Gonzales Testifies Before Senate Panel, Part III
Thursday, April 19, 2007; 7:53 PM
SEN. SHELDON WHITEHOUSE, D-R.I.: Thank you, Mr. Chairman.
Here's what concerns me, Attorney General Gonzales. The administration of justice in our country is controlled within structures. Some of them are constitutional structures. Some of them are statutory structures.
But some of them are structures that have developed over time, that amount to tradition and practice, but they're there for good and important reasons.
And my concern, after reading your testimony and hearing your testimony today, is that you don't seem to be aware of the damage to those structures that this episode has caused.
And I'd like to run a few by you, just to let you know where I'm coming from.
The two areas where you ask us to agree with you, in your testimony: The first is that U.S. attorneys can be fired at will by the president. That's undeniably true, but I think its use as a rhetorical point in this discussion is highly misleading, deeply misleading.
Because I think you and I both know that, for years, for decades, there has been a tradition of independence on the part of United States attorneys.
Once they're appointed, unless there is misconduct, they're left to do their jobs. And that rule, that practice, has existed for good and meaningful reason. And it can't be overlooked by just blithely saying, well, the president has the power to remove these people.
That misses the point. These people make tough decisions. They're out there on their own very different. Very often, the Department of Justice and the political environment that surrounds it is one that you want to protect them from.
And the idea that, willy-nilly, senior staff people can come out and have the heads of U.S. attorneys -- I think it's highly damaging to that peace of structure.
This was not customary practice. We can agree on that, can we not?