CQ Transcripts Wire
Thursday, April 19, 2007 7:07 PM
LEAHY: Before we start the clock on Senator Sessions, just so we'll know what the timing is, after Senator Sessions will be Senator Schumer, then Senator Graham, then Senator Durbin.
Go ahead, Senator Sessions.
SEN. JEFF SESSIONS, R-ALA.: Mr. Attorney General, I think the thing that caused a lot of us concern was, you had a press conference at the Department of Justice. It was a formal matter to address these issues. And in that press conference you stated, "I was not involved in seeing any memos; was not involved in any discussions about what was going on."
SESSIONS: And in a later press conference you said, "I don't recall being involved in deliberations involving the question of whether or not a United States attorney should or should not be asked to resign. I didn't focus on specific concerns about individuals."
Now, Mr. Sampson then had testified that there was a meeting, a final meeting, I guess, when this was discussed in some detail and that you were present.
Do you recall that meeting and where it took place?
GONZALES: Senator, I have searched my memory. I have no recollection of the meeting. My schedule shows a meeting for 9:00 on November 27th, but I have no recollection of that meeting.
My understanding is, as I reviewed Mr. Sampson's public testimony, was that he had hazy recollections about it as well.
But, in any event, I have no recollection of that meeting.
SESSIONS: Well, do you recall who Mr. Sampson said was there present along with you?
GONZALES: Senator, I recall looking at the documentation about -- on the calendar -- who would be there.
GONZALES: It would be the deputy attorney general. And I have no memory...
I have no memory of this, but I think the calendar shows that the invitees were the deputy attorney general; the principal associate deputy attorney general, Mr. Will Moschella; Kyle Sampson, the chief of staff; Mike Battle, the executive director of the Executive Office of United States Attorneys; Monica Goodling, senior counselor in the Attorney General's Office; and myself.
SESSIONS: And this was not that long ago. This was in November of last year?
GONZALES: According to my calendar, November 27th.
SESSIONS: And Mr. Sampson seemed to indicate that he really -- he understood it was a momentous decision, that there would probably be political backlash. He even performed some outline about how that should be managed.
And you don't recall any of that?
GONZALES: Senator, I can only testify as to what I recall. Believe me, I've searched my mind about this meeting. I'd have no reason not to talk about this meeting.
At some point, of course, Mr. Sampson presented to me the recommendations. And at some point I understood what the implementation plan was.
But I don't recall the contents of this meeting, Senator. I'm not suggesting that the meeting did not happen.
SESSIONS: I know. But I'm worried about it. And Mr. Battle, who was there, testified that you were there. And he thought you were there most of the time.
Would you dispute Mr. Battle?
GONZALES: Well, Senator, putting aside the issue, of course, sometimes people's recollections are different, I have no reason to doubt Mr. Battle's testimony.
SESSIONS: Well, I guess I'm concerned about your recollection, really, because it's not that long ago. It was an important issue. And that's troubling to me, I've got to tell you.
GONZALES: Senator, I went back and looked at my calendar for that week. I travelled to Mexico for the inauguration of the new president. We had National Meth Awareness Day. We were working on a very complicated issue relating to CFIUS.
GONZALES: And so there were a lot of other weighty issues and matters that I was dealing with that week.
You have to remember that this was a process that had been ongoing for two years. This wasn't something that just showed up one day on my desk.
And I'm not downplaying the importance...
SESSIONS: Well, what about the mention you made of a call to Senator Kyl? Was that at this day about one of the U.S. attorneys in his district, his state?
GONZALES: Senator, I don't understand what the question...
SESSIONS: You indicated you made a phone call to Senator Kyl...
GONZALES: Yes, that was on...
SESSIONS: ... about the decision you'd made...
GONZALES: Yes, that was on December 7th, as I recall, December 7th...
SESSIONS: ... later on.
GONZALES: ... the day we were implementing -- the day the plan was being implemented.
SESSIONS: Well, Mr. Gonzales, with regard to United States attorney Iglesias, there were concerns about vote fraud. Senator Feingold has raised concern about a United States attorney in his district on vote fraud. Senator Cornyn has raised questions about a decision by a United States attorney in Texas on prosecuting Border Patrol agents.
So I would suggest, first, there's nothing wrong with questioning a United States attorney, by a politician or anyone else -- raising questions about it.
But I would tell you what I think Mr. Iglesias was entitled to, as a member of the Department of Justice who's out there on the field, I think he should have been inquired of about this voter fraud case.
And I'm going to tell you, I have prosecuted voter fraud cases. They are the most controversial things you can imagine. And sometimes they look like they're easy to prosecute. And I've been criticized, as attorney general, for not being aggressive in that. And I've been criticized as a United States attorney over those cases.
So I would just suggest to you that that is a delicate matter. And I think somebody should have met with him to ascertain his judgment on that.
GONZALES: Well, but I think -- you're absolutely right. It is a delicate matter.
It's one thing to tell Mr. Iglesias, "How are you doing on voter fraud cases generally?" But if you're talking about inquiring about a specific case, that is really delicate, because simply inquiring into the case sends a message to the United States attorney.
And if you mention, "Oh, by the way, the homestate senator, the guy who recommended you for this job, is concerned about how you're doing on this case," that's really dangerous. And so...
SESSIONS: Well, perhaps, but you know, we're all -- United States attorneys have to be tough, too, you know? I mean, they have to defend what they do. And if Senator Feingold wants to ask about a voter fraud case, somebody at some point, I think, should inquire as to what he can say about that case and to form an opinion on it.
SESSIONS: Let me ask you a couple of things I think that were somewhat important from your perspective.
Apparently, there was a suggestion that Harriet Miers, the counsel to the president, that all the United States attorneys should be fired; you should start over again after the first four years of the Bush administration.
I thought you responded well, as I understand it, to that. What did you say to that?
GONZALES: Senator, my recollection is that I didn't think that would be a good idea.
Now, let me just say I don't know whether or not that was Harriet Miers' idea, whether even she supported the idea. But I recall Mr. Sampson coming to me and telling me that this was an idea raised by Ms. Miers.
SESSIONS: You rejected that.
SESSIONS: And then Kyle Sampson proposed -- Senator Feinstein has expressed concern about the new law that allows appointment without potential confirmation hearing here. She asked about that. Mr. Sampson said these appointments should be made under that new act. I believe he testified that you disapproved and said no and that, quote, "The attorney general was correct." Is that a fair statement?
GONZALES: Senator, I never liked this idea, quite frankly, because I believe it's important for United States attorneys to be presidentially appointed and confirmed. They've got to knock heads sometimes with other federal officials and with state and local officials, and I just think it makes them look stronger to have been through that process.
And, quite frankly, I thought it was, kind of, a dumb idea, because the first time we would do it, as a matter of routine, the Senate would simply change the law. And so I never liked the idea.
And the first opportunity, the first concrete time, opportunity that came up was with respect to Mr. Griffin in the Eastern District of Arkansas. And I had conversations with Senator Pryor, and I told Senator Pryor, "We're going to put in Tim Griffin in an interim basis. I want to see how he does. You should see how he does. Let's see how he does."
SESSIONS: You did not utilize the new act?
GONZALES: Pardon me?
SESSIONS: You did not utilize the new...
GONZALES: Even before the change in the law, the attorney general had the authority to put someone in, in an interim basis, for at least 120 days. That's been true for many, many years.
