Gonzales Q&A at the Senate.

The law, lawyers, and the court.
April 19 2007 6:47 PM

The Gonzales Q&A

So, what's Al got to say for himself before the Senate?

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Thursday at the Senate, Alberto Gonzales gets a grilling, in all likelihood from senators on both sides of the aisle. Here are the big and awkward questions he's likely to be asked. We'll fill in his answers—or nonanswers—as the day progresses. (If you've got ideas for more questions, send them along to slatepolitics@gmail.com.)

Gonzales originally said that he was not involved in "any discussions" about the U.S. attorney firings. He now says that statement was "too broad." Why did he make such a blanket denial about his lack of involvement?

In response to questions from Sen. Arlen Specter about his preparation for the press conference at which he said he was not involved in "any discussions" about the firings, Gonzales said: "I said I prepare. I didn't say I was prepared."

"I made some statements that were overbroad."

One of the reasons: "I had not looked at the documents. In hindsight, I got out there too quickly."

"In hindsight, that was a mistake."

Later, Gonzales added that his initial statements were incorrect because he had not gone back to look at the record.

When did Gonzales first hear of the plan to fire U.S. attorneys and replace them? Whose idea was it?

"I believe it was my plan."

"I had knowledge there was a process going on."

"I directed Mr. Sampson to consult with senior officials who had information about performance, and [he] came back to me with recommendations."

"I remember telling him to make sure the White House was advised, because these were political appointees, and to talk with people who knew their performance best. I can't recall asking what he had done."

Gonzales now says he received periodic briefings from his former chief of staff Kyle Sampson about the review of the U.S. attorneys that led to eight dismissals, and that he approved Sampson's final recommendations. But he also says, "I did not make decisions about who should or should not be asked to resign." If he didn't, who did? Why did he delegate this?

"I'm justified in relying on the consensus recommendation of senior management." There is "nothing improper" about this.

"I accepted the recommendations of the staff. I make the decisions."

Gonzales says Sampson periodically updated him about the U.S. attorney reviews. "During those reviews, I did not make a decision about who should or shouldn't resign. I don't recall saying take this person off or add that person."

"Now certainly after Mr. Sampson brought the recommendations, I accepted those recommendations and made that decision."

"I recall making the decision. I don't recall when the decision was made."

Without naming names, Gonzales said he knew the reasons why five of the seven fired U.S attorneys were dismissed, but not the other two.

    Before he approved Sampson's recommendations, what kinds of questions did Gonzales ask about the review process and about the records of the individual U.S. attorneys slated for dismissal?    

Gonzales did not look at DoJ's internal performance evaluations.

         

Gonzales now says the selection process should have been "more rigorous." What would have brought greater rigor to the process?

   

"I think I should have told Mr. Sampson who I wanted him to review specifically. … I should have told him the factors I thought were important for him to consider."

          Quoting a piece in Slate by former Acting Solicitor General and Assistant Attorney General Walter Dellinger, Gonzales says this would be improper: "The replacement of one or more U.S. attorneys in order to impede or speed along particular criminal investigations for illegitimate reasons." In 2005, New Mexico Republican Party Chairman Allen Weh asked Karl Rove to fire David Iglesias for failing to investigate Democrats for voter fraud. Rove responded, "He's gone." Sen. Pete Domenici has also apologized for calling Iglesias about the timing of the voter fraud investigation. This weekend, the Albuquerque Journal reported that Domenici had also complained to President Bush about this issue. Iglesias says his decision not to indict was the reason for his firing. Was it? If not, why was Iglesias fired? What should we make of all the pressure from the White House to fire him? Why is there no documentary evidence of a substantive rationale?    

The first time Iglesias came to Gonzales' attention was during a conversation with Sen. Pete Domenici in the fall of 2005 in which the Republican said Iglesias "was in over his head." Gonzales could not say precisely why Iglesias was fired, nor when Iglesias' name appeared on the list, except that it was a part of the "consensus recommendation" put together by his chief of staff, Kyle Sampson.

Gonzales also said Iglesias committed "a serious transgression" by failing to report to DoJ that Domenici (and Rep. Heather Wilson, R-N.M.) had called him about a pending investigation.

