Alberto Gonzales Testimony, Part VI
***BREAKING: Rep. Doolittle resigns his seat on the House Appropriations Committee after the FBI raided his home via search warrant. H/T to ThinkProgress and twolf1 for the link. The Muck is reporting that the House Minority Leader forced him off the committee, via Roll Call.***
Returning to the Alberto Gonzales testimony before the Senate Judiciary Committee after the lunch recess. C-Span is broadcasting the testimony live, and you can watch it online via streaming video here. The Speaker's blog has a copy of the letter from DoJ employees regarding their concerns about widespread politicization at the DoJ. (H/T to AZ Matt for the link on this.)
And a gentle reminder to please keep comments on topic to the proceedings — the more one-liners and off-topic comments that fill the thread, the faster I have to change up due to server load, and that disrupts the flow of the liveblogging. So please, think whether it is necessary before you comment — impulse control is our server's best friend. Thanks much!
Finally, after watching an entire morning of "I don't recall" and "I should have told him the factors that were important" for considering how and who to fire USAs, I have to say this: I would not trust the judgment of Alberto Gonzales to manage the Quickie Mart on the Simpsons. Honestly, this was a half-assed, convoluted finger-pointing description of an employee review process, and the employment and labor lawyers in the audience could do a continuing legal education seminar with this as a case study of "what not to do." It's been all management consultant and team building doublespeak and the word of the day thus far is "consensus." What a mess. — CHS
Committee is back in session as of 2:35 pm ET.
SEN. GRASSLEY QUESTIONS: Grassley says that documents produced by the DoJ are not consistent with the AG's public statements, and that he is an equal opportunity oversight person in terms of getting to the truth of actions. Grassley has been unhappy with how the Bush Administration has tried to thwart his oversight attempts in various matters, and mentions that they tried to prevent a convicted felon from testifying because of his Administration connections which, he is happy to say, they eventually were able to arrange. Concerned about the environment of this matter when all of this took place. Why is it that the environment that you work in produced this mess? AG says that he accepts responsibility for the mess. He was overbroad in his statements — hadn't gone back and looked at the documents, at his calendar, etc. — certainly my statements were too broad. Felt a need to come out quickly and defend the Department with regard to allegations of improper conduct. Grassley says so you are running a department where it is dificult for everyone to be on the same page? Ag says he wouldn't characterize it that way, that he should have been more careful with his public statements. Grassley says that e-mails indicate that you were very involved in all of this, despite the public statements and other prior information given to the committee. Why are your statements changing and evolving so much? And who came up with a plan to evaluate these USAttys? AG says that he has clarified his statements based on review of documents. Who did you discuss this with at the WH? The AG says that he can't recall having specific conversations about the review process — Sampson was going to bring back a "consensus recommendation" from senior folks at the department and the WH. Thinks it was an appropriate manner in which a senior management person should have done, thinks this was appropriate. Grassley says that didn't answer his who came up with this question — AG says that it was his plan.
2:45 pm ET
SEN. CARDIN QUESTIONS: Cardin is not happy. Goes through why it is wrong to use political factors for reviewing USAs as primary concerns — Sampson confirmed that partisan issues may have influenced the process. You have said a number of times that you don't think anything improper was used in making these decisions? AG says "that's a good question." AG says that he is not aware of anything in the documentation or testimony that would support the allegation that anything improper happened here — AG says he relied on subordinates to be on the up and up. There is a back and forth on this for a bit. AG says that he was relying on the consensus recommendation of the senior staff, especially the Deputy Attorney General. Now you know that there were a number of controversial political investigations going on in a number of these jurisdictions at the time that this review was ongoing. This was a unique process to remove these many attorneys for this type of reason — don't you see how this could be seen as a message to the remaining prosecutors to not pursue these types of sensitive political corruption cases and the public perception of this? That this could be seen as trying to influence a case for improper reasons? Do you still stand by your decision that this process was the right decision? AG says yes, he does. He has no information to say that this may have been improper. Do you think the perception is okay? No, I don't — but I still would have done this again, just in a different way. Cardin says that you had some very serious discussions with your senior staff on at least three of these attorneys — do you understand that these conversations may have influenced the outcome of this process? Cardin says and the conversation with the President of the United States? AG says he can't really speak to that. AG says that he would be concerned that there was a bad perception and that's why he spoke to the USAs in March. Cardin says but it isn't just the internal perceptions of the USAs, it is also the perceptions of the public.