What changed here was that, eliminating the 120-day requirement, that I had told Senator Pryor I wanted Mr. Griffin in for a period of time. Let's see how he does. And then in a subsequent conversation with Mr. Pryor, I asked him, "Can you support Mr. Griffin as the nominee?"
And, you know, he made it clear to me that he would not support him by not giving me a yes answer. And so I said, "Well, I cannot recommend him to the White House, because if you don't support him, I know that he will not be confirmed. We'll look for someone else and give me names that we ought to consider."
But the first concrete opportunity that came up with respect to this interim authority and avoid Senate confirmation, what I did was consult with the homestate senator, solicited his views.
GONZALES: And when I believed that he was not going to be supportive of Mr. Griffin as a nominee, I said, "Fine. We won't -- we'll look at a different direction."
SESSIONS: My time has expired.
LEAHY: Well, Senator, the -- under the law that we then voted to repeal, you could have kept him in there, whether Senator Pryor wanted him or not.
You know, Mr. Attorney General, you said in answer to Senator Sessions's question, you don't recall the November 27 meeting where you made the decision.
GONZALES: Senator, I don't think -- I don't know that a decision was made at that meeting.
LEAHY: How can you be sure you made the decision?
GONZALES: Senator, I recall making the decision from this -- I recall making the decision.
GONZALES: Sir, I don't recall when the decision was made.
LEAHY: OK. We may go back to that.
SCHUMER: Thank you.
LEAHY: In fact, count on it.
SCHUMER: Thank you, Mr. Chairman.
LEAHY: And I will ask -- again, I would advise the people in the audience, this is a serious matter. Out of respect both for the Senate and the attorney general, I would ask not to have any displays of either approval or disapproval. You're certainly going to have plenty of time to state that publicly, in one way or the other, to the press, but not here.
SCHUMER: Thank you, Mr. Chairman.
Thank you, Mr. Attorney General.
First I want to just go back to an interchange that you had a couple of minutes ago.
You told Senator Feinstein that Carol Lam was, quote -- these are your words -- "acutely aware of the department's concerns about her immigration enforcement."
Now let me read to you a portion of Mr. Sampson's public testimony on March 29th.
He said, quote, "I'm not suggesting that someone did give Carol Lam notice." These are his words: "I think we did not give -- no one, to my knowledge, talked to Carol Lam about the concerns we had in the leadership of the department about her office's immigration enforcement."
SCHUMER: Now, this is Kyle Sampson, the man you said was at the center of the whole decision-making process, saying she was not given notice, and yet a few minutes ago you told Senator Feinstein that she was, quote, "acutely aware."
GONZALES: Notice of what?
SCHUMER: Which is right?
GONZALES: Notice of what, Senator?
SCHUMER: Notice -- both cases of immigration enforcement.
GONZALES: I'm not going to characterize Mr. Sampson's testimony. What I will tell you is what I recall, and I will tell you what I've learned from looking at the documents.
And I believe that in looking at the documents there was communication with Ms. Lam about how she was doing with respect to immigration. There was a lot of communication by members of Congress with Ms. Lam about immigration.
And so she was aware that there was some concern, certainly interest about how she was doing...
GONZALES: Otherwise, why would we contact her?
SCHUMER: Senator Feinstein just informs me, Carol Lam was not aware of the immigration -- of the Justice Department's views on her prosecution of immigration. Kyle Sampson says she was not aware. And you are saying that the department made her aware.
And this is what we've been through all morning. The people that we have interviewed, whether it's Kyle Sampson or Mercer or Battle, have contradictory statements as to what you say.
Now, I am sure when the department has trouble with a U.S. attorney they don't tell a congressman to go tell her.
Which is right?
GONZALES: Senator, I recall sitting in a meeting, concern about Ms. Lam, and saying that those numbers needed to change. And I expected that information to be communicated.
Now, Ms. Lam may not have been told that, in fact, "If you don't change your policies, there's going to be a change." But I believe, looking at the documents -- and I never spoke to her directly -- but I believe, looking at the documents, that she had knowledge that there was certainly an interest about her immigration numbers.
And why would we have an interest? Because of the fact that we were concerned about those numbers.
SCHUMER: OK. Kyle Sampson said no one told her. She said no one told her.
GONZALES: No one told her what? No one told her that if -- that there was any interest or concern? Or no one told her that, "If you don't change, you're going to be removed"?
SCHUMER: I'll yield to my colleague.
FEINSTEIN: If I may, Attorney General, Carol Sampson (sic) said she was never spoken to by...
SCHUMER: Carol Lam.
FEINSTEIN: Excuse me. Carol Lam said she was never spoken to by the department about their concern on her immigration.
SCHUMER: Now, let me just say, Mr. Attorney General, this is a serious hearing; you've had months to prepare. The U.S. attorney in question says she wasn't spoken to.
SCHUMER: Kyle Sampson at public testimony -- not the private transcripts, not a private conversation -- says the same.
GONZALES: Senator, I didn't say I did not say that Ms. Lam was aware that if her numbers didn't change we would have asked her to resign. What I said was that she was aware of the concerns and certainly the interest that we had about her performance. There's no question about that. If you look at the letters, if you look at the e-mail communication, there is no question about that.
SCHUMER: Sir, I'm going to move on. I think the record will state just what we have stated; that she doesn't believe she was talked to, and Kyle Sampson doesn't believe she was talked to...
GONZALES: When you say talked to...
SCHUMER: ... about immigration concerns. That was Senator Feinstein's question. That's what Carol Lam said. That's what Kyle Sampson did, but we're going to move on here.
GONZALES: Senator, why would members of Congress send her letters about her immigration performance?
GONZALES: Why would they want to have meetings with her?
GONZALES: Why would we send her communications about immigration? Because there was concerns about her numbers.
SCHUMER: Is it general policy of the Department of Justice when they have problems with a U.S. attorney to let a Congress member tell them something is wrong or is the department supposed to communicate directly with the U.S. attorney?
GONZALES: Here's what I'll say: I think we should have done a better job in communicating with Ms. Lam. I think we should have done a better job in communicating with all of these United States attorneys. I've already conceded that, and that's one of the things that we're going to institutionalize moving forward.
SCHUMER: But, sir, the issue goes beyond that. It goes to who is telling the truth around here.
SCHUMER: You are saying -- you said a minute ago she was told. She is saying, Kyle Sampson is saying, she was not told.
It's beyond doing a better job. It's getting to the real truth in a hearing where you've had a month to prepare, where all of these things are public. It's a key question and it's still an answer that contradicts what others have said, but I'm going to move on because I have limited time.
This is about another issue. There's a real question raised by this investigation about whether you and the Department of Justice intended to bypass the Senate's role in confirming the U.S. attorneys. It relates to the law that Senator Feinstein passed and all but two of us in the Senate voted for.
And equally troubling, as I mentioned, there's a real question about whether you were honest with the members of Congress about your intent. And this is a serious matter.
GONZALES: I agree, Senator.
SCHUMER: So let me -- to emphasize how serious -- I want to read to you what Senator Pryor had to say on the floor of the Senate about his interactions with you as...
GONZALES: Can I see his transcript?
SCHUMER: Yes, but I'll read it.
SCHUMER: It's very clear. And I'm sure you know it, his searing words, as you will hear.
GONZALES: I would like to see it.
SCHUMER: We'll get it to you.
As everyone here knows, Senator Pryor is one of the most temperate members of the Senate. He's mild-mannered, and his words are all the more striking for that reason. He said, quote, "The attorney general not only lied to me as a person but, when he lied to me, he lied to the Senate and he lied to the people I represent."