         Former U.S. attorney Carol Lam decided to broaden the investigation that led to the conviction of former Republican Rep. Randy "Duke" Cunningham a day before internal DoJ e-mails show Kyle Sampson referring to the "real problem" with Lam. What was the "real problem"? Sampson and DoJ have maintained that Lam was fired because her record in prosecuting immigration cases was poor. If that's true, why did no one at DoJ ever raise her immigration record with her or with her home-state senators?    

Gonzales recalls that the department received numerous complaints about Lam's performance concerning guns and immigration. He "wanted to look at numbers to analyze" and "was very concerned." But he did not see this review as part of "Mr. Sampson's project" to review the performance of the U.S. attorneys.

Gonzales said he believes "there was communication" with Lam "on how she was doing with immigration." He recalls "sitting in a meeting, having a concern, and saying it. I expected that to be communicated to her." But he said she might never have been told that "if there was no improvement, she'd be fired."

"We should have done a better job of communicating with her and the others."

          Former U.S. Attorney John McKay says that in talking to former White House Counsel Harriet Miers and her deputy about his potential nomination to the federal bench, they asked him to explain why Republicans thought he "mishandled" Washington's 2004 election for governor, which Democrat Christine Gregoire won by 129 votes after a recount. McKay says his dismissal was related to his decision not to prosecute Democrats for voter fraud related to the election. Was Mr. McKay told such a thing? If so, would you consider that an improper reason for his removal? If not, is your testimony that Mr. McKay is not being truthful?    

Gonzales had "serious concerns about [McKay's] judgment." McKay gave an interview in which he discouraged "state and local partners" from coming to DoJ for help because of lack of resources. And he "unilaterally" decided to start videotaping witness interviews.

        What role did Karl Rove and the White House political operation play in the firings?  

"What I recall is that Rove told me of concerns he'd heard about failure to pursue voter fraud in New Mexico, Wisconsin, and Philadelphia."

Gonzales said this conversation took place sometime in the fall of 2006. He couldn't recall whether it was in person or on the phone. He also said he had a conversation with the president in which the president relayed similar concerns about election fraud.

         How could Gonzales have said the firings weren't "political" when he has already acknowledged that former U.S. attorney Bud Cummins was forced out to make way for Tim Griffin, who used to work for Karl Rove?    

Cummins was asked to resign because "there was another well-qualified individual that the White House wanted to put in place."

          How can Gonzales claim politics weren't involved in the firings when White House staffers were communicating about this issue using private, off-book RNC e-mail accounts—precisely because politics were involved?    

Gonzales said he was not aware of any DoJ investigation into the missing e-mails and that he had no position on the use of RNC accounts.

         What's the legal basis for the claim that the e-mails Karl Rove sent from his Republican National Committee account are covered by executive privilege, and so may be withheld from Congress?     Gonzales said that the e-mails could be covered by executive privilege if they related to presidential business even though they were written on RNC accounts.           Kyle Sampson insisted that he was merely the "aggregator" of all the information being collected on the U.S. attorneys. Who was the actual analyzer and decision-maker?    

Gonzales said he is sure it "was [Sampson's] perception" that he was the aggregator. He, himself, thought that Sampson "would aggregate and recommend" based on his experience with presidential personnel.

          Why did Monica Goodling take the Fifth rather than testify before Congress?    

Gonzales said he had nothing to add about Goodling's role. He noted that she was not one of the persons he relied on for recommendations about the firings.

          Gonzales says that U.S. attorneys serve at the pleasure of the president. Was he involved in any way in these firings? If he was not involved, is it in fact the case that they serve at the pleasure of the attorney general instead?     Gonzales said he did not recall the president ever telling him to fire a U.S. attorney.

When he had a conversation with the president about election fraud, he did not connect it with "the Sampson process."
          Did DoJ scramble to come up with reasons for the firings? When did that occur? Why did it happen?    

Gonzales said he was aware of the negative public perception of the firings and the questions about whether his department showed a lack of foresight. He said he still stood by his decision.

         

Why weren't individual files kept on the U.S. attorneys who were fired?

   

Gonzales said he didn't recall ever asking for a report in writing about the review process that led to the dismissals.

