Gonzales: The Texan Who Can't Shoot Straight
Even two Republican senatorsJohn Sununu of New Hampshire and Gordon Smith of Oregonhave called for Gonzales's departure.
"In fact, it raises the temperature," said Schumer. "Kyle Sampson will not become the next Scooter Libby, the fall guy," referring to Vice President Cheney's chief of staff, who was recently convicted of obstruction of justice and perjury related to the Iraq prewar intelligence case.
Late Friday, Sampson finally began to tell his side of the story, through his attorney, Bradford Berenson who said his client did not resign because he had misled anybody at the Justice Department or withheld information. "He resigned because, as Chief of Staff, he felt he had let the Attorney General down," said Berenson in a written statement, "in failing to appreciate the need for and organize a more effective political response to the unfounded accusations of impropriety in the replacement process."
Berenson added that a number of officials at the Department knew that the White House and the Justice Department had been discussing the subject of removing U.S. attorneys.
U.S. News has learned that in fact, in early 2004, David Ayres, chief of staff to Gonzales's predecessor, Attorney General John Ashcroft, had begun evaluating weak U.S. attorneys. A former Justice Department official said that Ayres consulted with then Deputy Attorney general, James Comey, who gave him a list of poor performers who could be replaced if the opportunity came to make changes. At the time, Ashcroft believed he would serve a second term. A year later, Sampson also approached Comey who gave him the same list he had given Ayres in early 2004, the official told U.S. News. In principle, Comey had nothing against removing weak prosecutors, but it was unrelated to politics, the official said. And the list Comey gave to Ayres and Sampson, bore little resemblance to the list that Sampson finally came up with, the official said. Indeed, the only person on Comey's list that wound up on Sampson's list was Kevin Ryan, the U.S. Attorney in San Francisco. But on Sampson's list, Ryan was listed as a good prosecutor, not a weak one.
As Gonzales began making the rounds of Capitol Hill this week, essentially pleading for his job, Bush, while expressing support for his friend, was also uttering stern comments about wanting mi abogado to take care of the problem. "Mistakes were made," Bush said, "and I'm frankly not happy about them."
For Democrats, who were in oversight exile until winning back Congress last fall, it has been an adrenaline rush like no other. Many Democrats thought that once they took charge and began a veritable round robin of investigations, they could target Gonzales for the "war on terror" policies.
But Gonzales's Achilles heel proved to be so much more, well, petty. Since the 9/11 attacks, the Bush administration, backed by then White House counsel Gonzales, repeatedly invoked executive privilege and other weighty legal theories about presidential power to push through the "war on terror" legal strategies and resist even the limpest oversight attempts from the Republican-led Congress. That the hiring and firing U.S. attorneys, a core presidential power, could result in Gonzales's undoing is rather ironic.