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 email@example.com.)
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.
"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."
"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.
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."
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.
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."
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 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.
Cummins was asked to resign because "there was another well-qualified individual that the White House wanted to put in place."
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.
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.
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.
When he had a conversation with the president about election fraud, he did not connect it with "the Sampson process."
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.
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."
"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."
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 did Kyle Sampson feel that he needed to resign?
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?
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.
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