred in this instance do not occur again in the future.

Finally, let me just say one thing.

I've overcome a lot of obstacles in my life to become attorney general. I am here not because I give up; I am here because I've learned from my mistakes, because I accept responsibility and because I'm committed to doing my job. And that is what I intend to do here on behalf of the American people.

With that, I'll take your questions.

QUESTION: Can you explain what the White House role is specifically in your successor, Harriet Miers, suggested that perhaps all U.S. attorneys should be changed over?

QUESTION: Is that the seed that started all of this? How does that connect to the actual terminations?

GONZALES: As we can all imagine, in an organization of 110,000 people, I am not aware of every bit of information that passes through the halls of the Department of Justice, nor am I aware of all decisions.

As a general matter, some two years ago, I was made aware that there was a request from the White House as to the possibility of replacing all the United States attorneys.

That was immediately rejected by me. I felt that that was a bad idea and it was disruptive.

QUESTION: Was that the end of it then?

GONZALES: What I know is that there began a process of evaluating strong performers, not as strong performers and weak performers. And so, as far as I knew, my chief of staff was involved in the process of determining who were the weak performers; where were the districts around the country where we could do better for the people in that district.

And that's what I knew.

But, again, with respect to this whole process, like every CEO, I am ultimately accountable and responsible for what happens within the department.

But that is, in essence, what I knew about the process. I was not involved in seeing any memos, was not involved in any discussions about what was going on. That's basically what I knew as the attorney general.

QUESTION: Any discussions between you and the White House with regard to you stepping down or Deputy Attorney General Paul McNulty stepping down?

And with regard to your chief of staff, Kyle Sampson, is he still here (inaudible)?

GONZALES: Kyle Sampson has resigned. I accepted his resignation, yesterday, as chief of staff. Yes, as a technical matter, he is still at the department, as he transitions out and looks for another employment.

With respect to the first part of your question, I work for the American people. I serve at the pleasure of the president of the United States.

I will say that in doing my job it is easier to have the confidence of members of the Congress. And I will continue to do the very best that I can to maintain that confidence. And that's what I intend to do: continue to do my job on behalf of the American people, ascertain what happened here, and assess the accountability and take corrective actions.

Obviously, I am concerned about the fact that information -- incomplete information was communicated or may have been communicated to the Congress.

GONZALES: 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.

QUESTION: How could your chief of staff be working closely with the president on which U.S. attorneys to be let go and you not know?

GONZALES: Well, again, as -- I accept responsibility for whatever happens here in this department. But I have 110,000 working in the department. Obviously, there are going to be decisions made that I'm not aware of all the time. All the decisions are delegated to people who are confirmed by the Senate, who are -- by statute, have been delegated authority to make decisions.

Mr. Sampson was charged with directing the process to ascertain where were our weak performers, where we could do better in districts around the country. That is a responsibility that he had during the transition. It is a -- he worked with respect to U.S. attorneys and presidential personnel at the White House. That was a role that he had when he was in the counsel's office. That was a role that he had when he was at the Department of Justice under General Ashcroft.

And so, naturally, when questions came up with respect to the evaluation of performances of U.S. attorneys, it would by Kyle Sampson who would drive that effort.


GONZALES: Again, I accept responsibility for what happened here. And I regret the fact that information was not adequately shared with individuals within the Department of Justice and that, consequently, information was shared with the Congress that was incomplete.

But the charge for the chief of staff here was to drive this process. And the mistake that occurred here was that information that he had was not shared with individuals within the department who would then be providing testimony and information to the Congress.


GONZALES: I just described the extent of the knowledge I had about the process. I never saw documents. We never had a discussion about where things stood.

What I knew was that there was an ongoing effort that was led by Mr. Sampson vetted through the Department of Justice to ascertain where we could make improvements in U.S. attorney performances around the country.


GONZALES: Well, let me just say that one of the things that we discovered is we do not have, in my judgment, an adequate system of communication with our U.S. attorneys around the country.

When these U.S. attorneys were advised that changes were going to be made, quite frankly, they should have been told why those changes were being made. And I regret that that didn't happened. That should have happened in this particular case.


GONZALES: I stand by the decision.

Again, all political appointees can be removed by the president of the United States for any reason. I stand by the decision, and I think it was a right decision.

Thank you very much.



Mar 13, 2007 14:42 ET .EOF

Source: CQ Transcriptions

© 2007, Congressional Quarterly Inc., All Rights Reserved

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