Senate Democrats

Fact vs. Fiction: Attorney General Alberto Gonzales

Americans have lost confidence in Attorney General Alberto Gonzales. Below are some of the reasons why Senators should vote today to express a lack of confidence in the Attorney General. On issue after issue, Gonzales’s statements leave Americans with more questions than answers. The country needs an Attorney General focused on administering justice.

Americans Have Lost Confidence in the Attorney General Because of His Actions in Relation to the Bush Warrantless Wiretapping Program

FICTION:  Attorney General Gonzales claimed – under oath – that no major disagreements about the legality of the NSA wiretapping program existed. 

Senator Schumer:  “Let me ask you about some specific reports.  It has been reported by multiple news outlets that the former number two man in the Justice Department, the premier terrorism prosecutor, Jim Comey, expressed grave reservations about the NSA program and at least once refused to give it his blessing.  Is that true?”

Attorney General Gonzales:  “Senator, here is a response that I feel that I can give with respect to recent speculation or stories about disagreements. There has not been any serious disagreement, including – and I think this is accurate – there has not been any serious disagreement about the program that the President has confirmed.  There have been disagreements about other matters regarding operations, which I cannot get into.” (Senate Judiciary Committee Hearing, 2/6/07) 

FACT: Alberto Gonzales tried to pressure Attorney General John Ashcroft to overturn a ruling by the Justice Department that the program was illegal. “On the night of March 10, 2004, as Attorney General John D. Ashcroft lay ill in an intensive-care unit, his deputy, James B. Comey, received an urgent call.  White House Counsel Alberto R. Gonzales and President Bush’s chief of staff, Andrew H. Card Jr., were on their way to the hospital to persuade Ashcroft to reauthorize Bush’s domestic surveillance program, which the Justice Department had just determined was illegal.  In vivid testimony to the Senate Judiciary Committee yesterday, Comey said he alerted FBI Director Robert S. Mueller III and raced, sirens blaring, to join Ashcroft in his hospital room, arriving minutes before Gonzales and Card. Ashcroft, summoning the strength to lift his head and speak, refused to sign the papers they had brought. Gonzales and Card, who had never acknowledged Comey’s presence in the room, turned and left.” (Washington Post, 5/16/07)

FACT:  Gonzales refused to comment on testimony regarding a highly unusual visit he paid to the hospital bedside of Attorney General Ashcroft.   

QUESTION: Mr. Attorney General, last month, Jim Comey testified about a visit you and Andy Card made to John Ashcroft’s hospital bed. Can you tell us your side of the story? Why were you there? And did Mr. Comey testify truthfully about it? Did he remember it correctly? 

GONZALES: Mr. Comey’s testimony related to a highly classified program which the president confirmed to the American people sometime ago. And, because it’s a highly classified program, I’m not going to comment on his testimony.  (Press Conference, 6/5/07)

Americans Have Lost Confidence in the Attorney General Because of His Actions in Relation to the Firing of U.S. Attorneys

FICTION:  The Attorney General claimed that the United States Attorneys were dismissed for “performance” related reasons:   “What we do is we make an evaluation about the performance of individuals, and I have a responsibility to the people in your district that we have the best possible people in these positions.  And that’s the reason why changes sometimes have to be made, although there are a number of reasons why changes get made and why people leave on their own.” (Testimony of Attorney General Alberto Gonzales to the Senate Judiciary Committee, 1/18/07)

FACT: Justice Department performance evaluations of the U.S. Attorneys were overwhelmingly positive, and the Justice Dept. now says performance wasn’t the issue.