I spoke to Senator Pryor yesterday. He stands by those words.
Now, Kyle Sampson wrote that -- wrote to Harriet Miers last September -- that's what he wrote -- he wrote that they wanted to do this plan of getting around the Senate and appointing interim U.S. attorneys.
And he also told Congress that the White House never rejected the idea of evading the Senate confirmation in the Eastern District of Arkansas.
According to Kyle Sampson, you became aware of this idea or plan in early December of 2006. He told you about it; you did not reject it.
Then on December 19th, Kyle Sampson is promoting this astonishingly perverse plan. He's going forward with it.
And this poster which we have here -- and I'll get you a copy of what it says -- shows it. Sampson's advice to the White House is, quote, "We" -- we, meaning the department -- "should gum this to death, to run out the clock."
He lays out a specific plan for running out the clock: The Department of Justice should ask Arkansas senators to meet Tim Griffin, give him a chance; after that, the administration to pledge to desire a Senate-confirmed U.S. attorney and so forth.
The plan was to use these tactics of delay so Griffin could stay in, without Senate confirmation, until the end of the president's term.
But now, four days before Kyle Sampson sends that plan, you personally talked with Senator Pryor. Kyle Sampson testifies that he was in the room -- you talked to him twice, he was in the room on one of those occasions -- about Tim Griffin.
Kyle Sampson says you talked with Senator Pryor two times. He was in the room. And you said to Senator Pryor that you wanted to go through a Senate confirmation. This is in December.
SCHUMER: Well, what would you think if you're in Senator Pryor's shoes? There's a plan to circumvent U.S. attorneys early in December. You go along with that.
GONZALES: I didn't go along with it.
SCHUMER: On December 19th, a memo was sent to implement it. Yet, on December 15th, you're on the phone with Senator Pryor saying oh, no, no, you're going to get confirmation.
So, which is it? Again, did Kyle Sampson put out this memo completely on his own?
SCHUMER: And if he did -- I mean, you can't have it both ways. If your chief of staff is implementing a major plan that contradicts what you just told the U.S. senator from that state, in my view, you shouldn't be attorney general.
And if, on the other hand, what you said to Senator Pryor contradicts the plan, you also shouldn't be attorney general.
Can you explain what happened here?
SCHUMER: Because I am totally sympathetic with what Senator Pryor said.
GONZALES: Mr. Sampson also testified, 15 to 20 times, in various ways, that I either rejected this plan; I never liked this plan; I thought it was a bad idea; never considered it; would not have considered it.
SCHUMER: No, he said that you did know about it.
SCHUMER: He told you about it.
GONZALES: ... he said I either rejected it, didn't like, thought it was a bad idea, wouldn't consider, didn't consider it.
SCHUMER: OK. Then he went ahead, when you didn't like the plan, on December 19th?
GONZALES: Senator, I...
SCHUMER: That was later that you didn't like the plan.
Kyle Sampson said in December you had no rejection of the plan. But let's even assume you didn't like it.
What are we to think, as U.S. senators? You don't like a plan. Your chief of staff, the man in charge of everything, even though you are saying, "Don't do this plan," puts out something to go ahead and go forward.
Who's running the department?
GONZALES: Senator, I wasn't aware of this e-mail.
But, again, I want to be very, very clear about this. I never liked this plan.
SCHUMER: You never liked the plan, and your chief of staff four days after you assure Senator Pryor otherwise, puts out a detailed, step-by-step process on how to implement the plan.
Does that indicate someone who's running the department?
GONZALES: Senator, Mr. Sampson has testified that this was a bad idea. And it was a bad idea. And it was never accepted not only by me, but he also testified as to the principals.
SCHUMER: Mr. Sampson said it was a bad idea in retrospect in February in March. In December, he was going full bore ahead with the plan, as the memo you've just been shown shows.
GONZALES: And he's also testified, if we're going to go on his testimony, that this is a plan I never liked, that I rejected it...
SCHUMER: No. That is not what he testified to, sir. Go look at the transcript. In December, he says, you did not reject the plan when he talked to you about it.
GONZALES: Sir, I don't recall the exact time frame. But he also said that I never liked this idea. I didn't consider it and wouldn't consider it.
SCHUMER: I would just say, sir, that it defies credulity that your chief of staff four days after you tell somebody you're going one way goes exactly the opposite way...
SCHUMER: ... and says that you never rejected the plan when you say you did.
Thank you, Mr. Chairman.
LEAHY: Obviously, though, you accepted the use of the provision in the Patriot Act to replace a number of senators (sic). And now, in probably the strongest bipartisan vote I've seen in the Senate in years, we've voted to remove that from the Patriot Act.
GONZALES: Senator, if you look at the record, the reauthorization of the Patriot Act was March 9. The administration has nominated to virtually all these vacancies. We are pursuing, and have been pursuing and respecting the role of the Senate. And I take issue with Senator Schumer's characterization.
LEAHY: Well, we'll go -- we will go back to that. And we have been -- Senator Graham has been waiting patiently.
But I would note that when you talk about sending up nominations for these vacancies, you send two nominations, 21 vacancies. That's one out of 10.
GONZALES: Senator, sometimes it's because we have to wait for recommendation of home state senators. So let's look at their performance as well.
LEAHY: Sometimes I think one would look for the possibility of a nomination before they start firing people. But...
GONZALES: We want to continue working with the Senate.
GRAHAM: Thank you, Mr. Chairman. Is it my turn?
LEAHY: I'll let that one go. We have a difference of opinion.
Go ahead, Senator Graham.
SEN. LINDSEY GRAHAM, R-S.C.: Well, let's make sure that we understand the two things we're talking about, in terms of plans.
One plan was to get rid of all 93 U.S. attorneys at once. Is that correct?
GONZALES: Sir, I don't know if I would call it a plan. It was an idea that was raised.
GRAHAM: OK. And it was shot down?
GONZALES: That is correct.
GRAHAM: OK. Now, this plan that you were talking about with Senator Schumer involves what?
GONZALES: It was -- as I understood it, what I expected Mr. Sampson to do was coordinate a review of all U.S. attorneys and make an evaluation, make a recommendation to me, as to where there were issues of concerns of particular U.S. attorney districts where it may be appropriate to make a change to benefit -- for the benefit of the department.
GRAHAM: Well, this December memo that he's talking about, or e- mail -- what's the point there?
From your point of view, how do you reconcile the conversation with Senator Pryor in the e-mail?
GONZALES: Senator, it's difficult for me to reconcile the conversation. All I know is what I communicated to Senator Pryor, in good faith.
GONZALES: Was that we wanted to put Mr. Griffin in, on an interim basis. I didn't know Mr. Griffin that well. And I wanted to see how he did. And I recall telling him...
GRAHAM: The reason Mr. Griffin was going to be put in is because the White House wanted him to have an opportunity to serve in this position.
GONZALES: This was a well-qualified individual, yes, and the White House had a desire to have him serve.
GRAHAM: And it's no problem with Mr. Cummins performance, it was just a preference for somebody new in the second term.
GONZALES: I would say that's a fair statement.
Now, if you told Mr. Sampson 15 or 20 times, "This is a bad idea," why didn't it sink in?
GONZALES: Sir, I didn't tell him 15 or 20. I don't recall telling him 15 or 20 times as I reviewed the transcript from his testimony. He was asked repeatedly about whether or not, "Was this something the attorney general supported or approved?"
