The United States Attorney General, Alberto Gonzales, will be giving testimony today to the Senate Judiciary Committee. It is being broadcast live on C-Span1 (although be advised, if there is floor activity in the House, C-Span is required to switch to the floor and will likely hop the coverage over to C-Span3 at that point). You can watch live on streaming video via C-Span's website.
The AG has entered the room and is bantering with photographers and Senators. He and John Cornyn just went off to have a chat off camera briefly and then a little handshaking on the GOP side of the table, and back to the witness table. The hearing is about to begin.
SEN. LEAHY: Begins with remembrance of people at Virginia Tech. Then an admonishment of people holding up signs that are blocking the view of others in the audience in chambers today. Back to a statement of thoughts and prayers for the people involved. Look forward to working with the DoJ on how to improve the laws to hopefully help prevent such tragedies in the future. Today, the DoJ is experiencing a crisis of leadership, perhaps unrivaled in its history. Growing questions about dismissal of someof its lawyers, and the attempt to control and politicize the civil rights division and other areas of prosecution. The DoJ should never be reduced to another political arm of the White House — this WH or any other one. We have heard testimony from USAs who were fired, as well as from staffers from the DoJ whose testimony contradicts the AGs prior sworn testimony — sworn testimony.
The dismissed USAs have testified under oath that they believe that political considerations had something to do with the firings. Sampson testified under oath of Karl Rove's role in the firing of Iglesias. Discussion of the New Mexico GOP involvement in dropping Iglesias as the 2006 election approached.
Last November, the American public rejected the unilateral actions of the Bush Administration. Rather than heed the will of the public, the DoJ staff finalized plans to proceed with mass firings of USAs, and sent the unmistakeable message not only to those fired, but to those who remained, that the independence with which prior USAs had operated would no longer be tolerated. An instead, partisan loyalty became paramount. I do not excuse the AGs actions, and his failure from the outset to be honest with us and to those USAs who were dismissed, and failure to provide us with all of the information necessary.
If nothing wrong was done, then provide us with all of the documents, and testimony under oath. Quit hiding the e-mails, quit saying they cannot be found, quit refusing to be up front with the duly elected representatives of the American people. Real oversight has returned to Capitol Hill. What investigations have already revealed is rampant cronyism and substantial questions of politicization of our nation's justice system. Current actions undercut confidence in our USAs. Gonzales cannot claim immunity for torture undertaken on his watch as the nation's top attorney, he cannot escape responsibility for actions taken to politicize the DoJ. With all of the facts on the table, we can move forward to get to the truth and to restore confidence to the American public.
SEN. SPECTER: Begins with discussing Gonzales' biography. As I see it, you have a heavy burden today to (1) re-establish your credibility, (2) to justify the replacement of these USAs, and (3) to demonstrate that you can provide the leadership to the DoJ which has such a vital role to play in protecting the interest of Americans on so many lines. You give this testimony in the context of so many others from the DoJ who have contradicted so many of your prior sworn statements to this comittee. Specter goes through the litany of the various contradictions: not at meetings and later found you were, not involved in deliberations and we have testimony saying you were, etc. (Sampson, Mercer, Battle) They have said not only involved in deliberations, but did so ith some particularity. You ahve a heavy burden of proof to re-establish your credibility here. There is no doubt that the President may remove USAs for no reason at all — but there cannot be a removal for a bad reason. Brings up the Clinton removal of USAs in 1993 at the beginning of his term. (CHS notes: No mention that Reagan also did this.) Questions of Lam, for example, being removed because she was pursuing corruption investigations against GOP politicians like Duke Cunningham. Questions that Iglesias was removed for improper reasons as well. Allegations — you have the opportunity to address them today.
Specter says that Gonzales contacted him and that he wrote to him giving him suggestions on what the AG needed to address. I suggested to you that you do a case by case analysis on why these attys were asked to resign. If someone was improperly removed, you should say so and consider remdial action including reinstatement, although I understand that would be difficult here. You can't unscramble the egg.
In terms of leadership, there are serious questions. In an effort to distance yourself from this, you face the horns of a dilemma: if you were removed from decision-making, then there are questions of you being detached from such important matters; and if you were involved, there are serious questions about your judgment. This is an extremely important hearing this morning.
SEN. LEAHY: Going to grant two minutes to Schumer and Sessions, as ranking members of the subcommittee doing oversight on this.
SEN. SCHUMER: Need sincere and direct answers from the AG. We need clear responses, not careful evasions. We have heard that the AG has been preparing long and hard for this hearing, so I hope we will get a minumum of "I don't recalls." I hope we don't have a lot of meandering filibuster answers that take up a lot of time and don't answer the questions asked. If after all this time, the AG can't answer a straight question, how can he run the department. The burden has shifted: we are not going to find a smoking gun e-mail, but when there is no cogent explanation for the firings, when there is virtually no documentation for the decisions, when there are mounting contradictions, when there are constant coincidences, when those firings occur against a backdrop of mishaps, missteps and misstatements by high officials in the DoJ, what are we to think?
The circumstantial evidence here is substantial and growing, and the burden is on the AG to meet it. We need clear and consistent reasons for this.
I hope we will not hear the AG repeat like a mantra as though it were an excuse to do any conduct. The President is certaily permitted to dismiss USAs, but when he does so for questionable reasons, the President ought to be questioned by a Congress that is doing its job. What were the intentions in this? We don't know all the facts here, but we will hopefully learn more today.
SEN. SESSIONS: There is politics here, but there are also very serious issues. It is important for USAs to feel supported in doing their duties — there has to be accountability for them, but there also has to be support. The integrity of the AG's office must be above reproach. We have questions, and those questions have to be answered. It does appear that your statements at a presser at the DoJ are contradicted by the statements of others. I do not beleive this was a necessary process the way it was conducted. This raises questions that I wish had not ben raised. When USAs go into court, it raises questions in the minds of juries — when they go to court, the jury has to believe that the USA brought the case for meritorious reasons.
AG now placed under oath.
AG GONZALES: Begins with a recognition of the VT violence and its victims, and a statement of pride for the law enforcement personnel who put their lives on the line daily for public safety. Underscores the importance of their mission, and that he understands he has an important role in this.
The 8 attorneys who resigned deserved better from me. I regret how they were treated, and I apologize to them and to their families for allowing this matter to become an undignified public spectacle. And I accept responsibility for this.
I should have been more precise in discussing this matter publicly. The attacks on my integrity have been very difficult for me. I never sought ot mislead or deceive the Congress and the American people. This committee has thousands of pages of documents and hours of interviews with DoJ officials.
While the process that led to the resignations was flawed, I believe that nothing improper occurred. There is nothing improper about removing someone for policy differences, management issues or simply to allow another qualified individual to serve. They serve at the pleasure of the President. I do not beleive that anyone in the Department acted for an improper reason. (CHS notes: note that he isn't saying that no one involved, just the DoJ folks. Good morning, Karl.)
I freely acknowledge that I have questioned my decisions and whether I should reconsider the results. I have reviewed the documents available to the Congress. (CHS notes: what other documents outside those available to Congress were reviewed?)
Starting a new thread. Please think before you comment — the longer the thread, the faster I have to start new ones and it slows down the liveblogging. I don't want to miss testimony, so please keep things on topic, brief. Thanks!