Gonzales to Testify Today

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U.S. Attorney General Alberto Gonzales is expected to testify today that he may have been imprecise in statements about the firings of eight U.S attorneys, but he never intended to mislead the American people.

U.S. Attorney General Alberto Gonzales is expected to testify today that he may have been imprecise in statements about the firings of eight U.S attorneys, but he never intended to mislead the American people.

Gonzales will speak at a hearing of the Senate Judiciary Committee, which is investigating the dismissals. His former chief of staff, D. Kyle Sampson, has asserted that Gonzales was inaccurate when he made prior statements denying a role in discussions about prosecutor dismissals.

Fueling the controversy are revelations that the firings were discussed on a separate e-mail system for the Republican National Committee and that many e-mails may be lost.

In prepared remarks (PDF), Gonzales points out that U.S. attorneys serve at the pleasure of the president and maintains he did not fire any prosecutors to impede investigations for political gain. However, he concedes the review process should have been more rigorous and that he should have made sure the dismissed prosecutors received “more dignified treatment.”

“This process could have been handled much better, and for that I want to apologize publicly,” he says in the remarks, released by PR Newswire.

Gonzales says he has “nothing to hide” and he never intentionally made false statements about his involvement in the process. Suggestions to the contrary, he says, “have been personally very painful to me. I have always sought the truth. I never sought to mislead or deceive the Congress or the American people about my role in this matter. I do acknowledge, however, that at times I have been less than precise with my words when discussing the resignations.”

He goes on to refer to a statement he made in a March 13 press conference that he “was not involved in any discussions about what was going on.” Gonzales characterizes that prior assertion as “too broad” and points out that in the same press conference, he acknowledged he was aware of the process to review the prosecutors’ performance.

Sen. Charles Schumer, D-N.Y., who is leading the Senate investigation into the firings, has said Sampson’s testimony raises questions about the accuracy of Gonzales’ prior statements. Sampson had recalled that Gonzales took part in discussions about the removal of two particular U.S. attorneys, David Iglesias in New Mexico and Carol Lam in San Diego.

Questioning today is expected to focus on Gonzales’ dismissal of Iglesias, according to a story in the New York Times.

The paper reports that administration officials confirm Gonzales spoke with President Bush and his political adviser Karl Rove about Iglesias’ failure to make vote fraud a priority.

Gonzales says the U.S. attorney review began soon after the 2004 election, when then-White House counsel Harriet Miers inquired about replacing all 93 U.S. attorneys. He viewed a mass firing as “disruptive and unwise” but thought it would be appropriate to review the prosecutors’ performances and determine if some changes were needed.

Gonzales asked Sampson to coordinate the review and to consult with senior Justice Department officials who were aware of the U.S. attorneys’ work.

The attorney general received updates on the review, but he remembers them as being “brief, relatively few in number, and focused primarily on the review process itself. During those updates, to my knowledge, I did not make decisions about who should or should not be asked to resign.”

Gonzales says he does recall discussing two specific candidates as possible replacements, but he does not remember making any decisions before Dec. 7, when the prosecutors were asked to resign.

Besides Lam and Iglesias, the dismissed U.S. attorneys were Dan Bogden, Margaret Chiara, Paul Charlton, John McKay, Kevin Ryan, and Bud Cummins. Gonzales says all served honorably. “The Justice Department owes them more respect than they were shown,” Gonzales says in the statement.

Sen. Arlen Specter of Pennsylvania, the ranking Republican on the Judiciary Committee, told ABC’s “This Week” program that Gonzales should consider reinstating the U.S. attorneys if they were improperly dismissed.

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