Partisan Sparring in Gonzales Hearing

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The chairman of the House Judiciary Committee and its ranking Republican sparred today as they interviewed Attorney General Alberto Gonzales about the firings of eight U.S. attorneys.

In his testimony, Gonzales repeated assertions that his decision to fire eight U.S. attorneys was not based on improper reasons and the firings should stand.

The attorney general said he is trying to clear up all questions and misconceptions surrounding the firings. “I never sought to mislead or deceive the Congress or the American people,” he said.

Chairman John Conyers, D-Mich., opened the hearing with harsh words for both the Justice Department and the White House.

Conyers said allegations of political influence in the firing decision “create the impression that the department has placed partisan interest above the public interest.”

He referred to allegations that prosecutors were fired because they refused to pursue vote fraud investigations against Democrats or because they were investigating GOP politicians.

Conyers also took aim at the White House for refusing to submit to on-the-record interviews about the matter. “One asks whether the administration is trying to cover up two simple truths: Who created the list and why?” he said.

He sounded that same theme as he questioned Gonzales about who created the list. Gonzales said the list was a consensus recommendation from many in his department. Leading the decision-making process was former chief of staff Kyle Sampson.

“In other words, you don’t know?” Conyers persisted.

Gonzales said he needed to be careful in answering the question to protect the integrity of an ongoing investigation.

In his opening statements, U.S. Rep. Lamar Smith of Texas, the ranking Republican on the committee, said that allegations have mushroomed, but evidence of wrongdoing has not.

Responding to softball questions from Smith, Gonzales said he would not retaliate against prosecutors for partisan political reasons.

Did the White House ask you to retaliate against a U.S. attorney for partisan gain or to interfere with an ongoing investigation? Smith asked.

“Not that I recall,” was Gonzales’ reply.

Gonzales said he recognized there were some morale problems in his department, but he had asked his staffers to focus on their jobs and put aside the current controversy.

Gonzales said he does not intend to allow recent events to deter the Justice Department from its crime-fighting mission.

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