By Alberto R. Gonzales
Sunday, April 15, 2007
My decision some months ago to privately seek the resignations of a small number of U.S. attorneys has erupted into a public firestorm. First and foremost, I appreciate the public service of these fine lawyers and dedicated professionals, each of whom served his or her full four-year term as U.S. attorney. I apologize to them, their families and the thousands of dedicated professionals at the Justice Department for my role in allowing this matter to spin into an undignified Washington spectacle.
What began as a well-intentioned management effort to identify where, among the 93 U.S. attorneys, changes in leadership might benefit the department, and therefore the American people, has become an unintended public controversy.
While I accept responsibility for my role in commissioning this management review process, I want to make some fundamental points abundantly clear.
I know that I did not -- and would not -- ask for the resignation of any U.S. attorney for an improper reason. Furthermore, I have no basis to believe that anyone involved in this process sought the removal of a U.S. attorney for an improper reason.
Given my convictions on this issue, I testified before Congress in January and will do so again on Tuesday. I have personally spoken with many members of Congress over the past several weeks to hear their concerns about this matter. Additionally, I have instructed all Justice Department officials to make themselves available for on-the-record interviews with lawmakers and hearings before Congress, and I have ordered the release of thousands of pages of internal documents.
All of these documents and public testimony indicate that the Justice Department did not seek the removal of any U.S. attorney to interfere with or improperly influence any case or investigation. Indeed, I am extremely proud of the department's strong record of vigorous prosecutions, particularly in the area of public corruption, where Republicans and Democrats alike have been held accountable for their crimes.
I have nevertheless asked the Justice Department's Office of Professional Responsibility to further investigate this matter. Working with the department's Office of Inspector General, these nonpartisan professionals will complete their own independent investigation so that Congress and the American people can be 100 percent assured of what I believe and what the investigation thus far has shown: that nothing improper occurred.
While I have never sought to deceive Congress or the American people, I also know that I created confusion with some of my recent statements about my role in this matter. To be clear: I directed my then-deputy chief of staff, Kyle Sampson, to initiate this process; fully knew that it was occurring; and approved the final recommendations. Sampson periodically updated me on the review. As I recall, his updates were brief, relatively few in number and focused primarily on the review process.
During those conversations, to my knowledge, I did not make decisions about who should or should not be asked to resign.
I am committed to explaining my role in this process and will do so Tuesday when I testify before Congress.
I am also committed to correcting any management missteps that occurred during this process. In recent weeks I have met with more than 70 U.S. attorneys around the country to hear their concerns and discuss ways to improve communication and coordination between their offices and the Justice Department.
These discussions have been frank, and good ideas are coming out, including ways to ensure that every U.S. attorney can know whether his or her performance is at the level expected by the president and the attorney general. Additionally, I have asked for recommendations on formal and informal steps that we can take to improve all forms of dialogue between the main Justice Department and U.S. attorneys nationwide.
I am also telling our 93 U.S. attorneys that I look forward to working with them to pursue the great goals of our department in the weeks and months to come. During the past two years, we have made great strides in securing our country from terrorism, protecting our neighborhoods from gangs and drugs, shielding our children from predators and pedophiles, and protecting the public trust by prosecuting public corruption. As I have stressed repeatedly to our U.S. attorneys and others within the department, recent events will not and must not deter us from our important mission.
In part because of my own experience, I know the real strength of America. It lies in our Constitution, our people and our collective unyielding commitment to equal opportunity, equal justice, common decency and fairness. With this same commitment in my mind, I very much look forward to answering Congress's questions about this matter on Tuesday.
The writer is the U.S. attorney general.