The full transcript
SCHUMER: OK, good morning, everybody. And I'm proud to be joined by my colleague on the Judiciary Committee, Senator Feinstein.
Make no mistake about it: This has become as serious as it gets. Just when we thought our faith could not be shaken any further, it has been.
At the very beginning, I was clear that something didn't smell right, but I had no idea how high it went. The latest revelations prove beyond any reasonable doubt that there has been unprecedented breach of trust, abuse of power and misuse of the Justice Department. And that is very serious and very important.
The U.S. attorneys are in their own districts the lead enforcer of the rule of law, without fear or favor.
When you see the picture, the symbol of the eagle holding the arrows above every Justice Department office throughout the land, it stands for fair, unbiased, nonpolitical justice being rendered.
And yet that has been called into question by a series of blunders, missteps and abuse of power in the Justice Department.
This weekend I called for Attorney General Alberto Gonzales to step down. Today's staff resignation does not take heat off the attorney general. In fact, it raises the temperature. Kyle Sampson will not become the next Scooter Libby, the next fall guy.
Either attorney General Gonzales knew what his chief of staff was doing -- that's a pretty severe indictment -- or he didn't, which means he doesn't have the foggiest idea of what's going on in the
We now have direct evidence that Attorney General Gonzales was carrying out the political wishes of the president in at least some of these firings.
A startling amount of information about the White House's role has emerged in the past few days.
Attorney General Gonzales' chief of staff withheld information on the White House's role in the Justice Department, in terms of who was preparing to testify to Congress. Attorney Gonzales' chief of staff may well have obstructed justice.
Political operatives and elected officials in New Mexico complained about one U.S. attorney's failure to indict Democrats quickly enough. Those complaints were passed on to Karl Rove and to the president himself.
The president weighed in with Attorney General Gonzales. And within weeks, that U.S. attorney, David Iglesias, was fired.
Indeed, today's reports make clear that Mr. Iglesias was not on the hit list until October, just when he was staving off inappropriate pressure tactics.
SCHUMER: So if he wasn't on the list when the list was made up, and then you get the phone calls from the White House and from legislators, and then he's added to the list, what conclusion other than political interference can one come to?
It's now increasingly clear that only bad actors in this case -- sorry. It is now increasingly clear that the only bad actors in this case were top officials in the White House and the Justice Department, not -- not -- the U.S. attorneys, the fine public servants who were fired.
Attorney General Gonzales has either forgotten the oath he took to uphold the Constitution or just doesn't understand that his duty to protect the law is greater than his duty to protect the president.
He's a nice man. You meet the attorney general, and you say, "He is not one of these sort of, you know, political warriors."
But there's too much at stake here. And to have somebody who is going to let this happen or be part of it happening is just no longer -- we can't countenance it any longer.
U.S. attorneys have always been above politics. And this administration has blatantly manipulated the U.S. attorney system to serve its political needs.
Years from now, when someone's indicted and they claim political interference, it's going to have new truth, even if that person was justifiably indicted -- new resonance. That's the problem here.
And we've been fed one story after another. That's why Senator Feinstein and I are so upset, as all of us on the Judiciary Committee are, from Chairman Leahy on down.
Here are some of the falsehoods we've been told that are now unraveling.
First, we were told that the seven of the eight U.S. attorneys were fired for performance reasons.
It now turns out this was a falsehood, as the glowing performance evaluations attest.
Second, we were told by the attorney general that he would, quote, "never, ever make a change for political reasons."
It now turns out that this was a falsehood, as all the evidence makes clear that this purge was based purely on politics, to punish prosecutors who were perceived to be too light on Democrats or too tough on Republicans.
Third, we were told by the attorney general that this was just an overblown personnel matter.
It now turns out that far from being a low-level personnel matter, this was a longstanding plan to exact political vendettas or to make political pay-offs.
Fourth, we were told that the White House was not really involved in the plan to fire U.S. attorneys. This, too, turns out to be false.
Harriet Miers was one of the masterminds of this plan, as demonstrated by numerous e-mails made public today. She communicated extensively with Kyle Sampson about the firings of the U.S. attorneys. In fact, she originally wanted to fire and replace the top prosecutors in all 93 districts across the country.
Fifth, we were told that Karl Rove had no involvement in getting his protege appointed U.S. attorney in Arkansas.
In fact, here is a letter from the Department of Justice. Quote: "The department is not aware of Karl Rove playing any role in the decision to appoint Mr. Griffin."
It now turns out that this was a falsehood, as demonstrated by Mr. Sampson's own e-mail. Quote: "Getting him, Griffin, appointed was important to Harriet, Karl, et cetera.
Sixth, we were told to change the Patriot Act was an innocent attempt to fix a legal loophole, not a cynical strategy to bypass the Senate's role in serving as a check and balance.
It was Senator Feinstein who discovered that issue. She'll talk more about it.
