Gonzales Met With Top Aides On Firings
Saturday, March 24, 2007
Attorney General Alberto R. Gonzales met with senior aides on Nov. 27 to review a plan to fire a group of U.S. attorneys, according to documents released last night, a disclosure that contradicts Gonzales's previous statement that he was not involved in "any discussions" about the dismissals.
Justice Department officials also announced last night that the department's inspector general and its Office of Professional Responsibility have launched a joint investigation into the firings, including an examination of whether any of the removals were improper and whether any Justice officials misled Congress about them.
The hour-long November meeting in the attorney general's conference room included Gonzales, Deputy Attorney General Paul J. McNulty and four other senior Justice officials, including the Gonzales aide who coordinated the firings, then-Chief of Staff D. Kyle Sampson, records show.
Documents detailing the previously undisclosed meeting appear to conflict with remarks by Gonzales at a March 13 news conference in which he portrayed himself as a CEO who had delegated to Sampson responsibility for the particulars of firing eight U.S. attorneys.
"I was not involved in seeing any memos, was not involved in any discussions about what was going on," Gonzales said.
Spokeswoman Tasia Scolinos said last night that there is no "inconsistency" between the Nov. 27 meeting and Gonzales's remarks. She argued that Gonzales was simply emphasizing at the news conference that he was not involved in the details of Sampson's plans.
Scolinos also said there is no evidence that meeting participants reviewed a draft memo on the firing plan, written by Sampson, that was dated six days earlier and widely distributed among Justice Department and White House officials.
According to Scolinos and her deputy, Brian Roehrkasse, there is also no evidence that individual U.S. attorneys were discussed at the meeting.
The documents were among 283 pages of records released by the Justice Department last night. That development followed Sampson's agreement earlier yesterday to testify before the Senate Judiciary Committee on Thursday.
Sampson, who resigned March 12 after the discovery of e-mails contradicting assertions that the White House was not closely involved in the firings, may be the official best positioned to describe the roles top Justice and White House officials played in the ouster of the federal prosecutors.
The Justice Department also said yesterday that Monica Goodling, a senior counselor to Gonzales who worked closely with Sampson on the firings, took an indefinite personal leave from her job on Monday. A Justice official said that she is still employed there but that it is not clear when she will return.
Seven U.S. attorneys were fired on Dec. 7; another was sacked months earlier. The Justice Department's shifting explanations of the dismissals have sparked an uproar in Congress, where a handful of lawmakers from both parties have called for Gonzales's resignation. But President Bush this week expressed support for Gonzales.