House GOP Stands Behind Gonzales
Friday, May 11, 2007
House Republicans rallied around embattled Attorney General Alberto R. Gonzales yesterday during intense questioning by Democrats, even as revelations emerged about attempts to fire U.S. attorneys singled out for criticism by White House political adviser Karl Rove.
Appearing more confident as he has kept his job and the support of President Bush, Gonzales rebuffed questions by Democrats on the House Judiciary Committee about the firings of eight U.S. attorneys and repeated his defense of the dismissals as warranted, if poorly handled.
Gonzales asserted that the January 2006 removal of a U.S. attorney in Kansas City, Mo., revealed in media reports yesterday was not part of the same process that led to the firings of the other prosecutors. He also said he had "no basis to believe" that the dismissal of Todd P. Graves was connected to GOP unhappiness over his handling of voter-fraud cases.
"It's always been my understanding that this focus has always been on the eight United States attorneys," Gonzales testified, adding later: "As part of this review process . . . these were the individuals that were identified."
New details emerged yesterday about the extent of Rove's involvement in pressing complaints about the U.S. attorney in Milwaukee, Steven Biskupic, and in urging the Justice Department to launch an investigation there before last November's elections.
Gonzales's senior aides came closer than previously known to firing Biskupic, who had been identified by Rove as weak on prosecuting voter fraud, according to interviews conducted by congressional staff and disclosed yesterday.
But D. Kyle Sampson, Gonzales's former chief of staff, told investigators that Deputy Attorney General Paul J. McNulty argued against the firing, saying it would "not be a wise thing to do politically" and could raise "the ire" of Rep. F. James Sensenbrenner Jr. (R-Wis.), who had recommended Biskupic and was then chairman of the House Judiciary Committee.
A separate interview with Justice aide Matthew Friedrich showed that Rove's office sent a packet of voter-fraud allegations about Milwaukee compiled by Republican activists to Gonzales's office last October, three weeks before the elections, with a request to investigate.
The packet from Rove came to Friedrich around the same time the senior Bush adviser also complained to Gonzales about the lack of voter-fraud cases against liberal get-out-the-vote groups in Milwaukee, Philadelphia and New Mexico.
Friedrich, Gonzales's senior counselor, told congressional investigators last week that the packet immediately set off alarm bells because forwarding it to criminal investigators would violate strict Justice rules that limit the pursuit of voter-related investigations close to an election. Friedrich said he did nothing with the material.
Both Biskupic and Sensenbrenner said yesterday that they never talked to each other about individual cases or about voter-fraud matters, and Biskupic said he did not know that his job was in jeopardy.
Biskupic also played down the voter-fraud complaints, saying that he and a local Democratic prosecutor jointly investigated such allegations in 2005 and found only scattered evidence of wrongdoing. "We tried to address them in a serious and detailed way, but in a way that did not impact any election," he said. "I think we did that."