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.”

MSNBC:

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.

Oddly, though, neither source actually quotes what Gonzales said in his press conference. C-SPAN has the video. For now, at least, YouTube has an embeddable version:

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.

FILED UNDER: General, , , , , , ,
James Joyner
About James Joyner
James Joyner is Professor and Department Head of Security Studies at Marine Corps University's Command and Staff College and a nonresident senior fellow at the Scowcroft Center for Strategy and Security at the Atlantic Council. He's a former Army officer and Desert Storm vet. Views expressed here are his own. Follow James on Twitter @DrJJoyner.

Comments

  1. Jim Henley says:

    The only decent thing to do is sniff disapprovingly and let them keep right on with their lies and power grabs.

  2. Anon says:

    I don’t really have any problem with the Bush administration deciding to target voter fraud, and wanting to get rid of USAs that they thought were insufficiently zealous. I may vigorously disagree that it’s a problem, or that it is a wise use of resources, but that is the President’s prerogative.

    But surely they realized that on an issue such as voter fraud, there is this very bright but thin line between legitimate exercise of Presidential prerogative, and using the DOJ to harrass political opponents. They would have had to scrupulously ensure that they stayed on the right side, both in appearance and in actuality.

    Unfortunately, they have clearly failed on the former, and there is evidence suggesting that they also failed on the latter.

  3. Zelsdorf Ragshaft III says:

    James, I invite you to skip on over to Big Lizards blog, scroll down to the March 24th article related to the subject. You will find it quite educational. Seems the meeting the AG attended had nothing to do with selection or deposition concerning the dismissal of US Attorneys.

  4. Bithead says:

    Anon;

    The problem with your assessment is in short that Bush’s political opponents, (Shoud I say, the Democrats?) are benefiting by the voter fraud. The waters as a result get very murky, indeed.

  5. Anjin-San says:

    Bit,

    Of course you are right, only Democrats engage in voter fraud.

    Are you looking forward to seeing the Easter Bunny?

  6. Zelsdorf Ragshaft III says:

    Anjin, I do not know if Democrats are the only party that benefit from voter fraud, but they seem to be the only party participating in it. Ref: the voting dead of Washington state. How about the lost GI votes in Fla.? The list goes on and on, all the way to John Fitzgerald Kennedy and Chicago.

  7. legion says:

    The only decent thing to do is sniff disapprovingly and let them keep right on with their lies and power grabs.

    And yet he didn’t. Instead he chose to lie, repeatedly and continually… At every single opportunity he had to clear the air, he blatantly and transparently lied.

    And yet I take it from your comment that you would prefer to keep someone who is clearly morally bankrupt in office?

  8. Anderson says:

    Legion, I think you may have missed the irony marks in Henley’s comment that you quote …

  9. legion says:

    Sorry, my internet connection went down for a couple of days; I may be suffering from withdrawal 🙂