So there has been misleading statement after misleading statement -- deliberate misleading statements. And we haven't gotten to the bottom of this yet, but believe me, we will pursue it.
I think there are three things that should happen immediately so we can restore public confidence and get this scandal behind us.
First, I renew my call that Attorney General Gonzales should step down. Today's resignation by his chief of staff does not take the heat off the attorney general. It raises the temperature.
Second, we must hear from key White House players immediately, so that the air can be cleared.
Karl Rove, we now know, was involved in the firings and lobbied for his own protegee to take the spot of a respected U.S. attorney in Arkansas. Karl Rove should not wait for a subpoena. He should come before us immediately.
Harriet Miers, who was deeply involved in this ill-conceived project, must also come before Congress and explain what she did and what she told the president and why these U.S. attorneys were fired.
And Kyle Sampson, the A.G.'s chief of staff, must come before us.
And finally and most importantly, the president must clarify his role in this whole matter. It appears he weighed in directly with the attorney general about at least one U.S. attorney, who was then fired a few weeks later. The sooner he explains this to the American people, the better. The cloud over the U.S. attorneys, the cloud over the Justice Department is getting darker and darker, and only the president and dispel it.
FEINSTEIN: It was on or about January the 7th or 6th when I received a call that indicated that a number of U.S. attorneys had been forced to resign. And I was just told to look into it.
As I began to look into it, we got a great deal of push back from the attorney general: that I didn't know my facts, I didn't know what we were doing, that this was all being done for performance reasons.
And then, as we got the performance reports, I was told, Well -- and the performance reports were all good. I was told, "Well, it was done for policy reasons;" they didn't follow policy of the main Justice in one way or another.
And then finally, in an op-ed done by the attorney general in USA Today, the rationale was given, "Well, we lost confidence in them."
We now know that it is very likely that the amendment to the Patriot Act, which was made in March of 2006, might well have been done to facilitate a wholesale replacement of all or part of U.S. attorneys without Senate confirmation.
On Wednesday we will vote on a motion to give cloture to the bill that would return the Patriot Act back to where it was before this all happened. I very much hope that passed.
We really need to know whether this amendment in March of '06 was orchestrated by the White House. Who asked for the change?
We've also learned that there was a target list prepared, that the idea for these firings began some two years ago, that the White House counsel at the time had suggested that all 93 attorneys be replaced. And the dismissals were orchestrated by the chief of staff of the attorney general.
Now, were these dismissals orchestrated then without the knowledge of the attorney general? I think that's a question we have to know.
Therefore, I believe it's extraordinarily important to issues subpoenas to Mr. Rove, to Mrs. Miers, as well as to Mr. Sampson and determine where all this really came from, how it was orchestrated, what the real strategy was.
We know at this stage that there were eight U.S. attorneys asked to resign.
The first one was in Arkansas. We know that went without comment. It didn't break the surface. The U.S. attorney resigned, and someone close to Karl Rove was put in as an interim. And that interim would most likely serve throughout the rest of the president's term.
We then know that there were another seven who were called on or around December 7th, given no reason, but simply told they must resign. I was told the date was January 15th. In some cases, I believe it was January 30th.
And we know that five out of these seven were involved in some form of public corruption investigation or case.
I don't believe that any of this would have been known had this call not been made to me, because these U.S. attorneys most likely would have gone without comment.
And now we find, through the press this morning and last evening, that this was something that was well strategized, going back in time at least two years.
Well, I've always looked at the Office of Attorney General and the attorney general himself as not being the attorney general for the White House, but being the attorney general, the chief law enforcement officer, for all of the people of America; and that the Attorney General's Office stood apart from the White House, was objective, was honest, and issued opinions and made prosecutions as they saw them, that there was no strategy or organization to it.
And now, I learn that much of what I had believed, at least about this Attorney General's Office, is in fact not the case.
So we have a ways to go, as Senator Schumer suggested. We will go that distance. And we will dig just as deep as is required.
I guess what really incenses me somewhat is the fact that the attorney general called me and said, you know, I really didn't have my facts right; that none of this was correct.
And now we see it's a much bigger and grander strategy. And I think a very dangerous strategy: dangerous for objectivity, dangerous for proper law enforcement and proper prosecution.
So we have a lot of due diligence still to go. And I hope that we will issue some subpoenas as soon as possible to get the rest of this investigation completed.
QUESTION: Based on Deputy Attorney General McNulty's testimony, do you still have confidence in him, the deputy or (inaudible) the acting attorney general (inaudible)?
SCHUMER: Well that's a good question. I've known Deputy Attorney General McNulty for a very long time. I dealt with him when he was the chief Republican staff member in the House Judiciary Committee, and have found him to be an honorable person. I've talked to him regularly during this situation.
And it may well be that he was not told the facts and was excluded from the facts. But, certainly, I want to ask him and question him about what he knew.
