By Dan Eggen and Paul Kane
Washington Post Staff Writers
Tuesday, April 17, 2007
The Senate Judiciary Committee canceled testimony scheduled for today from Attorney General Alberto R. Gonzales after concluding that the hearing would be inappropriate in the wake of yesterday's mass slayings at Virginia Tech.
Committee Chairman Patrick J. Leahy (D-Vt.) said he postponed the hearing, which will focus on the dismissal of eight U.S. attorneys, until Thursday after conferring with Gonzales and the committee's ranking Republican, Sen. Arlen Specter (Pa.).
"I'm sure that he will want to be dealing with the matters of the shooting," Leahy said of Gonzales.
Justice Department spokeswoman Tasia Scolinos said: "The attorney general would like to testify as soon as possible. But out of respect for the family members impacted by this horrific tragedy he will defer to the chairman's judgment on when to hold the hearing."
Gonzales has been preparing intensively for his committee appearance, which is viewed by Democrats and Republicans alike as a make-or-break performance for the embattled attorney general. A half-dozen Republicans have joined numerous Democrats in calling for Gonzales to resign over how the firing of the federal prosecutors was handled.
Gonzales plans to concede that the dismissals were mishandled but will continue to argue that he did not have substantial involvement in carrying them out, according to his prepared testimony.
A Washington Post-ABC News poll released yesterday showed that two-thirds of Americans, including a narrow majority of Republicans, see political motivations behind the prosecutor firings. Nearly six in 10 disapproved of the way Gonzales has handled the issue, including nearly half of Republicans.
But the poll suggests that the nation is divided along partisan lines about whether Gonzales should step down. Forty-five percent of Americans said Gonzales should lose his job, 39 percent said he should remain in his post, and 16 percent expressed no opinion.
Eight U.S. attorneys were fired last year as part of a plan that originated in the White House to replace some prosecutors based in part on their perceived disloyalty to President Bush and his policies. The uproar over the matter has grown in part because of statements by Gonzales that conflict with information in e-mails and other internal Justice Department documents.
Former top aides to Gonzales have told congressional investigators in recent days of additional instances in which the attorney general's public comments do not appear to jibe with the recollections of his inner circle.
D. Kyle Sampson, his former chief of staff, testified in a private interview Sunday that Gonzales's assertions that he was not involved in decisions about specific prosecutors "seemed inaccurate" or were "at least not complete," Sen. Charles E. Schumer (D-N.Y.) said yesterday.
Sampson said Gonzales probably participated in a meeting last summer about Carol Lam's performance as U.S. attorney in San Diego, Schumer said. Another Justice official also recalls Gonzales's attendance at the meeting, Schumer and Senate aides said yesterday.
According to Schumer, Sampson also said Gonzales told him early last month that Bush had complained in October about prosecutor David C. Iglesias of New Mexico. Gonzales later told NBC News he did not recall the conversation with Bush.
Also yesterday, the chairman of the House Judiciary Committee, John Conyers Jr. (D-Mich.), said the Justice Department had not complied with a subpoena issued last week that required the production of documents related to the firings by yesterday.