Gonzales’ hold on job appears tenuous

first_imgWASHINGTON (AP) – Attorney General Alberto Gonzales’ hold on his job grew more uncertain Monday as the Justice Department released e-mails with new details about the firings of federal prosecutors. The White House said it hoped Gonzales would survive the tumult. Asked if the attorney general had contained the political damage from the dismissals of eight federal prosecutors, White House spokesman Tony Snow said, “I don’t know.” Documents released Monday night by the Justice Department show that Gonzales was unhappy with how Deputy Attorney General Paul McNulty explained the firings to the Senate Judiciary Committee in early February. “The Attorney General is extremely upset with the stories on the US Attys this morning,” Justice spokesman Brian Roehrkasse, who was traveling with Gonzales in South America at the time, wrote in a Feb. 7 e-mail. “He also thought some of the DAG’s statements were inaccurate.” In a statement Monday night, Roehrkasse said he was referring to Gonzales’ concerns over the firing of Bud Cummins in Little Rock, whom he believed was dismissed because of performance issues. At the hearing, McNulty indicated Cummins was being replaced by a political ally. President Bush also was unhappy with the Justice Department’s explanation of events. “The fact that both Republicans and Democrats feel like there was not straightforward communications troubles me,” he said last Wednesday. Snow declined Monday to predict how long Gonzales would stay in his job but reiterated President Bush’s support of him. “No one’s prophetic enough to know what the next 21 months hold,” Snow said. “We hope he stays.” The new e-mails show that Justice Department officials wanted to quickly get the firings behind them after Republican losses in the midterm elections and sought a “green light” from the White House to go ahead with them. “Not sure whether this will be determined to require the boss’s attention,” then-White House counsel Harriet Miers wrote in an e-mail response to Gonzales’ chief of staff, Kyle Sampson. Not publicly released in the e-mails sent to Congress was a March 2005 document listing Chicago prosecutor Patrick Fitzgerald’s performance in the “not distinguished” category, according to a government official who described its contents to The Associated Press. The document, written by Sampson, specifically took issue with Fitzgerald’s leadership of a terrorism panel he chaired as part of an advisory committee to the attorney general. In it, Fitzgerald was included among prosecutors “doing an inadequate job with their committees” and whose performance was “questionable,” said the government official, who spoke on condition of anonymity because the full contents of the document were not publicly released. The Justice Department released a redacted version of the chart last week. Fitzgerald this month won convictions against former White House aide I. Lewis “Scooter” Libby in the CIA leak case. Sampson resigned from his post last week. Justice officials described the chart as only Sampson’s assessment – which was not reflected by others in the department. Roehrkasse described Fitzgerald “as one of the most experienced and well-respected prosecutors at the Justice Department. His track record speaks for itself.” The e-mails delivered Monday to Congress spell out some of the reasons behind the ousters of the eight fired prosecutors and reveal in some cases the heavy-handed manner in which they were carried out. At one point, McNulty questioned the dismissal of U.S. Attorney Daniel Bogden in Nevada. “I’m a little skittish about Bogden,” McNulty wrote in a Dec. 7 e-mail to Gonzales’ chief of staff, Kyle Sampson, two days before the firings. “He has been with DOJ since 1990 and, at age 50, has never had a job outside government.” Still, McNulty concluded: “I’ll admit have not looked at his district’s performance. Sorry to be raising this again/now; it was just on my mind last night and this morning.” One document shows that U.S. Attorney Margaret Chiara in Grand Rapids, Mich., the last of eight prosecutors to announce their resignations, learned from McNulty’s top aide four days before the Nov. 7 election that the White House would be asking her to leave after the election. “I ask that you tell me why my resignation may be requested,” Chiara wrote McNulty in an Election Day e-mail. “I need to know the truth to live in peace with the aftermath.” Some 3,000 pages of e-mails and other documents were delivered late Wednesday night to the House and Senate judiciary committees. The House panel posted many of them on its Web site, in addition to those released publicly by Justice Department. Earlier Monday, White House counselor Dan Bartlett said Bush had full confidence in Gonzales and the attorney general had not offered to resign. The good news for Gonzales was that the two most senior Republicans on the Senate Judiciary Committee, Arlen Specter of Pennsylvania and Orrin Hatch of Utah, both former chairmen, had not called for a new attorney general. But neither were they endorsing the embattled Justice chief. Specter said he will reserve judgment until he gets all the facts; Hatch has not given interviews on the subject, his spokesman said. Either way, Gonzales faces a tough week. The Senate was devoting Monday and Tuesday to debating and voting on rescinding his authority to appoint replacement U.S. attorneys without Senate confirmation. “We need to close the loophole exploited by the White House and the Department of Justice that facilitated this abuse,” Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Patrick Leahy, D-Vt., said opening the debate. With Gonzales under fire, speculation turned to who might succeed him. Possible candidates include White House homeland security adviser Frances Fragos Townsend, Homeland Security Secretary Michael Chertoff, former Solicitor General Ted Olson, Assistant Attorney General Kenneth Wainstein, federal appeals judge Laurence Silberman and PepsiCo attorney Larry Thompson, who was the government’s highest ranking black law enforcement official when he was deputy attorney general during Bush’s first term. In other trouble for the administration, the Justice Department’s inspector general is to testify Tuesday and Wednesday before House and Senate committees on what he says was Justice’s misuse of its power to secretly go through people’s financial, Internet and other records in terrorism cases. Associated Press writer Lara Jakes Jordan contributed to this report. 160Want local news?Sign up for the Localist and stay informed Something went wrong. Please try again.subscribeCongratulations! You’re all set!last_img

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