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 âmade up reasonsâ for the firings, Graham said, and that âsome of it [the reasons] sounds good, some of it doesnât.â Graham said he thought that there had been personality conflicts with many of the fired prosecutors, and thatâs why they were actually fired.
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 âinterestâ in and âconcernâ with her immigration performance. Members of Congress, Gonzales said, had complained about Lamâs performance. Gonzales allowed that she âmay not have been told that if there is no change in policy, there will be a change,â 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 officeâs 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 Schumerâs testimony was even more contentious.
Gonzalesâ 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 heâd discussed the idea with Gonzales before, that Gonzales didnât seem to like the idea (not clear how he got that impression), but that Gonzales didnât 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 â first in an email in September, and then in a detailed email to the White House in December. Schumer was incredulous at Gonzalesâ explanation that heâd rejected the plan all along. If Gonzales really had rejected the idea, than that means that Sampson was advocating the plan behind Gonzalesâ back. Whoâs running the Justice Department? Schumer wanted to know.
Under questioning from Sen. Pat Leahy (D-VT) Gonzales said that he couldnât remember when he made the decision to go through with the firing plan. He recalls making the decision, he says, but canât 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 heâd 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 âdumb idea,â Gonzales said. And he says that when Sen. Mark Pryor (D-AR) told him that he would not support Griffinâs nomination in December, he offered to have Pryor suggest replacements. Thatâll be news to Pryor, whoâs said that Gonzales appeared to be following Kyle Sampsonâs 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.
Under questioning from Sen. Sam Brownback (R-KS), Alberto Gonzales gave a rundown of the supposed performance reasons behind the firing of each prosecutor. In most cases, his answers lined up with prior explanations from Justice Department officials, particularly answers given by William Moschella when he testified last month.
But there was one notable admission. Gonzales said that Bud Cummins was asked to step down just because the department wanted to "put a qualified individual in his place." In other words, there was not a performance reason for his firing. Gonzales said that he'd failed to indicate that in his January testimony before the Senate because he was "confused," since Cummins had first been asked to resign in June, not December.
Apparently Gonzales was still confused in February, though, because he was upset about Deputy Attorney General Paul McNulty's testimony that there had been no performance reasons behind Cummins' firing.
There was a revealing moment during the questioning by Sen. Ted Kennedy (D-MA). When pressed on the process of removing the U.S. attorneys and what Gonzales knew about it, Gonzales replied that since the judiciary committees had been interviewing all of Gonzales' aides, that investigators now know more about the firings that Gonzales does.
Kennedy also pressed on whether Gonzales had ever done an evaluation about whether the firings would affect certain ongoing prosecutions. Gonzales replied no, because the assistant U.S. attorneys in the offices are really the ones who handle the cases -- the U.S. attorneys are important, he allowed, but "this institution is built to sustain change." It doesn't matter all that much, who's in charge, apparently.
Sen. Arlen Specter (R-PA) also pulled no punches in his questioning.
He began by battering Gonzales with questions about how he could make false statements about his involvement in the process if he was properly prepared for the January Senate hearing and his March 13th press conference. Gonzales kept insisting that he'd been prepared, Specter demanded to know how he could have made such statements if he'd actually been properly prepared, and they went back and forth like that for a little bit.
And later in Specter's questioning, he asked how Gonzales could say that he wasn't involved in the process of eliminating certain U.S. attorneys if he'd sat in on a meeting last year when DoJ officials discussed the possible removal of Carol Lam. Gonzales responded by drawing an artful distinction between that meeting, which was in the course of his normal duties as attorney general, and the review process of U.S. attorneys. That conversation, Gonzales said, was "outside of the review process."