Gonzales Likely to Disappoint

By Dan Froomkin
Special to washingtonpost.com
Monday, April 16, 2007; 2:20 PM

When it comes to determining why eight U.S. attorneys were fired last year and how extensively the White House was involved, Attorney General Alberto Gonzales's highly-anticipated Senate testimony tomorrow may also end up being highly unrevealing.

Judging from his prepared statement and his Washington Post op-ed, Gonzales will continue to insist that, while he doesn't really know why he fired the attorneys, he simply cannot believe that he did so for improper reasons.

As a result, his testimony appears unlikely either to salvage his credibility or help investigators resolve any of the key questions in a scandal that seems to have had its roots in the West Wing.

Here's the text of the opening statement he intends to make tomorrow morning before the Senate Judiciary Committee. Addressing the conflicting statements he has made about his own involvement, Gonzales insists: "I never sought to mislead or deceive the Congress or the American people about my role in this matter. I do acknowledge however that at times I have been less than precise with my words when discussing the resignations."

Here's the text of his Post op-ed, in which he writes more about "convictions" than facts: "I know that I did not -- and would not -- ask for the resignation of any U.S. attorney for an improper reason. Furthermore, I have no basis to believe that anyone involved in this process sought the removal of a U.S. attorney for an improper reason."

In his hairsplitting word choice, Gonzales implicitly acknowledges that there may have been all sorts of things going on -- including, quite remarkably, his own actions -- the he either doesn't remember or didn't pay attention to at the time. Writing about his talks with his chief of staff, for instance, the attorney general writes: "During those conversations, to my knowledge, I did not make decisions about who should or should not be asked to resign."

David Johnston and Neil A. Lewis write in the New York Times: "Attorney General Alberto R. Gonzales offered a measured apology for his mistakes in the dismissal of eight United States attorneys, but said in testimony prepared for a Senate hearing on Tuesday that he had 'nothing to hide' and that none of the prosecutors were removed to influence the outcome of a case. . . .

"In his statement, Mr. Gonzales admitted he had made mistakes, but his contrition was limited largely to missteps in the treatment of prosecutors who were asked to resign. . . .

"In the last week, Mr. Gonzales, whose courteous but often uninformative appearances at past Congressional hearings have left Democrats complaining, has prepared for the hearing in practice sessions Monday through Saturday in the attorney general's conference room at Justice Department headquarters."

Dan Eggen and Paul Kane write in The Washington Post with a new challenge for Gonzales: "The former Justice Department official who carried out the firings of eight U.S. attorneys last year told Congress that several of the prosecutors had no performance problems and that a memo on the firings was distributed at a Nov. 27 meeting attended by Attorney General Alberto R. Gonzales, a Democratic senator said yesterday.

"The statements to House and Senate investigators by Michael A. Battle, former director of the Executive Office for U.S. Attorneys, represent another potential challenge to the credibility of Gonzales, who has said that he never saw any documents about the firings and that he had 'lost confidence' in the prosecutors because of performance problems. . . .

"Patrick J. Leahy (D-Vt.), chairman of the Senate Judiciary panel, immediately criticized Gonzales's planned testimony as falling short of answering key questions about the firings.

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