Gonzales Faces a Pivotal Week
When Alberto Gonzales testifies before the Senate Judiciary Committee this Thursday about the firings of eight U. S. attorneys, he must give a rock-solid performance, making every single word count, to ensure his survival as attorney general. After all, it's his shifting explanations, and those of his aides, as to why the prosecutors were fired, that has led him to this point in the first place, the main act in the most juicy political circus in town this week.
In recent weeks, Gonzales has released thousands of pages of documents related to the firings, and current and former senior Justice officials, including Gonzales's former chief of staff, D. Kyle Sampson, have testified under oath in public and met in private with Senate Judiciary Committee members. So there is now a lengthy paper trail that can be used to nail Gonzales on any real or perceived inconsistencies.
Gonzales already has done numerous course corrections about his role in the whole fiasco, both in print and television interviews, in an op-ed page piece in the Washington Post on Sunday, and in his prepared statement for the hearings, submitted to the committee. For example: At his March 13 press conference Gonzales said that he "was not involved in seeing any memos, was not involved in any discussions about what was going on." In his most recent statement, Gonzales says he "misspoke" and that the statement was "too broad."
One knowledgeable source says that the committee will take aim even at some of Gonzales's corrected statements. For instance, in an interview on March 26 on NBC, Gonzales was asked whether he had largely stayed out of the discussions over which U.S. attorneys to fire until the very end. Gonzales said that while he may have participated in "conversations" about the performance of various U.S. attorneys, he "wasn't involved in the deliberations as to whether or not a particular United States Attorney should or should not be asked to resign." Gonzales then added, "Let me just, I don't recall being involved. Let me be more precise because I know that with respect to this particular topic, people parse carefully the words that I use." And Senate Democrats will do just that on Thursday and try to make the case that in fact, Gonzales was involved in those deliberations.
Gonzales was to have testified Tuesday, but his appearance was postponed because of the Virginia Tech shootings.
Senate Judiciary Committee member Charles Schumer, a New York Democrat, said Monday that Sampson told committee staff members in a meeting on Sunday that Gonzales may have been involved in deliberations about the ousting of San Diego U.S. Attorney Carol Lam. Schumer said Sampson told the staff that Gonzales's statement to the contrary seemed "inaccurate" or at least "not complete." Schumer said that Sampson said that on June 6, senior Justice officials including Sampson; the department's No. 3 official, William Mercer; Gonzales's former counselor Jeffrey Taylor, now the U.S. attorney in Washington, D.C., and others discussed the potential ouster of Lam.