With damning new details about the U.S. attorney firings still emerging, and with increasing evidence of White House involvement, Attorney General Alberto Gonzales returns to Capitol Hill today to appear before the House Judiciary Committee. The last time Gonzales testified, even White House allies were “flabbergasted by how poorly they think the attorney general [had] done,” having claimed on more than 70 occasions that he could not recall or did not remember events surrounding the dismissals. One prominent conservative compared his testimony to “clubbing a baby seal.” Now, Gonzales appears ready for a repeat performance. Asked Wednesday during a news conference whether he’s refreshed his memory, he replied: “I can only provide information as to what I know and to what I recall, and that’s what I intend to do, as I have done in the past.” Thankfully, the truth about the firings is slowly being learned despite his stonewalling. “This is going to get worse, not better,” fired U.S. Attorney John McKay told journalists this week. “I think there will be a criminal case that will come out of this.“
- The blunders at the Justice Department in the U.S. Attorney scandal must be accounted for. In his opening statement today, Gonzales will explain how the blunders of the U.S. Attorney scandal are, in the end, the fault of his former chief of staff Kyle Sampson. “I delegated the task of coordinating a review to Mr. Sampson in early 2005,” Gonzales will say, explaining how he tasked Sampson to “collect insight and opinions, including his own, from Department officials with the most knowledge of U.S. Attorneys,” and use those opinions to produce a “consensus recommendation” on who should be fired. The problem is that virtually every high-ranking Justice Department official has explicitly denied that they named attorneys to be dismissed. David Margolis, the senior career official at the Justice Department, says he recommended only one name, Kevin Ryan, “the only U.S. attorney who everyone agrees had actual performance issues.” The only official yet to explain her role is Monica Goodling, former counsel to Gonzales and, notably, former liaison to the White House.
- There is increasing evidence that White House officials, notably Karl Rove, were the true ringleaders of the U.S. attorney purge. “There has to be a paper trail” explaining the firings, former U.S. Attorney David Iglesias said recently. “I haven’t seen it yet. If it’s not at the Justice Department, it has got to be at the White House.” Rove is long known to have complained about U.S. attorneys who failed to pursue alleged voter fraud cases vigorously, and it was Rove who asked in a January 2005 e-mail “‘how we planned to proceed regarding U.S. attorneys‘ — whether the expected firings would be selective or en masse.” Also, Kyle Sampson told congressional investigators that Gonzales was “extremely upset” with his deputy Paul McNulty when believed McNutly had inadvertantly “exposed the White House’s involvement in the firings — had put its role ‘in the public sphere,’ as Sampson phrased it.”
- With the discovery of a ninth fired attorney, the scandal continues to grow. We also learned this week that “there were not 8 but 9 US Attorneys fired last year by the Department of Justice — the earliest, Todd Graves in Kansas City, way back in March 2006, right after the passage of the revised USA Patriot.” Graves said yesterday he was told simply that he should resign to “give another person a chance.” That other person was a controversial Justice Department figure named Bradley Schlozman, who was installed in Graves’ position without Senate confirmation. The news about Graves directly contradicts “repeated suggestions by Gonzales and other senior Justice officials in congressional testimony and other public statements that the firings did not extend beyond the eight prosecutors already known to have been forced out.”