And my recollection is, is that 15 to 20 times he said something like, "I didn't consider it. I wouldn't consider it. Thought it was a bad idea. I rejected it. It was rejected by principals."
So 15 to 20 times as I recall this question was posed to Mr. Sampson in one way or another to try to get a sense...
GRAHAM: And he always said you never bought into this idea.
GONZALES: Well, sir, he never said that, as I recall, in his testimony.
And, again, the first opportunity really where this came up...
GRAHAM: But he always said that you disagreed with this plan.
GONZALES: I believe he said I didn't like it.
Look, I know I didn't, I never liked it. I thought, again...
GRAHAM: Again, what didn't you like?
GONZALES: What I didn't like was the fact that I think it's more important to have U.S. attorneys nominated by the president and confirmed by the Senate because I believe certainly the appearance of more authority, and it makes them more effective.
GRAHAM: And the White House had a different view.
GONZALES: Sir, I can't speak for the White House...
GRAHAM: But where did this idea come from?
GONZALES: Which idea, sir?
GRAHAM: The idea of Senate confirmation being changed.
GONZALES: Sir, well, I can't speak to where the idea came from.
But what I can say is I supported the idea because I don't -- I supported a change in the law, not the idea of avoiding Senate confirmation, I avoided -- I supported a change in the law because I didn't like the notion of a judge telling the attorney general who should be on his staff. And the prior law had a requirement that after 120 days of an interim appointment then the chief judge in the district makes the decision about who serves as the acting United States attorney.
GRAHAM: Well, just some personal advice. You know, we all respect Senator Pryor, and he said some pretty harsh things, which is out of character.
GRAHAM: So I would just advise you to sit down with him and walk through what happened, because I think he's a reasonable fellow, and you all straighten that out if you can.
GONZALES: Senator, I couldn't agree more. I have a great deal of admiration for Senator Pryor, and I think that's a good idea.
GRAHAM: I guess my basic problem is that, you know, you apologized here in April to all the U.S. attorneys (inaudible) pretty hard times about their job performance. And you gave a very good explanation to Senator Brownback about each person.
But it took us a long time to be able to mill that down. And you've given news conferences where things were -- you didn't have any ownership of the process, basically. You delegated it. You made the final decision, but the process itself -- is it fair to say that when you made your final decision, it was based on trust of your senior team more than it was knowledge?
GONZALES: I think that's a fair assessment.
Again, what I understood was that the recommendation that would come to me would be a consensus recommendation of people that I trusted that would know most -- certainly better than I -- about the qualifications and performance of United States attorneys.
GRAHAM: And my basic question is that the decision to replace people based on poor performance that you would roll out to the nation, because eventually it was your decision -- I know you've said this but it really does bother me that people like Mr. Iglesias apparently were never able to tell their side of the story.
And if someone came to me and said, "This person has to go, they're not doing their job well in terms of prosecuting a particular case or a series of cases, they need to go," no one seemed to contact Mr. Iglesias and say, "What is your side of the story?"
GONZALES: Senator, I agree with that. I think in hindsight, certainly, what I've discovered is that we don't have good enough communication between...
GRAHAM: But you said Ms. Lam did have notice of her poor performance.
GONZALES: Senator, I think Ms. Lam certainly had notice of the fact that there was interest, if not concern, about her immigration numbers.
GONZALES: There were meetings. There was communication with her.
GRAHAM: I guess what I'm trying to wonder, is this really performance-based or did these people just run afoul of personality conflicts in the office and we were trying to make up reasons to fire them because we wanted to get rid of them?
GONZALES: Sir, I think if you look at the documentation, I think you can see that there is documentation supporting these decisions.
GRAHAM: Mr. Attorney General, most of this is a stretch. I think it's clear to me that some of these people just had personality conflicts with people in your office or at the White House and, you know, we made up reasons to fire them. Some of it sounds good. Some of it doesn't. And that's the lesson to be learned here.
GONZALES: Sir, I respectfully disagree with that. I really do.
GRAHAM: Well, I do believe this: that you never sanctioned anybody being fired because they wouldn't play politics a particular way.
GONZALES: I would not do that.
GRAHAM: I do believe that your associates have prosecuted both Democrats and Republicans. I don't believe you're that kind of person. I don't believe that you're involved in a conspiracy to fire somebody because they wouldn't prosecute a particular enemy of a politician or a friend of a politician.
But at the end of the day, you said something that struck me, "That sometimes it just came down to these were not the right people at the right time."
If I applied that standard to you, what would you say?
GONZALES: Senator, I think what I would say -- Senator, what I would say is, is that I believe that I continue to be effective as the attorney general of the United States. We've done some great things...
GRAHAM: And you have done some very good things. I agree with that.
GONZALES: ... in the past few years.
And I acknowledge the mistakes that I have made here. I've identified the mistakes. I know what I would do differently.
I think it was still a good idea...
GRAHAM: What kind of damage do you believe needs to be repaired on your part, with the Congress or the Senate in particular?
GONZALES: Senator, I think I need to continue to have dialogue with the Congress, to try to be as forthcoming as I can be, to reassure the Congress.
I've tried to inform the Congress that I don't have anything to hide.
GONZALES: I didn't say no to the document request. I didn't say, "No, you can't interview," to my internal staff. I didn't -- you know, I asked OPR to get involved.
I've done -- everything I've done has been consistent with the principle of pursuing truth and accountability.
GRAHAM: Finally, you are situationally aware that you have a tremendous credibility problem with many members of the Congress? And you're intent on trying to fix that today as a start, right?
GONZALES: Absolutely, Senator.
GRAHAM: Thank you.
LEAHY: Senator Durbin of Illinois?
SEN. RICHARD J. DURBIN, D-ILL.: Thank you, Mr. Chairman.
Thank you, Mr. Attorney General, for being with us today.
When you were White House counsel, did you ever sit in on these meetings with the attorney general and Karl Rove to discuss judicial nominations, nominations for U.S. attorneys?
GONZALES: Senator, that's an internal White House process of making decisions about judicial nominees and U.S. attorneys. Mr. -- I was a part of that committee. Mr. Rove would occasionally -- I would say infrequently, but he would occasionally be present at these meetings.
DURBIN: Do you recall the conversation leading up to the nomination of Patrick Fitzgerald to be the U.S. attorney for the Northern District of Illinois?
GONZALES: I do not.
DURBIN: You were not present?
GONZALES: I do not recall. I thought your -- I'm sorry, I thought your question whether you recall the conversation -- I don't recall the conversation. I don't recall whether or not I was present. I suspect I probably was, but I don't recall.
DURBIN: It's been reported that Mr. Rove had misgivings about Patrick Fitzgerald coming into the situation because of political impact it might have in my state of Illinois. Do you remember any statements by Mr. Rove to that effect?
GONZALES: I don't recall, Senator. Where has it been reported?
DURBIN: It's been reported in the New York Times. I can read portions of it to you, but it's in the March New York Times article, just recently published.
But I'd like to ask you this: You took over as attorney general, if I'm not mistaken, in January of 2005.
GONZALES: I believe it was in February of 2005, sir.
DURBIN: February 2005. At the time, you knew who Patrick Fitzgerald was.
GONZALES: Yes, sir.
DURBIN: He was a rather high-profile U.S. attorney, having been chosen as a special prosecutor by Deputy Attorney General Comey to investigate the Valerie Plame incident and the involvement of the vice president's office and other offices. Is that correct?
