What Did the AG Know and When Did He Know It?
The latest development in the ongoing U.S. Attorney firing scandal is evidence that AG Alberto Gonzales signed off on the decision despite having said that he was not involved.
David Johnston and Eric Lipton for the NYT:
Attorney General Alberto R. Gonzales and senior advisers discussed the plan to remove seven United States attorneys at a meeting last Nov. 27, 10 days before the dismissals were carried out, according to a Justice Department calendar entry disclosed Friday.
The previously undisclosed meeting appeared to contradict Mr. Gonzales’s previous statements about his knowledge of the dismissals. He said at a news conference on March 13 that he had not participated in any discussions about the removals, but knew in general that his aides were working on personnel changes involving United States attorneys.
Tasia Scolinos, a Justice Department spokeswoman, told reporters on Friday evening that Mr. Gonzales’s attendance at the hourlong meeting was not inconsistent with his past remarks. “He tasked his chief of staff to carry this plan forward,” Ms. Scolinos said. “He did not participate in the selection of the U.S. attorneys to be fired. He did sign off on the final list.”
Last week, Attorney General Alberto Gonzales said he was not involved in any discussions about the impending dismissals of U.S. attorneys. On Friday night, however, the Justice Department revealed Gonzales’ participation in a Nov. 27 meeting where such plans were discussed.
At that meeting, the attorney general and at least five top Justice Department officials discussed a five-step plan for carrying out the firings of the prosecutors, Gonzales’ aides said late Friday. There, Gonzales signed off on the plan, which was drafted by his chief of staff, Kyle Sampson. Sampson resigned last week.
The five-step plan approved by Gonzales involved notifying Republican home-state senators of the impending dismissals, preparing for potential political upheaval, naming replacements and submitting them to the Senate for confirmation. Six of the eight prosecutors who were ultimately ordered to resign are named in the plan.
The apparent contradiction is, to say the least, troubling.
The question he was asked is inaudible but he describes the process in the passive voice (“there began a process” … “so far as I knew”) and says he “was not involved in seeing any memos, was not involved in any discussions about what was going on.”
Now, again, I can’t hear the question he was asked, which may have had temporal boundaries. Further, it’s arguable that he simply meant that he wasn’t involved in the “performance evaluations” but merely signed off on the final DOJ product before having it sent through the White House staffing process.
At the very least, however, his answer lacked candor. He certainly was not forthcoming in discussing his role in the process.