Ex-Aide Contradicts Gonzales on Firings
Friday, March 30, 2007
Attorney General Alberto R. Gonzales was more deeply involved in the firings of eight U.S. attorneys than he has sometimes acknowledged, and Gonzales and his aides have made a series of inaccurate claims about the issue in recent weeks, the attorney general's former chief of staff testified yesterday.
In dramatic testimony to the Senate Judiciary Committee, D. Kyle Sampson also revealed that New Mexico U.S. Attorney David C. Iglesias was not added to the dismissal list until just before the Nov. 7 elections, after presidential adviser Karl Rove complained that Iglesias had not been aggressive enough in pursuing cases of voter fraud. Previously, Rove had not been tied so directly to the removal of the prosecutors.
These and other disclosures by Sampson, who abruptly resigned earlier this month, represent the latest challenge to Gonzales's version of events. The attorney general has been sharply criticized by lawmakers of both parties, by his own employees and even by President Bush for his handling of the U.S. attorneys' dismissals.
Sampson's testimony also shows that, along with Rove, other senior White House aides were more closely involved in the dismissals than has previously been disclosed. It adds to evidence that some of the firings were influenced by GOP political concerns and that the selection process was not based on hard data.
Sampson said he even suggested firing U.S. Attorney Patrick J. Fitzgerald of Chicago while Fitzgerald was prosecuting Vice President Cheney's former chief of staff for perjury. Sampson said he immediately dropped the idea, which he raised at a White House meeting last year, when he received negative reactions from then-White House Counsel Harriet E. Miers and her deputy, William Kelley.
Gonzales has sought to portray himself as detached from the details of the firings, saying on March 13 that Sampson was in charge. Gonzales also said he "was not involved in any discussions about what was going on" in the process. The attorney general sought to clarify that statement in a television interview Monday, acknowledging more frequent contact with Sampson.
But Sampson provided new detail of Gonzales's involvement, testifying in response to questioning that he had at least five discussions with his boss about the project after Gonzales first approved the idea in early 2005 and that the attorney general was aware which prosecutors were under consideration for dismissal.
"I don't think the attorney general's statement that he was not involved in any discussions of U.S. attorney removals was accurate," Sampson said. "I remember discussing with him this process of asking certain U.S. attorneys to resign."
Sampson added later that "the decision makers in this case were the attorney general and the counsel to the president" -- Miers.
He also described a Justice spokeswoman's characterization that Gonzales "did not participate in the selection of the U.S. attorneys to be fired" as "not an accurate statement." He did say, however, that Gonzales did not add names to the list or subtract names from it.
The Justice Department argued yesterday that Gonzales had already clarified his role in the firings and that his most recent statements are consistent with Sampson's testimony yesterday. Spokesman Brian Roehrkasse noted Gonzales's comments Monday that Sampson updated him on the firings "from time to time" and that Gonzales "was never focused on specific concerns about United States attorneys as to whether or not they should be asked to resign."
White House spokeswoman Dana Perino also sought to play down the testimony, saying that the administration has never ruled out the possibility that Rove passed complaints about Iglesias on to Gonzales.