Ex-aide: Gonzales briefed on firings

first_img“I’m going to have to let the attorney general speak for himself,” White House spokeswoman Dana Perino said as Sampson entered his third hour before the senators. Noting that Gonzales is not scheduled to appear publicly on Capitol Hill until an April 17 hearing in front of the same Senate panel, she added: “I agree three weeks is a long time.” Even so, President George W. Bush “is confident that the attorney general can overcome these challenges, and the president continues to have his support,” said White House spokesman Tony Fratto. The Justice Department said Gonzales has no plans to resign. Justice spokesman Brian Roehrkasse said Gonzales has described his involvement as “never focused on specific concerns about United States attorneys as to whether or not they should be asked to resign.” That differed from last week’s Justice Department explanation that Gonzales was not involved with selecting which prosecutors would be asked to resign. Senate Judiciary Chairman Patrick Leahy, D-Vt., indicated that Gonzales’ credibility had suffered from repeated attempts to explain the contradictions. “You can only do `What I really meant to say’ three or four or five or six times,” Leahy said, half-kidding. “Then people tend not to believe it.” Sen. Arlen Specter, R-Pa., said Gonzales “has many questions to answer.” Sampson’s conflicting account with Gonzales’ poses “a real question as to whether he’s acting in a competent way as attorney general.” A growing number of Democrats and Republicans have called for Gonzales to step down. The stony-faced Sampson, a longtime and loyal aide to Gonzales, said other senior Justice Department officials helped to plan the firings, which the White House first suggested shortly after Bush won a second term in 2004. Sampson said he was never aware of any case in which prosecutors were told to step down because they refused to help Republicans in local election or corruption investigations. He also said he saw little difference between dismissing prosecutors for political reasons versus performance-related ones. “A U.S. attorney who is unsuccessful from a political perspective, either because he or she has alienated the leadership of the department in Washington or cannot work constructively with law enforcement or other governmental constituencies in the district, is unsuccessful,” Sampson said. But Sampson admitted he should have been more careful to prevent Paul McNulty, the deputy attorney general, and William Moschella, the principal associate deputy attorney general, from giving incomplete or misleading information to Congress in describing the dismissals. Sampson himself was unable to answer many of the senators’ specific questions, claiming a fuzzy memory. Furor over the purge has outraged lawmakers and current U.S. attorneys. With televisions throughout the Justice Department tuned to Sampson’s testimony, Gonzales spent two hours trying to soothe a group of seven prosecutors he met with in Washington. He has held similar meetings across the country and planned to attend one today in Boston.160Want local news?Sign up for the Localist and stay informed Something went wrong. Please try again.subscribeCongratulations! You’re all set! “I remember discussing with him this process of asking certain U.S. attorneys to resign,” Sampson said. Sampson’s testimony for the first time put Gonzales at the heart of the firings amid ever-changing Justice Department accounts of how they were planned. Gonzales has said repeatedly that he was not closely involved in the firings and largely depended on Sampson to orchestrate them. Sampson resigned March 12. A day later, Gonzales said he “never saw documents. We never had a discussion about where things stood” on the firings. The White House stepped back from defending Gonzales even before Sampson finished testifying. WASHINGTON – Attorney General Alberto Gonzales was briefed regularly over two years on the firings of federal prosecutors, his former top aide said Thursday, disputing Gonzales’ claims he was not closely involved with the dismissals. The testimony before the Senate Judiciary Committee by Kyle Sampson, the attorney general’s former chief of staff, newly undercut Gonzales’ already shaky credibility. Gonzales and former White House counsel Harriet Miers made the final decision on whether to fire the U.S. attorneys last year, said Sampson. “I don’t think the attorney general’s statement that he was not involved in any discussions of U.S. attorney removals was accurate,” Sampson told the committee as it inquired into whether the dismissals were politically motivated. last_img