Friday, April 20, 2007

Gonzales Speaks at Last

Yesterday, we finally got to hear Attorney General Alberto Gonzales's long-awaited testimony on the firing of eight U.S. Attorneys. Considering that the matter is all about why these U.S. Attorneys got fired, and considering that the Attorney General has been practicing his testimony for up to five hours a day, one might think that, if he was prepared for anything, he would be prepared to explain in crisp, clear language why each U.S. Attorney got fired.

Instead, listen to this exchange between the Attorney General and Senator Leahy about fired U.S. Attorney David Iglesias:


LEAHY: Mr. Iglesias has been described by your former chief of staff as a "diverse up-and-comer."

He was reportedly offered the job as the head of the Executive Office of the United States Attorneys for you here in Washington.

. . . In your testimony that you provide, you characterize Mr. Iglesias as "a fine lawyer; dedicated, professional; gave many years of service to the department."

But in your March 7th column in USA Today, you wrote that he was asked to leave because he simply lost your confidence.

When and why did he lose your confidence?

GONZALES: Senator, . . . Mr. Iglesias lost the confidence of Senator Domenici, as I recall, in the fall of 2005, when he called me and said something to the effect that Mr. Iglesias was in over his head and that he was concerned that Mr. Iglesias did not have the appropriate personnel focused on cases like public corruption cases. . . .

LEAHY: With all due respect, Mr. Attorney General, my question wasn't when he may have lost confidence of Senator Domenici. My question is when and why did he lose your confidence?

GONZALES: Senator, what I -- what I instructed Mr. Sampson to do was consult with people in the department...

LEAHY: When and why did he lose your confidence?

GONZALES: Based upon the recommendation -- what I understood to be the consensus recommendation of the senior leadership in the department that in fact these individuals -- there were issues and concerns about the performance of these individuals, that's when I made the decision to accept the recommendation that, in fact, it would be appropriate to make a change in this particular district.

Now, the fact that Mr. Iglesias appeared on the list, again, was not surprising to me, because I already had heard concerns about Mr. Iglesias' performance.


Good heavens, is that the best you can do? Try filling in the blank in this sentence: "Mr. Iglesias was fired because ____________."

There are only eight U.S. Attorneys involved. After five hours a day of drilling, I would really think Mr. Gonzales would have a simple sentence for each one, with the blank filled in.

Instead, he tells us that he instructed Kyle Sampson to consult with people in the Department and that the decision was based on the consensus of the senior leadership in the Department. Well, wasn't that consensus based on something? And haven't you had every opportunity to go back and figure out what that something was? And wasn't yesterday the day you were supposed to tell us? And have you had enough rhetorical questions?

Also from the hearing:


LEAHY: So when was David Iglesias added to the list of U.S. attorneys to be replaced?

GONZALES: Of course, Senator, when I accepted the recommendation, I did not know when Mr. Iglesias was, in fact, added to the recommended list. As I've gone back and reviewed the record, it appears that Mr. Iglesias was added sometime between, I believe, October 17th and December 15th.

. . . LEAHY: Do you know why he was added?

GONZALES: Again, Senator, I was not responsible for compiling that information. The recommendation was made to me.

I was not surprised that Mr. Iglesias was recommended to me, because I had heard about concerns about the performance of Mr. Iglesias.


What kind of nonsense is this? You went back and figured out (sort of) when Mr. Iglesias was added to the list, but you never figured out why? Haven't you asked your senior leadership that question? "Why" is the crux of the whole thing!

Apparently this list just made itself. Even after weeks of investigating, the Attorney General can't explain exactly who made up this list and why each name was added to it.

Another amusing moment came when Senator Leahy discussed the "absentee landlord" rationale for firing Mr. Iglesias, who apparently served about 40 days a year in the Naval Reserve. The Attorney General confirmed that that service couldn't possibly have had anything to do with Mr. Iglesias firing (it would have been illegal under the USERRA, a law that protects the right to serve in the armed forces reserves). But then Senator Leahy discusses the fact that some U.S. Attorneys serve a dual role, also having a job at main Justice in Washington. The U.S. Attorney in Montana, Mr. Mercer, is also the Associate Attorney General in Washington. Leahy asks Gonzales how much time Mercer spends in Washington. And when Gonzales can't answer, Leahy asks "is it like a week a year? Is it several months a year?" All Gonzales can say is, "Senator, let me get back with you with the most accurate information."

As I said a few days ago, I wanted to give the Attorney General the benefit of the doubt. I assumed he was acting in good faith and would tell us the reasons.

But this is just too much. If, after weeks of preparation for this hearing, after weeks of changing his story, not giving straight answers, and having one staff member after another resign and/or take the Fifth, I have to infer that this is a real scandal. There is some improper reason these U.S. Attorneys were fired. If there were a proper reason, we'd know it by now.

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