SEN. TOM COBURN QUESTIONS: Let me see if I wrote this down right, you said that you didn't want someone telling you who should work for you as USAttys. AG goes back and now says he was referring to District Judges trying to push for certain personnel, and not to circumvent the Senate. (CHS says: Very placating and nervous tone here. Guess someone caught that quote as well and came up with a backtracking strategy at lunch.) Now discussing Bud Cummings. It appears to be, the perception, that people were dismissed for reasons other than those to which you have testified. The damage to the DoJ, to the office of AG, and to you personally, has been tremendous. Several people's reputations have been harmed, including Cummings. You said you would do this all again, how would you handle it differently? AG says he would have been more respectful, maybe some face-to-face meetings and/or a phone call involving the DeputyAg or myself. If the DoJ was going to say something re: "performance related," as a legal matter they aren't entitled to those reasons, but we should have told them if we were going to talk about it publicly. Coburn says how should we judge your performance — why shouldn't you be judged by the same standards that these USAs were dismissed? AG says I've made mistakes here, clearly. I think the DoJ has been managed in a good way, but this wasn't handled well. Obviously, I have a lot of work to do to restore trust. Coburn says that he believes that there should be consequences for poor choices. I think this has been handled incompetently. Coburn goes through a list of things that have gone wrong — says that he doesn't think that there was politicization, but this is the politics — the blood sport — that we are playing — but that the exact same standards of evaluation should be applied to you. This was handled incompetently, there was horrible communication, and the best way to put this behind us is your resignation. AG says he knows that mistakes were made and that he's committed to make this right, but you need to work with me. Coburn says that you set the standard and that competence was sorely lacking — and that the DoJ needs a clean start.
SEN. WHITEHOUSE QUESTIONS: Discusses the structures in the judiciary, and says that they are there for good and important reasons. My concern is that you do not seem to be aware of the damage to these that this episode has caused. Your testimony is highly misleading — for decades there has been a practice that allowed USAs to be independent once they were appointed, absent some substantial showing of misconduct. And to blithely say that the President can just fire them whenever he likes — this was NOT customary practice. AG says that he does agree with that. Whitehouse says that the second piece of this that is important, there is actually very little prosecution that happens out of main justice — it has been dispersed to USAs who have strong connections to the local communities in which they live and continue to live once the jobs are completed. The Senate and the President must sign off on their job, and it creates a corps of common sense and judgment and independence that is highly valuable to this nation. When that is thwarted, it is disrespectful to the Senate, to the Congress, to the public and to the USAttys. AG says that he does think that independence of the USAs is important and that it is valuable. However, have to qualify that a bit — the President is elected with regard to the philosophy and perspective. Whitehouse says that he'll agree with that, but will also say that the balance must be that USAttys who are prosecuting tough cases — Carol Lam for instance who was known as the top atty handling public corruption cases — that sends a message to all the other USAs. And you cannot allow the policy question to run away with every other question on the table. (CHS notes: this is very, very good stuff.)
And I cannot find any place in this record where that careful consideration was given to the impact of these decisions. Let's talk about what an "improper reason" would be — your definition is almost the same as Kyle Sampson's reason: to interfere with a "particular case or prosecution." You've loaded up those words and used them repeatedly. Whitehouse says clearly that would be improper, that would be grotesquely improper. But you have set the bar way low on this. Any effort to add any partisan or political dimension to his office, irrespective of any particular case, is something that needs to be reaceted to strongly by us. Whydid you do that? AG says the focus in my mind is "what is the legal standard." Whitehouse says if you "hang" a USA once in a while to discourage the conduct of all the others, isn't that improper? AG goes back to the technical issue on Presidential removal prerogative. Whitehouse says that the standard that Gonzales is using is very problematic and that everyone in America ought to have a problem with it.
SEN. KYL QUESTIONS: Kyl agrees with what Whitehouse says.
Am going to start a new thread.