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Rep. Mel Watt (D-NC) gets the medal for the best line of questioning of the day so far, pressing Gonzales on the reason for John McKay's firing.

Gonzales has previously pointed to McKay's touting of an information sharing system (a system that former Deputy Attorney General James Comey praised effusively during his hearing last week) and his choice to speak to the press about his office's lack of resources to explain McKay's firing. But as Rep. Watt pointed out, McKay appeared on the firing list far before either of those things became issues.

When Watt pressed Gonzales on whether McKay had been removed because he'd failed to indict Democrats on voter fraud charges. Gonzales said no, but seemed to leave the door open for that possibility:

Yes, I agree that if in fact there was pressure put on McKay to investigate a case, which didn’t warrant an investigation [that would be improper]. But obviously there may be some circumstances where investigation may have been warranted. We’d have to look at the circumstances of the particular case.

He added that there had been "a great deal of concern with his efforts with respect to voter fraud," that he had received letters "from a number of groups and outside parties."

McKay has said that he didn't pursue criminal charges in the probe arising from the 2004 Washington gubernatorial election because there was "no evidence."

Here's Rep. Chris Cannon (R-UT) doing his best to dredge up a good reason for U.S. Attorney for New Mexico David Iglesias' firing, even if it's after the fact.

Iglesias received two calls just weeks before Election Day from two members of Congress asking him about his office's corruption investigation of a state Democrat. Iglesias has described them as pressure calls, but Iglesias did not report the calls to his superiors, as required by Justice Department policy.

Cannon quotes a Justice Department official David Margolis as saying that "giving everything I know today, he would have been number one on my list" -- meaning that Margolis thinks Iglesias' failure to report the calls is a firing offense in Margolis' eyes. But of course no one in the Justice Department knew about this when Iglesias was fired. Nevertheless, Cannon concluded, "So we did have problems with some of these guys, they weren't exactly paradigms (sic) of competence, were they?" [Note: I think Cannon means "paragons," not "paradigms."]

Murray Waas has a new story on the U.S. attorney firings, this one leading to the inescapable conclusion that the administration was complicit in attempts to cover up White House involvement in the firings.

The revelations come from emails that the Justice Department is withholding from Congress.

A "senior executive branch offiical" tells Waas that it's no accident that Congress hasn't gotten their hands on these documents:

"If [Gonzales] didn't know everything that was going on when it went down, that is one thing," this official said. "But he knows and understands chapter and verse. If there was an effort within Justice and the White House to mislead Congress, it is his duty to disclose that to Congress."

A "senior administration official" adds that "Gonzales is doing this to save his own neck."

So what documents are we talking about? The story deals with two separate letters that the Justice Department sent to Congress about the firings.

The first was a January 31 letter to Sen. Mark Pryor (D-AK) assuring him that "not once" had the administration considered using the Patriot Act provision to install Tim Griffin, Karl Rove's former aide, as the U.S. attorney for Little Rock. The provision allowed the attorney general to appoint interim U.S. attorneys indefinitely without Senate confirmation.

Of course, Kyle Sampson had been pushing to use the provision for months -- and had communicated the plan to the White House.

But when it came time to answer questions about it, the White House signed off on a letter saying that they had never contemplated such a thing. And the withheld documents show that Christopher Oprison was the White House official who signed off on the letter -- that's funny because Kyle Sampson had layed out the plan to use the Patriot Act provision to appoint Griffin in an email to Oprison just a month before.

The second letter in the piece is a February 23rd letter to Congress that claimed that Karl Rove hadn't had any role in appointing Griffin. Fittingly, Oprison also signed off on that one -- even though Sampson had written him in an email in December that Griffin's appointment was "important to Karl."

White House spokesman Tony Fratto tells Waas that "Chris did not recall Karl's interest when he reviewed the letter."

But Fratto also says that "We have no record of that letter ever leaving the White House counsel's office." In other words, they never bothered to ask Karl Rove or any one in his office to check whether the statement was true. And they just forgot that Sampson earlier had boasted about Rove's interest. Huh.

Last night, we reported that Todd Graves, formerly the U.S. attorney for Kansas City, was asked to resign. Graves says that he refused to sign a Justice Department lawsuit against the state of Missouri to purge its voter rolls of potentially invalid voter names. (The department eventually lost the case.)

That's been floated as one of the possible reasons for his dismissal, since Graves' replacement, Bradley Schlozman had pushed the lawsuit from atop the Justice Department's Civil Rights Division. Schlozman, an anti-voter fraud enthusiast, subsequently replaced Graves as the U.S. attorney there -- and did all he could to hype the cause.

But during his testimony today, Gonzales pushed back, saying that, after speaking with the current head of the Civil Rights Division, they hadn't been aware of "any concerns" from Graves or anyone in his office about the voter roll purge case. Gonzales didn't say why Graves had been asked to step down, however.

