SEN. LEAHY QUESTIONS: (Sorry gang, I missed the opening portion of Leahy's testimony getting the new thread going — C-Span switched channel coverage and my DVR was recording the first channel for me while I changed threads. See prior thread comments for some of the Leahy questions and AG answers.) Leahy is asking about the double duty problems with various USAs also doing two jobs at once. AG is bringing up Fitz as an example of things going right.
[Mercifully, C-Span replayed this during lunch, so I'm blogging in the Leahy questions portion from the replay here. –CHS]
Leahy begins with Sampson testimony under oath re: conversation with Rove about Iglesias and two other USAs not being aggressive enough about voter fraud. Gonzales, with a quaver in his voice, says that he recalls a conversation with Rove about New Mexico, Milwaukie, WI, and Philadelphia, PA and issues with voter fraud. It was an impersonal conversation, but he doesn't recall when it took place. Ag says when he accepted the recommendations, he didn't know that Iglesias was added to the list — was added some time between mid-October and November 17th of 2006, but AG says he wasn't responsible for compiling the list. AG doesn't know why he was added — he wasn't surprised that he was recommended, having heard concerns about problems from Sen. Dominici and Rove, and also knows that there was a meeting in October with the President who relayed similar concerns about pursuing election fraud. Doesn't really remember it, but knows it happened from reviewing documents — meeting happened on October 11th. Iglesias was designated as an "up and comer," and actually trained other USAs about handling voter fraud cases. Talks about reports in a New Mexico paper that AG initially refused to remove Iglesias, but that later he lost the AGs confidence. AG says that Iglesias lost the confidence of Domenici in fall of 2005 — Dominici said Iglesias was over is head on public corruption cases, that Dominici never asked for removal. Leahy says with all due respect his question wasn't about losing Dominici's confidence, but it was about the AG's opinion. AG says based on the consensus decision within the department, that Iglesias was problematic, and that this wasn't a surprise to the Ag because he had already heard concerns about him. Leahy talks about the Iglesias op-ed in the NYTimes and reads a bit therefrom, including that decisions needed to be made on the evidence and law, and not on political grounds. AG agrees with that. Gets into the criticism of Iglesias as being an "absentee landlord" — are you aware that Iglesias' criticism on those grounds would be due to his military service? AG says that wasn't in his mind. Leahy then gets into the Mercer issue who is USA in Montana, and also serving in an acting associate AG position in DC, and that there have been problems with one of the federal judges in the area as a result. Leahy is asking about the double duty problems with various USAs also doing two jobs at once. AG is bringing up Fitz as an example of things going right.
SEN. SPECTER QUESTIONS: In my opening statement, I referred to the fact that you appeared to not be candid and open. And in your opening statement, you appeared to carry that lack of being candid forward to today. It is not exactly a matter of precision to say that you discussed things. That is a fundamental fact. Gonzales makes a snotty aside that he prepares for every hearing, and Specter snaps back: Do you prepare for all of your press conferences? There is a back and forth about the AG misspeaking at his press conference. Specter says, "Let's move on. I don't think that you are going to win a debate about your preparation, frankly." Moving on to Sampson's sworn testimony, by Bill Mercer, and by Michael Battle by comparison to AG's record. You had a conversation with Sampson about removing certain USAs. Specter runs through a series of dates and conversations on each fired USA. According to Sampson's testimony, Oct. 11, went to WH to talk about vote fraud concerns — with Rove and President — and Sampson says that AG came back and said look into vote fraud concerns, including in New Mexico. Several other dates and conversations follow.
This is only part of the picture — you talked about removal and replacements. Do you think it is fair to characterize that as "limited involvement?" AG says "I don't want to quarrel with you." Specter says, "I don't either. Just answer the question." Were you involved in the process? Were you involved to a limited extent only? Yes, sir. How much more could you have been involved having conversations about Lam, and Cummins, and Iglesias, and that's only part of the information. AG says that it was limited — he fobs off responsibility to Sampson. (CHS notes: AG is on defensive and scrambling.) I can't simply stop doing my supervisory responsibilities while this is ongoing. Specter says "did you tell Mercer to take a look about Lam's performance specifically?" AG says he doesn't recall specifics, but he does recall getting numerous complaints about her gun prosecutions and immigration questions, and that he asked Mercer and Sampson to review. There is a considerable back and forth with regard to Lam, Cummins, Iglasias…AG says he didn't recall talking with Rove, but understands that he did; didn't recall the conversation with the President, but understands that he had one.
Specter skeptical about the "limited" involvement — the reality is that your characterization of your level of participation is at variance with the facts. The AG says that you are talking about things that went on over 700 days — putting it in context with all of his other conversations, he thinks it was limited. Specter says "are you saying that you didn't consider this as part of his job, as part of the process" referring to meetings and conversations. That having aconversation with Sampson about a complaint about Lam's performane wasn't involved in this firing process. AG says he didn't focus on this particular process impacting the decision on Lam's performance review for firing…Specter is highly skeptical. (CHS notes: The AG is absolutely scrambling. This is painful.)
SEN. KENNEDY QUESTIONS: You indicated that you had limited involvement and that the process "was not vigorous." You indicated in your testimony today that the results should stand. What is the basis for that? AG says he thinks that is a fair question. When this started, I was not the person in the Department who had the most information about the performance of the USAs. Again, fobbing it off to Sampson. AG says he understood that he would be getting a consensus view of the senior members of the Department. How can you tell us that things were proper when you had a limited involvement, the process wasn't vigorous and you basically left it to someone else? (CHS notes: ouch, that one stung.) AG says since then he went back and looked at the reasons for those prior decisions and thinks they were okay. AG says that he thinks he is justified in relying on the judgments of senior staff. He is not aware that anyone made decisions based on improper reasons — but he's asked the office of professional responsibility in the DoJ to look into whether there might be questions. (CHS notes: so, there might be something, but someone else is looking into it. Gotcha.) How can you make a statement that the DoJ makes decisions on evidence when you made these decisions without it? We don't even have the rationale for the firing of these individuals at the time that these decisions were made. AG says they make decisions on evidence for prosecutions.
Did you have an opportunity to review the document which is the standard document of evaluations of USAs? AG says no, but it would only be one factor of many. Have you spoken to any of the USAs who were replaced? AG says he has only spoken to Bogden. Did you talk to any of the AUSAs? AG says that he certainly did so with respect to San Diego, and anyone who was an acting USA in the various offices — not before the firings, but well after the firings. Did you perform anysystematic review of the impact of these firings on ongoing cases? That's an important question, the prosecutions are mainly done by AUSAs — the system is built to withstand change. Did you speak with others within the department about the performance of any of these USAs prior to the time they were fired, other than Mr. Sampson? Yes. Who? I don't recall specifics. There was a meeting at the department on Lam, I recall the numbers. I had genuine concerns on her efforts on gun prosecutions and immigration issues — this is a very important district for border prosecutions. And I spoke to others. (CHS: Hmmm…who?)
Sen. Grassley had to step out to a funeral, so on to Sen. Brownback.
SEN. BROWNBACK QUESTIONS: Go down through list of those terminated. Bogden of NV? This is the one to me, in hindsight, was the closest call. I don't recall what i knew in December about Mr. Bogden's performance, but I probably knew something. In looking at documents, there were concerns about the level of energy specifically in that office.
Opening a fresh thread here.