GONZALES: That is correct.
DURBIN: And when you arrived -- shortly after you arrived, there was an evaluation made of Patrick Fitzgerald's performance as U.S. attorney. Do you remember that evaluation?
GONZALES: Senator, I think you -- no, sir, I don't. I don't know what evaluation you're referring to.
DURBIN: The evaluation I referred to is one by Mr. Sampson. It's a list, some of them...
GONZALES: OK. I'm aware now of what you're referring to.
DURBIN: And you're aware of the fact that Patrick Fitzgerald, who had been designated special prosecutor, who was in the process of investigating any criminal wrongdoing by members of the president's or vice president's staff was given a recommendation, quote, "has not distinguished himself either positively or negatively."
Do you remember that?
GONZALES: Senator, now I'm aware of this. I didn't know about this at the time. But subsequent -- I mean, recently I've become aware of this issue.
DURBIN: So these evaluations by Kyle Sampson of U.S. attorneys were never shown to you?
GONZALES: Senator, I don't recall ever seeing these evaluations.
DURBIN: So let me ask you point blank: Do you think that was a fair evaluation of Mr. Fitzgerald at that time?
GONZALES: Well, let me say a couple of things.
One, I recused myself and had been recused with respect to Mr. Fitzgerald and the investigation.
Two, even if I weren't recused, I would have serious questions about an evaluation of a U.S. attorney involved in this kind of prosecution.
GONZALES: And third, let me just say that, based upon my own personal knowledge and experience, I think Mr. Fitzgerald is an outstanding prosecutor.
DURBIN: Are you aware of the fact that Kyle Sampson testified under oath that he recommended to Harriet Miers that Patrick Fitzgerald also be removed as a U.S. attorney as part of this purge?
GONZALES: Senator, I'm aware of what he said. I remember reading the transcript. I'm not sure if it was a recommendation per se.
I'm aware of what he said in his testimony, yes, sir.
DURBIN: Did he speak to you before he made that recommendation and tell you that he was going to ask for Patrick Fitzgerald to be removed in the middle of this investigation of the White House?
GONZALES: I don't recall him speaking to me about that, sir.
DURBIN: It didn't happen, it did happen, or you don't recall?
GONZALES: Senator, again, you're talking about events that happened over two years, thousands of conversations. I don't think that conversation occurred.
DURBIN: Now, Mr. Gonzales, this is the highest-profile U.S. attorney...
DURBIN: ... in America. He's investigating the White House, including people that you have worked with for years. And now your chief of staff is going to make a recommendation to the president's White House counsel that he be removed as U.S. attorney, and you can't remember that conversation?
GONZALES: Senator, I don't think that conversation happened. I don't think he ever made that recommendation to me or raised it.
And I wouldn't characterize it as a recommendation. I would refer you back to his testimony. But whatever it was, I don't think that -- I don't think he raised it with me.
DURBIN: Did you ever have a conversation, after the appointment of Patrick Fitzgerald as the special counsel to investigate the White House over the Valerie Plame incident, with either the president or Mr. Rove about the removal of Patrick Fitzgerald?
GONZALES: Senator, I believe the answer to that is no.
DURBIN: And can I ask you about the other U.S. attorneys that were removed? Did you ever have a conversation with Karl Rove about the removal of David Iglesias?
GONZALES: Senator, I recall a conversation with Mr. Rove, but it wasn't a recommendation or a discussion about removal of Mr. Iglesias. But there was a discussion that I recall Mr. Rove had with me about voter fraud cases in three district, including New Mexico, which, of course, Mr. Iglesias is the United States attorney.
DURBIN: And what did Karl Rove say to you?
GONZALES: Senator, my recollection of the conversation was basically, "I've heard complaints about voter fraud prosecutions or lack of prosecutions." And again, I could be -- I'm paraphrasing. I don't recall precisely what he said, but it was general about voter fraud prosecutions, voter fraud cases in three districts including New Mexico.
DURBIN: And there was no conclusion to that conversation about the fate of Mr. Iglesias?
GONZALES: Senator, I believe that I communicated this information to Mr. Sampson, but I don't remember or recall what happened after that.
DURBIN: How about the fate of Mr. Iglesias himself? I mean, was that something that you were party to, the decision for his removal?
GONZALES: It was my decision.
DURBIN: And now that you reflect on that decision, having looked at his performance and considered the calls that were made by members of Congress, do you still think that was the right decision?
GONZALES: Senator, I think that is a very fair question. Obviously -- and by the way, this is a matter being investigated by the Congress so I'm not conceded that, in fact, what Mr. Iglesias said was true. There is -- Senator Domenici and Congresswoman Wilson will have their opportunity to present their story.
But if a member of Congress contacts a U.S. attorney to put pressure on them on a specific case, that is a very, very serious issue. And if, in fact, we had known -- if the deputy attorney general, I believe, had known about these calls, which Mr. Iglesias admitted that he did not contact us, would it have made a difference? It probably would have made a difference.
But now we're looking in hindsight, and so what we also know is that Mr. Iglesias did not report these conversations. That was a serious transgression. He intentionally violated a policy meant to protect him.
And so as we weigh these additional facts, my conclusion is is that I stand by the decision that Mr. Iglesias should not longer serve as a United States attorney.
DURBIN: In the situation with Carol Lam, did you have any conversations with Karl Rove about her fate?
GONZALES: Senator, I don't recall having any conversations with Mr. Rove about Ms. Lam in connection with this process.
DURBIN: Let me conclude, Mr. Chairman. I thank everyone for their patience here.
I'm going to send this article down to you, and I wish you'd take a look at it. It's an article published in the Chicago Tribune, April 17th, by Patrick M. Collins. Do you know Mr. Collins?
GONZALES: I don't believe I do, sir.
DURBIN: Mr. Collins served as the assistant U.S. attorney from 1995 to March 2007, was the lead prosecutor in the trial of the former governor of Illinois, worked with Mr. Fitzgerald.
He believes that your continued service creates a problem for people who have served in his position as assistant U.S. attorney. And he believes that, frankly, it raises questions about their impartiality when it comes to public corruption cases.
He says, in conclusion here, "While U.S. attorneys serve at the pleasure of the president, they must never serve only to please the president.'
GONZALES: I agree with that.
DURBIN: And I think that we have heard here, about some of the political considerations; comments about loyal Bushies by Kyle Sampson, the involvement of Mr. Rove in decisions about the fate of some of these U.S. attorneys, raises a serious question as to whether or not your continued service is going to make it difficult for professional prosecutors in the Department of Justice to do their job effectively.
GONZALES: Senator, if I could respond, I think, again, it's absolutely true that this is not about Alberto Gonzales. It's about what's best for the department, and whether or not I can continue to be effective in leading this department.
I believe that I can be. I think that there are some good things that, working with this committee, I can accomplish on behalf of this country.
Clearly, there are issues that I have to deal with. And I'm going to work as hard as I can to reestablish trust and confidence with this committee and members of Congress, and of course, with the career professionals at our department.
And all the credit, everything that we do, the credit goes to them. And so, when there are attacks against the department, you're attacking the career professionals.
DURBIN: Now, Mr. Gonzales, that is like saying, if I disagree with the president's policy on the war, I'm attacking the soldiers.
GONZALES: What I'm saying is, you should...
DURBIN: The fact of the matter is...
GONZALES: You should attack me.
GONZALES: You should attack me.
