By Dan Eggen
Washington Post Staff Writer
Thursday, November 15, 2007
Supporters of former attorney general Alberto R. Gonzales have created a trust fund to help pay for his legal expenses, which are mounting in the face of an ongoing Justice Department investigation into whether Gonzales committed perjury or improperly tampered with a congressional witness.
The establishment of a legal defense fund for the nation's former chief law enforcement officer underscores the potential peril confronting Gonzales, who is one of a handful of attorneys general to face potential criminal charges for actions taken in office.
David G. Leitch, a Gonzales friend and general counsel at the Ford Motor Co., wrote in an e-mail solicitation to potential contributors last month that Gonzales is "innocent of any wrongdoing" but does not have the means to pay for his legal defense after a career spent mostly in public service.
"In the hyper-politicized atmosphere that has descended on Washington, an innocent man cannot simply trust that the truth will out," Leitch wrote. "He must engage highly competent legal counsel to represent him. That costs money, money that Al Gonzales doesn't have."
Leitch also wrote that Gonzales's attorney, George J. Terwilliger III of White & Case in Washington, "has substantially reduced his fees to represent Al Gonzales, but the costs will likely be high nonetheless." A contribution form asking for donations to the Alberto R. Gonzales Legal Expense Trust suggests amounts from $500 to $5,000.
The Justice Department's investigation of Gonzales is likely to be completed in the next several months, according to sources with knowledge of the investigation's progress. The inspector general is looking at whether Gonzales misled Congress in sworn testimony and improperly sought to influence testimony of an aide, Monica M. Goodling, about last year's firings of nine U.S. attorneys.
The inspector general's office cannot bring criminal charges, but it can hand over evidence to prosecutors with a recommendation for further investigation and possible charges, officials have said. The results are likely to present a thorny issue for Gonzales's successor, Attorney General Michael B. Mukasey, who was narrowly confirmed by the Senate last week and took his formal oath of office yesterday.
During Mukasey's ceremony in the Justice Department's Great Hall, President Bush vigorously defended Gonzales, his longtime aide and friend. "Al Gonzales worked tirelessly to make this country safer and to ensure that all Americans received equal justice before the law," Bush said. "Over many years, I have witnessed his integrity, his decency and his deep dedication to the cause of justice."
The contribution form distributed by Leitch asks that donations be sent to a post office box in Alexandria. Leitch said in an e-mail yesterday that the "fund was formed by friends and colleagues of Judge Gonzales to help him defray the cost of legal representation in his continuing cooperation with various inquiries concerning matters that occurred during his tenure as attorney general." He declined to provide details about the trust, such as whether Gonzales played a role or how much money has been donated so far.
Terwilliger, who served as deputy attorney general during the presidency of George H.W. Bush, did not respond to telephone messages at his office yesterday.
Legal defense funds are common in Washington, but not for attorneys general. Reagan-era attorney general Edwin Meese III faced legal expenses after being accused of ethics violations in his financial dealings but did not open a defense fund, according to news accounts. Meese was not indicted, and the government reimbursed his legal costs.
Washingtonpost.com staff writer Paul Kane and Post staff researcher Julie Tate contributed to this report.