TPM News

During his questioning, Sen. Tom Coburn (R-OK) told Alberto Gonzales that he should resign.

There "has to be consequences" for the management and leadership failure under Gonzales' watch. It's "generous to say that there were misstatements" by Gonzales and others, Coburn said. "I believe that you ought to suffer the consequences," he said, adding that Gonzales ought to be judged by the same standards with which he judged the U.S. attorneys.

"The best way to put this behind us is your resignation."

Sen Chuck Grassley (R-IA) began the afternoon questioning by asking simply why there have been so many inconsistencies in Gonzales’ statements.

Gonzales said that when he gave the March 13th press conference, he hadn’t gone back and looked at the documents or his calendar, and that “in hindsight,” his statements were too broad. He rushed to go public, he said, because he felt “a tremendous need to come out quickly and defend the department.” I “should be more careful,” Gonzales said.

This would seem to vindicate Sen. Specter’s earlier line of questioning (or berating), when Gonzales said that he’d been prepared for that March 13th press conference.

From the AP:

Rep. John Doolittle, R-Calif., has decided to temporarily give up his seat on the House Appropriations Committee after FBI agents searched his house as part of a congressional influence-peddling investigation.

Doolittle's decision, to be announced Thursday, was confirmed by a Republican congressional staffer who spoke on condition of anonymity because the news was not yet public.

That would be the same appropriations seat which he used to help steer $37 million to Brent Wilkes (who's accused of bribing Duke Cunningham), and another $400,000 to Jack Abramoff's client, the government of the Marianas Islands.

Update: More from Roll Call:
While Doolittle is expected to voluntarily take himself off the panel while the investigation continues, knowledgeable House sources said that Minority Leader John Boehner (R-Ohio) and members of the Republican Steering Committee -- which determines committee assignments -- were prepared to remove him from his post if he would not do so himself.

Due to votes on the Senate floor, the Gonzales hearing won't resume until 2:30.

Under questioning from Sen. Dick Durbin (D-IL), Gonzales cautioned against criticizing the good employees of the Justice Department: "when there are attacks against the department, you're attacking the career professionals."

Sen. Durbin blew up, comparing it to those who say that criticizing the president is equivalent to criticizing the troops.

Gonzales finally backed off, and both Durbin and Gonzales agreed that Gonzales was the one on the line. "Attack me," Gonzales said. I don't think he needs to ask twice.

Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-SC) gave Gonzales an unexpected battering.

I believe you “made up reasons” for the firings, Graham said, and that “some of it [the reasons] sounds good, some of it doesn’t.” Graham said he thought that there had been personality conflicts with many of the fired prosecutors, and that’s why they were actually fired.

“I respectfully disagree,” Gonzales said.

Sen. Chuck Schumer (D-NY) and Alberto Gonzales went back and forth in the most heated exchange of the hearing so far.

Schumer began on the question of whether U.S. Attorney for San Diego Carol Lam had been told that there was a problem with her immigration enforcement numbers. That supposedly was the main reason for her firing.

Gonzales hedged the question, saying that Lam must have known that there was “interest” in and “concern” with her immigration performance. Members of Congress, Gonzales said, had complained about Lam’s performance. Gonzales allowed that she “may not have been told that if there is no change in policy, there will be a change,” but seemed to think that was an unimportant distinction.

Schumer pressed, citing the testimony of both Carol Lam and Kyle Sampson that Lam had never been told that she should change her office’s approach to immigration enforcement. And he took issue with the idea that the department would let members of Congress be representatives of the Justice Department.

The second half of Schumer’s testimony was even more contentious.

Gonzales’ former chief of staff Kyle Sampson testified last month that Gonzales did not reject the idea of circumventing the Senate until after Gonzales spoke with Sen. Mark Pryor (D-AR) about Tim Griffin in mid-December. Sampson said that he’d discussed the idea with Gonzales before, that Gonzales didn’t seem to like the idea (not clear how he got that impression), but that Gonzales didn’t reject it outright.

But in his testimony today, Gonzales has said that he rejected the plan and never considered it. Despite that, Sampson consistently pushed that plan – first in an email in September, and then in a detailed email to the White House in December. Schumer was incredulous at Gonzales’ explanation that he’d rejected the plan all along. If Gonzales really had rejected the idea, than that means that Sampson was advocating the plan behind Gonzales’ back. Who’s running the Justice Department? Schumer wanted to know.

Under questioning from Sen. Pat Leahy (D-VT) Gonzales said that he couldn’t remember when he made the decision to go through with the firing plan. He recalls making the decision, he says, but can’t recall when. Just another day in the life of an attorney general, apparently.

Sen. Russ Feingold (D-WI) had the best line of questioning of the day so far.

Under persistent questioning, Gonzales admitted that he did not know the reasons that the U.S. attorneys were on the list. Gonzales could only say that he relied on the judgment of the department's senior leadership - he added that he had not been surprised to see five of the names on the list (he didn't say which two surprised him).

When Feingold pressed about Gonzales' assertion that the U.S. attorneys had "lost his confidence" in a USA Today op-ed, Gonzales said, "I regret the use of those words."

And Feingold pressed on Gonzales' statement that he had "no basis" on which to say to that there had not been improper reasons behind the firings. How could he know that? Gonzales answered "I know the basis on which I made my decision."

Alberto Gonzales, during questioning by Sen. Jeff Sessions (R-AL) said that he’d never intended to install Tim Griffin as U.S. Attorney for Little Rock using the Patriot Act provision -- a plan that Kyle Sampson had advocated. Doing that was a “dumb idea,” Gonzales said. And he says that when Sen. Mark Pryor (D-AR) told him that he would not support Griffin’s nomination in December, he offered to have Pryor suggest replacements. That’ll be news to Pryor, who’s said that Gonzales appeared to be following Kyle Sampson’s plan to string him along, to run out the clock, when they spoke. Pryor has said publicly, repeatedly, that Gonzales lied to him.

Later in the hearing, Sen. Chuck Schumer (D-NY) pressed Gonzales on this in a brutal line of questioning. We'll have that up soon.