DURBIN: Your conduct of this department has made it more difficult for these professionals to do their job effectively.
GONZALES: And I'm going to deal with that.
DURBIN: And if you ignore that reality, then you cannot be effective as an attorney general.
GONZALES: Senator, I understand that. And I'm going to work at that.
What I'm saying is, is that be careful about criticizing the department. Criticize me.
DURBIN: Mr. Gonzales, this testimony today, is from you, about your reputation. It is not about the reputation of the men and women working in these offices.
GONZALES: Thank you, Senator.
LEAHY: What we will do is -- so everybody...
We all know what (OFF-MIKE)
LEAHY: ... so everybody will understand.
What we will do, if I might have the attention of everybody here, we will break for lunch until 2 o'clock.
After lunch, provided the funeral is over, we'll recognize Senator Grassley, then Senator Cardin, then Senator Coburn, then Whitehouse, and then Senator Kyl and then Biden. And we will go to a second round.
Is that OK with you, Senator Specter?
SPECTER: Yes, sir.
LEAHY: We stand in recess.
PROTESTER: Fire Gonzales now!
LEAHY: I want to welcome everybody back.
As you understand, we had votes in the Senate which delayed us going back. But it was the Court Security Act, which is a significant piece of legislation, which I know the attorney general and everybody on this committee has supported, a significant piece of legislation which we passed. And I thank all the senators who supported it.
As I mentioned this morning, Senator Grassley had to be at a funeral and would have been recognized much earlier this morning.
But we'll begin, Senator Grassley, with you.
SEN. CHARLES E. GRASSLEY, R-IOWA: Thank you very much.
General Gonzales, I've reserved judgment on what has happened with the firing of U.S. attorneys. I have to admit that it's been difficult. The inconsistent information has, unfortunately, made what may be a perfectly explainable situation into something that many have already concluded was misconduct.
Your testimony today -- and I left about the time you were starting your opening statement, so I've missed everything since then -- but your testimony today, it seems to me, is extremely important, at least for me, to sort through all the facts and draw my own conclusions. I hope your testimony sets the story straight and clears the waters.
No one seriously takes issue with the statement that U.S. attorneys serve at the pleasure of the president. The president has the authority to hire or fire U.S. attorneys. If an individual wasn't pursuing his priorities aggressively enough or if he wanted to -- or if the president wanted to give another candidate an opportunity, those things aren't against the law.
However, it is improper for a president to fire a U.S. attorney for retaliatory reasons or to impede or obstruct a particular prosecution for unjust political or partisan gain. We don't want to see the independence, integrity of our attorneys compromised to a point where they aren't serving their district in the interest of justice.
I don't know if the U.S. attorneys were fired because they were pursuing or not pursuing investigations or prosecutions based on political motivation, but once the administration started to make representations to Congress and the American people about how or why the firings came about, those representations had to be accurate and complete.
Yet documents produced by your department are inconsistent with public statements and congressional testimony of other officials, and we just don't have a straight story on what transpired and whether the motivations for what happened were pure.
GRASSLEY: You're well aware that I'm very serious about conducting congressional oversight. Oversight is a core responsibility of my job as a member of the Senate.
I'm an equal opportunity oversight person when it comes to that. Over the years, I've looked into both Republican and Democrat administrations with the same vigor.
So to get complete and truthful information is important for me. But I feel that on many occasions, this administration's made a concerted effort to thwart my oversight efforts.
Just last week, the Justice Department tried to block a convicted felon from testifying before the Finance Committee. I was glad to say that the federal courts disagreed with you and in the end we got our witness.
I know that the Justice Department has produced documents to the Judiciary Committee in response to our request for information on U.S. attorney firing. But your representations to Congress need to be accurate and complete or else our oversight activities won't be able to get to the bottom of anything.
We shouldn't be getting conflicting statements from the attorney general and/or his staff. We shouldn't be getting conflicting statements at all.
The story needs to be consistent, complete, and, of course, it must be the truth. We and the American people expect nothing less from our top law enforcement officials.
So, General Gonzales, I hope that you'll be able to be complete and forthcoming and candid with me as I ask questions.
I'm looking, for my first question, to see what the environment was and the situation all this took place. I'd like to start by asking you for an explanation as to why there are so many inconsistencies. There's something about the environment you work in that would produce these inconsistencies. How does that happen?
GONZALES: I think as an initial -- well, first of all, I regret the inconsistent statements. And as I said in my opening statement, the misstatements are my mistakes and I accept responsibility for it.
I think as an initial matter when it came out March 13th, I gave the press conference and I made some statements that were, quite frankly, over-broad.
GONZALES: I should have been more precise in my statements.
One of the reasons is because -- or the primary reason is because I'd not gone back and looked at those documents. I hadn't gone back and looked at my calendar, for example, about the November 27th meeting.
And so, in hindsight, maybe I got after it too quickly, or my -- certainly, my statements were too broad.
I felt a tremendous need to come out quickly and defend the department about accusations...
PROTESTER: Stop lying!
GONZALES: ... about improper conduct. And that's why I made the statements on March 13th.
And in hindsight, that was a mistake. Because obviously I had not -- we had not gathered up all the documents which we've now produced to the Congress.
But I accept full responsibility for not being more careful.
GRASSLEY: So you aren't running a department where there is enough protocol so that everybody can be on the same page?
GONZALES: I wouldn't say that, Senator.
Again, this was a situation where there was a lot of information -- we're talking about a two-year process -- conversations and meetings that happened over a two-year process.
And I did not do my job in making sure that I had all the information before I made my first public statements. And those first public statements -- I should have been more careful about those statements.
In prior statements, you indicated that you really hadn't been involved in any discussions or deliberations to remove the U.S. attorneys.
But e-mails indicated that you had discussions with Mr. Sampson about this in late 2004 or early 2005, and that you attended a November 2006 meeting just prior to the firings.
Mr. Sampson testified before this committee that your statements weren't fully accurate. And your testimony today backtracks on what you said earlier.
Why is your story changing?
Can you tell us when you first got involved and the extent of your participation in the process to evaluate and replace U.S. attorneys?
And additionally, who came up with a plan to evaluate U.S. attorneys?
GONZALES: Yes, sir.
Well, the reason why my statements initially were incorrect was because I had not gone back and looked at the record.
GONZALES: Since then, I've tried to clarify it. I think Mr. Sampson, even in his testimony, said that I had clarified my statements.
The meeting -- the e-mail that you're referring to, a discussion that happened in either, I think January '05 -- as I recall, Senator, would relate to a discussion that would have happened in Christmas week -- between Christmas and New Year's and just weeks before my confirmation. And so I don't have a recollection of that discussion, quite frankly.
But what we have tried to do since this time, since early March, is gather up as much information as we can and provide to the Congress documents and make people available so that we can get to the bottom of what happened here.
And I'm here to provide what I know, what I recall as to the truth in order to help the Congress help to complete the record. But there are clearly some things that I don't know about what happened.
And it's frustrating to me, as head of the department, to not know that still today. But I haven't talked to witnesses because of the fact that I haven't wanted to interfere with this investigation and department investigations.
GRASSLEY: Who did you discuss the review with at the White House? Did you question any of the recommendations? Were you comfortable with the process and methodology for the final recommendations? And what was your personal input in that process?
GONZALES: Senator, as to whether or not I had a specific conversation with individuals about the review process is not something that I can recall having, that kind of conversation.
