Senator Who Said Gonzales Lied to Him Hasn't Heard Back
At the Senate Judiciary Committee hearing on Thursday, one particular bone of contention that earned Attorney General Alberto Gonzales a bipartisan scolding was the Justice Department's use of a provision in the U.S.A. Patriot Act allowing Gonzales to name interim U.S. attorneys to replace those fired without Senate confirmation.
That issue has greatly angered Sen. Mark Pryor, an Arkansas Democrat in whose state Gonzales replaced the existing U.S. attorney, H. E. "Bud" Cummins, with J. Timothy Griffin, a former prot égé of Bush political adviser Karl Rove, using this controversial provision.
Pryor has said that he called Gonzales and the White House on December 15 to weigh in on who Cummins's replacement should be. When Pryor heard that the administration was planning to name Griffin as an interim appointee, the senator says, he "asked them to please not do that, and please send someone through the confirmation process. And if it was Tim Griffin, send him through," even though Pryor could not guarantee he would vote for Griffin. Gonzales assured him that he supported the idea of a Senate-confirmed nominee as well.
But just four days later, Gonzales's chief of staff, Kyle Sampson, sent an E-mail to Christopher Oprisem in the White House, regarding circumventing Pryor and his fellow Arkansas senator, Blanche Lincoln, also a Democrat.
"I think we should gum this to death," Sampson wrote. "Ask the senators to give Tim a chance, meet with him, give him some time in office to see how he performs, etc. If they ultimately say, 'no, never,' (and the longer we can forestall that, the better), then we can tell them we'll look for other candidates, ask them for their recommendations, evaluate the recommendations, interview their candidates, and otherwise run out the clock. All of this should be done in 'good faith,' of course."
Sampson also says the administration should "pledge" to desire a Senate-confirmed U.S. attorney but "otherwise hunker down." He concludes by saying he's not "100 percent sure" that Griffin was the "guy on which to test-drive this authority, but know that getting him appointed was important to [then White House counsel] Harriet Miers, Karl [Rove], etc."
Pryor was infuriated by the memo and said last month that in their talk on December 15, Gonzales appeared to be using the same points Sampson listed in his E-mail (which was sent to the White House four days later) as a "playbook" and hit every point, assuring him that Pryor would get a Senate-confirmed U.S. attorney.
"This is why I feel lied to," Pryor said in angry remarks on the Senate floor last month. "And the truth is I was lied to, because I was told that the attorney general...wanted a Senate-confirmed U.S. attorney in every slot. That is absolutely not true in Arkansas, based on this E-mail from the Justice Department." Pryor said he felt particularly betrayed because he was one of six Democratic senators who had backed Gonzales for attorney general. He called on Gonzales to "resign immediately" because he didn't think Gonzales "has the credibility to run that department anymore."