Earlier in the hearing, Gonzales appeared to offer an explanation for why he's only made reference to eight fired prosecutors, when in reality there were at least nine who were fired. Gonzales explained that those eight were fired "as part of this process." Graves was a special case, apparently.

Here's a new one. Adam Cohen of The New York Times reported last week that Kyle Sampson had told congressional investigators that Harriet Miers was "intent on removing" Debra Wong Yang, the U.S. Attorney for Los Angeles. Yang, remember, had opened an investigation into Rep. Jerry Lewis (R-CA), the most powerful Republican on the powerful appropriations committee. Yang left just before the firings occurred to join the firm that represented Lewis (the firm says she recused herself from any dealings with the case). Yang received a $1.5 million signing bonus.

Today, Gonzales suggested that Miers had targeted Yang for removal simply because she knew that Yang wanted a more lucrative position. "Ms. Miers may have known about Ms. Yang's concern about being able to remain on the job due to financial reasons," Gonzales testified.

Three top lawyers in the U.S. Attorney’s Office in Minnesota, who said they demoted themselves in protest of the management style of 34-year-old U.S. Attorney Rachel Paulose, sent their boss an angry letter demanding she plug leaks claiming they quit because they can't handle working for a powerful, young, Indian woman.

You can read the letter here.

Yesterday, the Minneapolis Star Tribune reported on the letter sent by the three former managers and an interim human resources officer:

In a letter to Paulose dated April 27, the four employees complained about comments from unidentified Justice Department employees that were included in a story published three weeks earlier in the New York Times. They objected in particular to the suggestion that "older lawyers had difficulty dealing with a young, aggressive woman" who tried to implement the priorities of Attorney General Alberto Gonzales, including the prosecution of child exploitation.

Paulose was named interim U.S. attorney last year when she was just 33, making her the youngest person to fill the job in Minnesota.

The aggrieved employees also cite remarks in C.J's gossip column published April 24 in the Star Tribune. C.J. had interviewed Paulose, and C.J. wrote: "Isn't it possible that an office dominated by people who don't look the way Paulose does could be filled with threatened, resentful types who are jealous of someone so young climbing where they probably never will?"

Paulose is of Indian descent.

Apparently deaf to the improper tone of the request in the context of a hearing on the firings of the U.S. attorneys, Rep. James Sensenbrenner (R-WI) encouraged Alberto Gonzales to hurry up and indict Rep. William Jefferson (D-LA). The Jefferson case has dragged on for nearly two years and is awaiting the decision of an appeals court on the FBI's seizure of evidence from Jefferson's congressional office.

"I hope that you will tell your prosecutors to wrap this thing up," said Sensenbrenner.

Alberto Gonzales in a nutshell: "I think I may be aware of that."

During the first line of questioning today, House Judiciary Chairman John Conyers (D-MI) tried to get Alberto Gonzales to answer the simply of question of who put the U.S. attorneys on the firing list and why they were put there. Gonzales replied as he has in the past, by saying that he'd initiated a "process" and that he trusted the process. Conyers summarized this response, "So you don't know?"

Conyers also cited the testimony of a Justice Department official Matthew Friedrich, who told congressional investigators that he'd met with two New Mexico Republicans who had complaints about U.S. Attorney for New Mexico David Iglesias' handling of voter fraud cases (i.e. Iglesias' failure to indict Democrats). The two Republicans told Friedrich that they'd brought their complaints to Karl Rove and Sen. Pete Domenici (R-NM). Iglesias, of course, was subsequently fired.

When Conyers asked if Gonzales was aware of that conversation, he replied, "I am certainly aware of it now."

The hearing before the House Judiciary Committee is beginning now. It's airing on C-Span 3 and streaming from the House Judiciary website. We'll provide you running updates throughout the day.

Here's a little preview of what you'll be hearing from the Republican side. From Roll Call (sub. req.):

In what may be the most spirited public defense of Attorney General Alberto Gonzales to date, Republicans on the House Judiciary Committee today will demand an end to what one called an “endless piscine expedition” in the U.S. attorneys scandal....

“If there are no fish in this lake, we should reel in our lines of question, dock our empty boat and turn to more pressing issues,” [Rep. Lamar Smith (R-Texas), the ranking member on Judiciary said].

Rep. Chris Cannon (R-Utah), the ranking member of the Judiciary subcommittee on commercial and administrative law, which is in charge of the probe, also sounded fed up.

“I hope he’s clear, direct and unapologetic,” Cannon said of Gonzales’ testimony.

“I’m really tired of innuendo and repeated use of the word corruption,” Cannon added. “If [Democrats] can’t produce tomorrow, the story ought to disappear.”