I had understood that there was a process in place where Mr. Sampson would consult with the senior leadership in the department, people that knew the most information about U.S. attorneys, and then he would bring back to me a consensus recommendation of the senior leadership of where there were districts in terms of issues and concerns about the performance of United States attorneys.
Still today, I think that was an appropriate thing for a manager to do, is to try to identify where there were areas of improvement. Clearly, there were mistakes made in the implementation of this plan and in the review of this plan, and I accept responsibility for those mistakes.
GRASSLEY: The red light's on, but there was a question just prior that you didn't answer.
GRASSLEY: Who came up with the plan to evaluate U.S. attorneys?
GONZALES: Senator, I think that was my plan. I believed it was appropriate to look to see whether or not the United States attorneys were doing a good job. Were they doing their job? I felt that was a good management decision, to simply look to see whether or not the United States attorneys were doing their jobs. I think the American people want to know that public servants are serving them.
LEAHY: Senator Cardin, go ahead.
SEN. BENJAMIN L. CARDIN, D-MD.: Thank you, Mr. Chairman.
Mr. Gonzales, I've listened to the entire hearing here today, listened to your response to my colleagues' -- answering my colleagues' questions, and I find some things troubling.
But I think what concerns me the most is after reviewing all the facts involved in dismissal of the U.S. attorneys, having a chance now to really go into detail and understand all the problems that have developed, you stand by the decision to remove these U.S. attorneys.
You've acknowledged, and rightly so, that dismissing U.S. attorneys would be wrong if it interferes with or influence a particular prosecution for partisan political gains.
Your former chief of staff, Mr. Sampson, stated basically the same thing when he said it would be wrong if it was an effort to interfere with or influence a prosecution of a particular case for political or partisan advantage.
Yet Mr. Sampson acknowledged that a factor that was used in the consideration would be losing the trust and confidence of important local constituencies in law enforcement or government.
Mr. Sampson confirmed a question that I asked him, that local political concerns from partisans may have been influential in the firing.
You've said a couple times that you had confidence in the process that had been set up. How did you know that wrong political considerations weren't being used in the advice that was being given to you on the firing of these U.S. attorneys?
GONZALES: Senator, I think that's a fair question.
I certainly know the reasons on which I made my decision. And I, quite frankly, relied upon people that I trusted to make a recommendation to me. I think I'm justified in relying upon the chief of staff to bring forward to me a consensus recommendation of the senior leadership of the department.
I'm not aware of anything in the documentation or anything with respect to testimony that would support the allegation that it was anything that was improper that happened here.
But, again, as I've said before, just to reassure myself, I did ask the Office of Professional Responsibility, and they're working with the Office of the Inspector General to ensure that nothing improper happened here.
CARDIN: I know, but I asked Mr. Sampson at a hearing in this committee, "What safeguards did you have in the process to make sure that that wasn't being done?" that is, improper political considerations.
Mr. Sampson replied, "I don't feel like I had any safeguards in the process."
GONZALES: Senator, I would never ask someone to leave a position as United States attorney for an improper reason.
The truth of the matter is, of course, public corruption cases, for example, as a general matter, are not tried by the United States attorney. They're tried by the assistant United States attorney and assisted by career people.
CARDIN: But the person who is giving you the advice, who puts it all together, says there's no safeguards in the process to filter out improper local political pressure that may have been exerted to influence who's on that list.
And yet you've said in your testimony, "I also have no basis that anyone involved in the process sought the removal of U.S. attorneys for improper reasons."
How do you know that?
GONZALES: Senator, based on what I know -- and again -- and it wasn't just the chief of staff. I was relying upon what I understood to be the consensus recommendation of the department, in particular the deputy attorney general. This was -- U.S. attorneys report to the deputy attorney general. He is their former colleague.
I don't believe that he would make a recommendation based upon improper reasons that a former colleague, a United States attorney, should be removed.
CARDIN: Now you know that of the seven U.S. attorneys who were removed on the same day, five had controversial political investigations in their jurisdiction; including in New Mexico, where there's a probe of state Democrats and the Republicans were unhappy; that in Nevada, there was a probe of a Republican governor; in Arizona, there were probes of two Republican congressmen; in Arkansas, there was a probe of a Republican governor, in Missouri; South California, Representative Cunningham's investigation which was being expanded; in Washington, a decline to intervene in a disputed gubernatorial election that angered local Republicans.
You now know all that.
This was a unique process that was being used. Hasn't been used before to remove this many attorneys for this type of a reason.
Don't you see that this might have been interpreted as trying to send a message to U.S. attorneys around the country to stay away from sensitive political corruption cases?
GONZALES: Senator, I think that's a fair question.
And I spoke with the United States attorney community, I think the week of March 12th. And I told them what I expected, and that is that no one should speed up or slow down a prosecution or investigation in any way; is that we follow the evidence, we make decisions on cases based on the evidence and not based upon the target as a Republican or a Democrat.
GONZALES: And if you look at the record of the department, Senator...
CARDIN: ... my question. My question is the public perception.
GONZALES: Yes, of course...
CARDIN: Mr. Sampson acknowledged a lack of foresight that people would perceive it as being done to influence a case for improper reasons. Your chief of staff -- your former chief of staff has already acknowledge that.
Looking at all the information we now know, you still stand by the decision that this was the right thing to do, the dismissal of these attorneys?
GONZALES: I do, Senator. I do.
One thing we have to understand -- and I've gone back and thought about this a lot, believe me. And looking at the documents, and I had a conversation with the deputy attorney general about this, whether or not this was still the right decision. Did he stand behind his recommendation?
And based on what I know today, I do stand behind the decision. Because I have no information to tell me that, in fact, the decisions were both...
CARDIN: You disagree with Mr. Sampson on the way that he had analyzed what is out there? Or do you think perception is OK?
GONZALES: No, I don't. I think perception is very, very important.
CARDIN: Do you disagree with the perception that's out there?
GONZALES: I don't disagree with the perception. I think perception...
CARDIN: But you would still do the same thing again.
GONZALES: Senator, but I've also admitted mistakes in the way we did this and that it should have been done a different way. It should have -- the process should have been more rigorous and more structured.
CARDIN: Let me just challenge you on the process for one moment.
I delegate to my senior staff for advice on a lot of issues. But they try to understand where I'm coming from on these issues. You had some very sensitive political discussions on at least three of these U.S. attorneys. Your senior staff knew about those discussions.
Did it ever appear to you that maybe they understood that, when they made the recommendation to you, that they were trying to adhere to what they thought you wanted?
GONZALES: Senator -- well, Senator, I think I've been very, very clear about my commitment not to improperly interfere with cases.
CARDIN: You understood that political contacts had already been made with you, including the president of the United States?
GONZALES: Well, Senator, I don't know about -- I can't speak to as to what people understood about what the president of the United States may have said to me.
GONZALES: But listen, Senator, I have been very, very committed to ensuring that the department makes its decisions not based on politics but on the evidence.
If you look at the record of the department in prosecuting public corruption cases in particular, it's been extremely strong all across the board.
CARDIN: That's my concern, the message you sent out that it was too strong in some of the jurisdictions.
GONZALES: I would be concerned...
CARDIN: That's why you dismissed the -- that's the impression that's why you dismissed the U.S. attorneys.
GONZALES: I would be concerned about that perception. And that's why I spoke to the U.S. attorney community the week of March 12th, to reassure them that that's not what I expected of them.