QUESTION: Will you call for a special prosecutor?
SCHUMER: Well, I think that's one of the things that, obviously, might be looked at in the cases where there are conflicts. But first we want to get all the facts out and get to the bottom of it.
This is really serious stuff. And it's unfortunate...
SCHUMER: Could we?
It is really serious stuff. And we have an obligation to justice in our land to do something about it.
QUESTION: Senator Schumer, as you know, the history of this White House is such that they don't allow people who work for the president to come and testify, they (OFF-MIKE) Condi Rice was in the White House and Alberto Gonzales.
Given that it looks like you probably will be forced to subpoena Karl Rove and others in the White House if you want them to testify, have you made the decision that that is the route that Democrats are going to go to...
SCHUMER: Well obviously, you know, first we have to consult with Chairman Leahy. I've put in -- you know, I've talked to him about the need to get to the bottom of this.
The five Justice Department officials were put on the subpoena list last week and it was delayed for a week.
I think the claim of privilege is pretty much waived for the Justice Department officials because McNulty has talked to us and testified. Attorney General Gonzales, in a meeting with Senator Leahy, Senator Feinstein, Senator Specter and myself last week, agreed that the other Justice Department officials we wished to talk to could
So I think privilege -- you can't turn privilege on and off. For the Justice Department, it's out the window. That includes Kyle Sampson, although he may have other privileges if there's criminal.
As for the White House, let me say this: I think that the White House should not invoke privilege here. There's too much damage already being done to the Justice Department, to the Office of the U.S. Attorneys , and they have an obligation to come clean and let people know exactly what we went on.
To invoke privilege and have a lengthy court proceeding will only delay, not prevent, the facts from getting out. It'll keep the cloud that's hanging over the Justice Department -- and, frankly, over the president himself right now -- out there.
And so my view is that, given everything that's happened, that they ought to help us get to the bottom of this and come clean. If they invoke privilege, obviously that will have to be in the courts. But we're going to get a lot of information out of the Justice Department officials. And that's not going to be very good for the people in the White House.
QUESTION: Senator Feinstein, do you agree with Senator Schumer that Mr. Gonzales should step down?
FEINSTEIN: Well, I have a slightly different view.
FEINSTEIN: I believe we ought to finish our investigation. We ought to finish our hearings. We ought to do our due diligence. And then, if that's part of the findings, that one or all of us make, that's one thing to lay forward.
I'm more reserved, in general, than my colleague over here is.
But, you know, we have a job to do. And I think, in a way, this deters us from doing that job because it makes this all very personal. And I, candidly, don't want to do that.
QUESTION: What would you specifically want the president to say to lift this cloud?
SCHUMER: Well, we want to know -- I mean, in today's newspapers, there are discussions that the president was involved. How deeply involved? Did he recommend that this U.S. attorney be fired?
We have a general admission that the president did talk to Attorney General Gonzales about the general issue. We need far more specifics.
Did you want to say something, Dianne?
FEINSTEIN: I was just going to say, did the president know that this was in the works? Did he know, when the Patriot Act was amended last year?
Remember, the Patriot Act was amended in March. Later on, that late summer, the first firing took place. And then, a month or -- well, in December, the rest of the firings took place, that we know about.
How far this would have gone, also, is something that we should try to ferret out.
By the way, my view on the resignation of Attorney General Gonzales is not just limited to the U.S. attorney situation. It's just been on issue after issue after issue he seems to see his role as a rubber stamp for the president, as president's counsel.
And as Senator Feinstein has said, as I have said, as so many others have said, being attorney general is the one Cabinet officer where, when the president says, "Jump," you don't necessarily say, "How high?"
But that's what Attorney General Gonzales has done over and over again.
QUESTION: Can you explain a bit more what you believe, in terms of whether there should be a special prosecutor?
You mentioned (inaudible). Do you believe, in New Mexico, that there should be some sort of criminal inquiry into what...
SCHUMER: OK, I am not going to get into those details right now.
A special prosecutor -- first of all, we all know the law has changed.
SCHUMER: Congress can't do it on its own. We did -- I was very actively involved in the last special prosecutor who was appointed, and that was Fitzgerald, because I had talked to Deputy Attorney General Comey at length about the need for one and I believe persuaded him that it was the appropriate thing to do.
But I think we have to put our heads together and see where the next step is.
Would we rule out a special prosecutor? Absolutely not.
Are we ready to call for one right now, and on what issues? Not yet.
FEINSTEIN: Let me just say one quick thing here.
I think what the recent press has said is that this is now a much bigger issue than any of us ever believed it to be, and that it was strategized, that it was put together, that a number of people participated, and that, really, the first group to go was this group.
What I don't like is it is so disingenuous: The right reason, the real reasons aren't necessarily the reasons being given. And I think this is what drives this into a much more political venue.
SCHUMER: Thank you, everybody. We have somebody waiting.