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Gonzales Met With Top Aides On Firings

Some of the prosecutors have objected to McNulty's assertion that the firings were related to their performance, and two have alleged that they were pressured by elected officials over the political corruption investigations they were conducting.

Sampson's attorney, Bradford A. Berenson, said in a letter yesterday to Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Patrick J. Leahy (D-Vt.) and ranking GOP member Arlen Specter (Pa.) that he hopes the voluntary testimony "will satisfy the need of the Congress to obtain information" from Sampson.

The documents released last night include more details about the extent of White House involvement in the firings. They show, for example, that a public affairs officer at the White House knew about the imminent dismissals before Scolinos, the Justice Department's chief public affairs officer, learned about them on Nov. 17.

Scolinos proved to be wrong when she predicted that the dismissals would not create a furor. At the time, just six of 93 U.S. attorneys were involved.

"Its only six US attorneys (there are 94) and I think most of them will resign quietly -- they don't get anything out of making it public [if] they were asked to leave in terms of future job prospects," Scolinos wrote in an e-mail. "I don't see it as being a national story -- especially if it phases in over a few months."

Key Democrats reacted strongly last night to news that Gonzales had presided at the planning meeting on the dismissals less than two weeks before they were carried out. Records indicate that the White House signed off on the plan on Dec. 4.

"The attorney general, more than any other Cabinet officer, must always tell the truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth," said Sen. Charles E. Schumer (D-N.Y.), the first lawmaker to call for Gonzales's resignation. "If the facts bear out that Attorney General Gonzales knew much more about the plan than he has previously admitted, then he can no longer serve as attorney general."

Sampson's planned testimony complicates the standoff that developed this week between Democrats and the Bush administration, which has refused demands for public testimony from presidential adviser Karl Rove and other White House aides. The House and Senate judiciary committees have authorized, but not issued, subpoenas for the testimony.

Gonzales and other Justice Department officials have said that Sampson quit because he withheld information from other officials and Sampson's action may have led them to give misleading testimony before Congress. Sampson's attorney has disputed that characterization and has said that others in the Justice Department were fully aware of "several years" of discussions with the White House about dismissing the prosecutors.

The point is crucial because Justice officials said in previous statements and testimony that the White House was involved only tangentially, at the end of the process.

The White House offered this week to allow Rove, former White House counsel Harriet Miers and other aides to be interviewed privately, without transcripts and not under oath. Democrats swiftly rejected the offer.

A fourth Republican lawmaker said yesterday that Gonzales should resign. Rep. Paul E. Gillmor (Ohio) said Gonzales has become a "lightning rod" for criticism. "It would be better for the president and the department if the attorney general were to step down," Gillmor said.

Staff writers Michael Abramowitz and Amy Goldstein, staff writer Paul Kane, and research editor Alice Crites contributed to this report.

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