CARDIN: I would tell you that public confidence is also part of supporting the U.S. Attorneys Office. And that has been undermined, by your own acknowledgement, and by Mr. Sampson's acknowledgement.
GONZALES: No question, this has been an...
CARDIN: But you would still do the same...
GONZALES: ... unfortunate episode.
CARDIN: But you would still do the same thing again.
CARDIN: I don't understand that.
GONZALES: Senator, maybe I should rephrase it this way. I would use a different process, a different process...
CARDIN: Same conclusion?
GONZALES: Senator, it depends on what the recommendation would be coming to me.
But hopefully -- I believe that we had a good process in place. I now know that that's not true, that it was flawed, and that we should have used a different kind of process.
But I have no reason to believe that these were improper motives, in terms of the basis of the recommendations.
CARDIN: Thank you, Mr. Chairman.
LEAHY: Thank you very much, Senator Cardin.
And, Senator Coburn?
SEN. TOM COBURN, R-OKLA.: Thank you, Mr. Chairman.
General Gonzales, in one of the statements earlier today, you stated, in terms of the insertion of the ability of the administration to replace U.S. attorneys -- and if this quote isn't right, please pardon me; I think I wrote it down -- that you didn't think that someone should decide who works for you at the U.S. Attorneys Office.
GONZALES: I said that I didn't -- I was troubled -- well, I can't recall exactly what I said, but the reason why I supported a change in the law, 28 USC 546, was because of the district judges making decisions about who should serve on my staff as United States attorneys.
We had a recent incident in South Dakota, with respect to trying to put someone in as the acting United States attorney. The judge there wanted to put someone in who we had concerns about. And so we were -- I supported the change in the law for that reason, not to circumvent...
COBURN: I understand. All right.
You testified earlier this morning about Bud Cummins. And you made a differential from him and the rest of the U.S. attorneys, and the difference in the date at which he was actually either notified or came about through that.
COBURN: But it was said that he had poor performance, is that correct?
GONZALES: Senator, based on my review of the documents...
COBURN: I'm asking you what was said formally by the U.S. Justice Department about Bud Cummins' performance.
GONZALES: Senator, I don't know what all had been said about the performance of Bud Cummins. But clearly -- clearly, from what I can tell looking back at the documents, is that Mr. Cummins was in a different situation for two reasons.
One is because he was asked to resign on June 14...
COBURN: I don't want to talk about the different situation.
I want to talk about was a statement said that he was being replaced because of poor performance?
GONZALES: Senator, I don't recall specifically that statement. But if, in fact, that statement was made, then I apologize for that statement. Because, in fact, Mr. Cummins was asked to resign on June 14th. And one of the resigns he was asked to resign is because there was a desire to place another well-qualified person.
COBURN: Absolutely. And I have no qualms with that, which really leads me to the other area.
You know, what Senator Cardin just raised: the issue that it appears, or the perception that people were replaced for other than what seems to be the facts, as you've testified and certainly looks to be the facts under a legitimate process for what you evaluate as concerns in management and leadership.
But I think the damage to the Justice Department, the attorney general and you personally has been significant. Several people's reputations have been harmed, including Bud Cummins'. Communication has been terrible. Its management has been terrible.
You were asked by Senator Cardin if you would make this decision again and you said yes, because you thought it was the right decision.
The question I have for you is, how would you have handled it differently in terms of implementing the decision?
GONZALES: Sir, when you say implementing -- after the decision's made, how to implement after the decision is made?
GONZALES: Well, one of the things I would have done, of course, is been more respectful in communicating the decision. I think that a face-to-face meeting, if at all possible, involving the deputy attorney general or myself, or certainly a phone call involving the deputy attorney general or myself, instead of the director of the Executive Office.
GONZALES: I think also, if, in fact, the department was going to say something publicly about performance-related, I think we should have told these individuals the specific reasons.
As a legal matter, they're not entitled to those reasons, but I think as a matter of fairness, as a matter of good management, I think it would have been appropriate to apprise them of the concerns that we had.
I think it would have been better, of course, to make them aware of those concerns before the actual decision. It's one of the things that I identified as a problem in the department, and certainly one of the things that I regret.
And what we're going to do is institutionalize a process where we have at least an annual meeting face to face with every United States attorney and either the deputy attorney general or myself so we could talk about issues that are of concern to us.
COBURN: You said earlier this was an unfortunate episode. You also said that these attorneys were evaluated based on their leadership skills and management skills. And you answered a question from Senator Graham earlier about your position.
In light of all this, why would we not use the same standards to judge your performance in handling this event that you applied to these same individuals?
GONZALES: I think that's a fair question, Senator.
And I think that I clearly made mistakes here -- clearly -- and I accept responsibility for those mistakes, Senator. I've tried to identify where those mistakes were made and institutionalize where we can make changes to make the department even stronger.
I think the department under my leadership in the past two years, I think we've done some great things.
GONZALES: I think the department has been managed in a good way. This has not been managed in a good way, and I accept responsibility for that. But I still continue to have great faith in the career people at the department. Cases still continue; investigations still continue.
Obviously, I have a lot of work to do to restore confidence and trust. I am committed to doing that.
COBURN: That's not what I asked you. I said: Why should you not be judged by the same standards at which you judged these dismissed U.S. attorneys?
GONZALES: Senator, again, I've identified my mistakes.
And you'll make your decisions based upon my testimony, based upon the review of the record in terms of what has happened, and based upon the testimony of others.
And, Senator, what I can commit to you is that I've acknowledged mistakes. We all make mistakes. And I'm committed to addressing those mistakes and working with you to make our country even stronger.
COBURN: Well, I believe there's consequences to a mistake. I was quoted in the paper as saying I think this has been handled in a very incompetent manner. And I believe most people -- I don't care which side of the aisle they are -- would agree with that.
U.S. attorneys' reputation that were involved has been harmed. The confidence in U.S. attorneys throughout this country has been damaged. The reputation of the attorney general's office has been tarnished and brought into question.
I disavow, aggressively, any implication that there was a political nature in this. I know that's the politics of the bloodsport that we're playing. I don't think it had anything to do with it.
But to me, there has to be consequences to accepting responsibility. And I would just say, Mr. Attorney General, it's my considered opinion that the exact same standards should be applied to you in how this was handled.
And it was handled incompetently. The communication was atrocious. It was inconsistent. It's generous to say that there were misstatements. That's a generous statement. And I believe you ought to suffer the consequences that these others have suffered.
And I believe that the best way to put this behind us is your resignation.
GONZALES: Senator, I don't know whether or not that puts everything behind us, quite frankly. I am committed -- I know the mistakes that were made here. And I am committed to fix those mistakes.
And I'm committed to working with you and try to restore the faith and confidence that you need to have to work with me.
COBURN: Well, Mr. Attorney General, you set the standard. You said leadership skills, management skills. They were sorely lacking in this instance. And the responsibility is to start with a clean slate, a new set of leadership skills, a new set of management skills, to heal this in the country, to restore the confidence in this country.
I like you as a man. I like you as an individual. I believe you're totally dedicated to your job and this country.
But I think mistakes have consequences, and I believe that should be the one that it should be.
COBURN: I have no further questions.
LEAHY: Thank you, Senator Coburn.
Senator Whitehouse, you're next.
And so people know what's happening, it will be Senator Whitehouse and Senator Kyl. We will then start with those who want a second round. I'll begin with myself and then Senator Specter. And we'll go based on who's here, in the order they're in.
So Senator Whitehouse, and then Senator Kyl.