As we've noted numerous times, there's been tremendous pressure from Republicans all over the country for prosecutors to bring voter fraud cases. And the Justice Department has responded -- as McClatchy has detailed at length this morning.
But in his testimony today, Gonzales professed that "as someone who grew up in a poor neighborhood," that he was sensitive to the plight of minorities and the poor with respect to the right to vote. And he said that it was important to "send a strong signal" in the department that prosecutors be "sensitive," that he didn't want prosecutions to have a "chilling effect" or "create some sort of cloud" that would discourage minorities from voting.
In fact, he said that the department had guidance about "doing that sort of investigation near an election."
But, as Joe Rich, the former chief of the Civil Rights Division's voting section, has written, that guidance seems not to have made its way to former Justice Department official, Bradley Schlozman:
In March 2006, Bradley Schlozman was appointed interim U.S. attorney in Kansas City, Mo. Two weeks earlier, the administration was granted the authority to make such indefinite appointments without Senate confirmation. That was too bad: A Senate hearing might have uncovered Schlozman's central role in politicizing the civil rights division during his three-year tenure....
Missouri had one of the closest Senate races in the country last November, and a week before the election, Schlozman brought four voter fraud indictments against members of an organization representing poor and minority people. This blatantly contradicted the department's long-standing policy to wait until after an election to bring such indictments because a federal criminal investigation might affect the outcome of the vote. The timing of the Missouri indictments could not have made the administration's aims more transparent.
Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-CA) returned to the question of the hour, which is how Alberto Gonzales could sign off on the firings not knowing the reason that the U.S. attorneys were being fired and who specifically had made the decision to add each one to the list. "It would seem to me you'd want to know," Feinstein said.
Gonzales reprised earlier answers, that he'd relied on the judgment of senior leadership in the department, particularly the deputy attorney general. Feinstein countered by saying that when most people hear "senior leadership," they think of men with "grey hair," but that in Gonzales' department these were young, often "very ideological" people.
Gonzales suddenly swerved back to his earlier remarks about Carol Lam, and backpedalled. "I believe based on my review of the documents," he said "that there was an interest in her performance. I don't know if Ms. Lam knew that the Justice Department had those specific concerns."
"I expected that my concerns... would be communicated to Ms. Lam," he said. But, of course, they weren't. Gonzales didn't indicate if he ever actually told anyone to talk to her.
Alberto Gonzales, following the lead of Kyle Sampson, has drawn a well defined line at what would be an "improper" reason to fire a U.S. attorney: the motive of affecting a particular criminal case.
As Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse (D-RI) pointed out, that's a "very low bar." What Gonzales is describing is what would constitute possible criminal obstruction of justice. Gonzales admitted as much, saying that in considering what would be improper, he'd thought, "what is the legal standard?"
Pressing on, Whitehouse tried to get Gonzales to understand that it would also be improper to fire a U.S. attorney for a generally political reason -- that attempting to discourage U.S. attorneys who might follow in Carol Lam's path, for instance, would be improper. Gonzales didn't seem to grasp the idea.
Unlike Kyle Sampson, Alberto Gonzales would do all it over again.
At least, thatâs what he maintained under questioning by Sen. Ben Cardin (D-MD). âIâve thought about this a lot,â Gonzales said, adding that based on what he knows today, he has no information that the firings were âin fact based on improper motives.â
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 Gonzalesâ statements.
Gonzales said that when he gave the March 13th press conference, he hadnât gone back and looked at the documents or his calendar, and that âin hindsight,â his statements were too broad. He rushed to go public, he said, because he felt âa tremendous need to come out quickly and defend the department.â I âshould be more careful,â Gonzales said.
This would seem to vindicate Sen. Specterâs earlier line of questioning (or berating), when Gonzales said that heâd been prepared for that March 13th press conference.
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.
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.
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.