Gonzales to Admit Mistakes in Firings

Attorney General Alberto R. Gonzales is to testify today about his role in the dismissal of eight U.S. attorneys.
Attorney General Alberto R. Gonzales is to testify today about his role in the dismissal of eight U.S. attorneys. (By Stephan Savoia -- Associated Press)
By Dan Eggen
Washington Post Staff Writer
Thursday, April 19, 2007

Two months ago, Attorney General Alberto R. Gonzales and his aides still had hopes of calming a growing political furor over the dismissal of eight U.S. attorneys.

"He wants to know what we can do from a comms perspective," Justice Department spokesman Brian Roehrkasse wrote in a Feb. 7 e-mail referring to a communications strategy. " . . . I think from a straight news perspective we just want the stories to die."

Instead, the uproar over last year's dismissals has expanded to envelop Gonzales, most of his senior aides, the White House, presidential adviser Karl Rove, the Republican National Committee, three GOP members of Congress and U.S. attorney's offices nationwide. Three of Gonzales's senior aides have quit.

But the focus returns today to Gonzales himself, who has spent most of the past three weeks preparing for his pivotal appearance before the Senate Judiciary Committee. According to his prepared testimony, Gonzales will concede that the dismissals were badly mishandled but will continue to portray himself as only marginally involved in the details of the effort. Gonzales will focus particularly on reassuring Republican lawmakers, such as Sen. Arlen Specter (Pa.), who have so far declined to call for his resignation.

The committee, led by Chairman Patrick J. Leahy (D-Vt.) and Sen. Charles E. Schumer (D-N.Y.), plans to question Gonzales about contradictions between his previous statements and subsequent documents and testimony, which indicate that he was more closely involved in the firings than he has generally acknowledged. They will also focus on the involvement of Rove and other White House officials in the dismissals, Senate aides said.

Senators also may question Gonzales about other U.S. attorneys who were not fired but have drawn scrutiny in recent weeks for management problems or their handling of public corruption and voter fraud cases. Last weekend, U.S. Attorney Steven M. Biskupic of Milwaukee issued a statement defending his handling of a corruption case that was overturned by an appeals court.

Schumer, who has led the Judiciary Committee's investigation, said: "In a sense, the genie is out of the bottle. Over the last few years, there's been a general politicization and deprofessionalization of U.S. attorney's offices."

The conflict broadened again yesterday when Rep. John Conyers Jr. (D-Mich.) released a letter from an anonymous group of Justice Department employees contending that finalists for a prestigious departmental program were rejected last year based on their ties to Democrats or liberal causes. The allegations center on the Honors Program for new law school graduates, which historically was run by career employees but has been under the control of political appointees since 2002.

Roehrkasse said yesterday that "the department does not solicit any information about applicants' political affiliations or orientation in the Honors Program application, and hiring decisions were made by the individual components."

Eight U.S. attorneys were fired last year in a plan that originated in the White House to replace prosecutors not considered sufficiently loyal to President Bush and his policies. Much of the uproar over the dismissals has centered on conflicts between the explanations offered by Gonzales and information in e-mails released by the Justice Department. Two U.S. attorneys also have alleged pressure from lawmakers on investigations they were conducting.

The controversy has been kept alive by the newly Democratic Congress's aggressive use of subpoenas and hearings and by Gonzales's revisions of his version of events.

"I never sought to mislead or deceive the Congress or the American people about my role in this matter," Gonzales says in his prepared remarks. "I do acknowledge however that at times I have been less than precise with my words when discussing the resignations."

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