          Sampson says Gonzales attended a meeting on Nov. 27, 2006, about the U.S. attorney firings, and e-mails confirm his presence there. What was discussed at that meeting? What did Gonzales say?     Gonzales doesn't recall what was discussed at this meeting but says he made his decision about the firings at it.          

Two weeks ago, the 7th Circuit Court of Appeals let former Democratic Wisconsin employee Georgia Thompson out of prison, immediately after oral argument and even before issuing a ruling. Thompson was indicted for awarding a contract to a contributor to the campaign of her boss, Democratic Gov. Jim Doyle. One of the judges on the 7th Circuit panel accused the government of relying on evidence that was "beyond thin." How does Gonzales defend the decision to prosecute Thompson? Why did the U.S. attorney pressing that case insist that she serve jail time immediately? Who made the decision to prominently feature her conviction in political advertising?

   

Gonzales said the decision to charge Thompson was made in conjunction with the local prosecutor and the Democratic state attorney general. Asked if he planned a review of Thompson's case by DoJ's Office of Professional Responsibility, he said, "I'd be happy to consider that."

        Was Steve Biskupic ever on the list of U.S. attorneys to be fired? If so, why was he removed?   "I was never aware Mr. Biskupic was ever on a list for dismissal. … I'm aware he may have appeared in a category that indicated there may have been concerns."

"I believe he was listed as someone [considered for dismissal], yes."

"This was a process ongoing that I did not have transparency into."
        

How would Gonzales rate morale at the department and among the remaining U.S. attorneys?

   

"When you're attacking the department for being partisan, you're really attacking the career professionals. They're the ones who did the work in these cases."

"I look back with pride on the things we've accomplished."

"I have admitted mistakes in managing this issue. But the department has not been mismanaged."

"I have to believe in my heart that I can be effective."

          Gonzales originally said that no U.S. attorneys were fired for "political reasons." Now he says none were fired for "improper reasons." Why the shift in language? Can a "political reason" ever be improper?            

If the U.S. attorneys were fired for "performance"-related reasons, why is there no record of performance problems in some cases? Michael Battle, former director of the Executive Office for United States Attorneys and the official who made the dismissal calls, told congressional investigators earlier this month that he did not know of any "performance issues" relating to "several" of the fired prosecutors. The first he heard of any problems was when the order came down to fire them.

              Why was Kyle Sampson discussing which U.S. attorneys were "loyal Bushies"? What does that phrase mean at DoJ?             Who is currently making decisions at the Justice Department as to how to respond to various congressional requests for information, given the conflicts this raises for you and your deputies?              Please list all of the current priorities of the current Justice Department (i.e., immigration, child pornography, gun cases) and then rank them in order of absolute importance. Please indicate where each of the fired prosecutors failed in each of the top three areas.               Kyle Sampson and DoJ spokespeople have maintained that no successors were chosen for the fired U.S. attorneys. Yet, last week, the department released an e-mail in which Sampson proposes a list of candidates. Was his statement false, or is the e-mail incorrect?               Why was Monica Goodling allowed to remain on the Justice Department payroll after pleading the Fifth?           

Why did Kyle Sampson feel that he needed to resign?

            Why was membership in the Federalist Society on the list of attributes used to evaluate the U.S. attorneys? What weight should that have in judging a prosecutor's performance?            What is it about 34-year-old Rachel Paulose that made her the best candidate for U.S. attorney for Minnesota? What explanation can Gonzales offer for the abrupt departure of several of her career deputies?              

Sen. Arlen Specter, R-Pa., has suggested direct apologies to each fired U.S. attorney and the possibility of giving jobs back. Would Gonzales consider taking either step?

              How long has Gonzales been preparing for these hearings? Who has helped him? What tasks has he stopped performing to free up the time he has had to devote to responding to the outcry about the firings?              

What role did Harriet Miers play in the firings?

        

...
Slatesenior editor Emily Bazelon will be online Thursday, April 19, at 3 p.m. ET to discuss Gonzales' testimony before the Senate. Do you have a question for her? Submit your questions and comments before or during the discussion.

Emily Bazelon is a staff writer at the New York Times Magazine and the author of Sticks and Stones

John Dickerson is Slate's chief political correspondent and author of On Her Trail. Read his series on the presidency and on risk.

Dahlia Lithwick writes about the courts and the law for Slate. Follow her on Twitter.

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