Attorneys fired not for bad performance but for political differences. “All but one of the U.S. attorneys recently fired by the Justice Department had positive job reviews before they were dismissed, but many ran into political trouble with Washington over issues ranging from immigration to the death penalty, according to prosecutors, congressional aides and others familiar with the cases.” [Washington Post, 2/18/07]

Even the Justice Department now admits performance wasn’t the issue.  “Since the mass firings were carried out three months ago, Justice Department officials have consistently portrayed them as personnel decisions based on the prosecutors’ ‘performance-related’ problems. But, yesterday, officials acknowledged that the ousters were based primarily on the administration’s unhappiness with the prosecutors’ policy decisions and revealed the White House’s role in the matter.” (Washington Post, 3/3/07)

FICTION:  Attorney General Alberto Gonzales claimed that no United States Attorney would be replaced for political reasons. “I would never, ever make a change in a United States attorney for political reasons or if it would in any way jeopardize an ongoing serious investigation. I just would not do it.” (Testimony of Attorney General Alberto Gonzales to the Senate Judiciary Committee, 1/18/07)

FACT:  Attorneys were graded on political loyalty.  “As an operational matter, we would like to replace 15-20 percent of the current US Attorneys…The vast majority of US Attorneys, 80-85 percent, I would guess, are doing a great job, are loyal bushies, etc.” (Email from Kyl Sampson, Dept. of Justice, to Deputy White House Counsel David Leitch, as reported by ABC News, 3/15/07)

FICTION:  Attorney General Gonzales claimed the White House had no intention of subverting the Senate’s constitutional “advice and consent” role in appointing United States Attorneys. “Third, I believe fundamentally in the constitutional role of the Senate in advice and consent with respect to U.S. attorneys, and would in no way support an effort to circumvent that constitutional role.”  (Press Conference by Attorney General Alberto Gonzales, 3/13/07)

FACT:  His Chief of Staff Kyle Sampson dispute that claim. 

Senator Specter (R-PA):  Without going into it now, because I have no time left but want to finish the question, isn’t it true, as these e-mails suggest, that there was a calculation on your part and the part of others in the Department of Justice to utilize this new provision to avoid confirmation by the Senate and to avoid scrutiny by the Senate and to avoid having senators participate in the selection of replacement U.S. attorneys?

Kyle Sampson:  I recommended that at one point.

(Kyle Sampson Testimony before the Senate Judiciary Committee, 3/29/07)

FACT:  In emails, Kyle Sampson and Chris Oprison, the Office of White House Counsel, openly talked about using their new authority to go around the Senate on the nomination of J. Timothy Griffin in Arkansas.  

  • “(2) ‘interim may be a source of confusion or, worse, a term that Pryor’s and Lincoln’s office can springboard from to press for their own nominee rather than rallying behind Tim.  What are your thoughts?  If this is a Section 546 AG appointment for unlimited duration, Tim can call himself ‘US Attorney’ rather than ‘interim’ or ‘acting’ and our talkers should avoid referring to him as ‘interim.’” (Email from Chris Oprison, Office of White House Counsel, to Kyle Sampson, Chief of Staff to AG Gonzales, 12/19/06)  
  •  “I think we should gum this to death…There is some risk that we’ll lose the authority, but if we don’t ever exercise it then what’s the point of having it?” (Email from Kyle Sampson, Chief of Staff to AG Gonzales, to Chris Oprison, Office of White House Counsel, 12/19/06)

FICTION:  The Attorney General said he was unaware of the plan to fire U.S. Attorneys.  “As we can all imagine, in an organization of 110,000 people, I am not aware of every bit of information that passes through the halls of the Department of Justice, nor am I aware of all decisions. As a general matter, some two years ago, I was made aware that there was a request from the White House as to the possibility of replacing all the United States attorneys. That was immediately rejected by me. I felt that that was a bad idea and it was disruptive.” (Press Conference by Attorney General Alberto Gonzales, 3/13/07)

FACT:  Kyle Sampson, the Attorney General’s former Chief of Staff, said that Attorney General Gonzales was not being truthful.  “I don’t think the attorney general’s statement that he was not involved in any discussions about U.S. attorney removals is accurate” (Kyle Sampson Testimony before the Senate Judiciary Committee, 3/29/07)

FACT:  Kyle Sampson discussed the plan with Attorney General Gonzales before he left the White House Counsel’s office. 

Senator Schumer (D-NY):  First, let’s go over some of the attorney general’s statements.

As you know, at a press conference on March 13th, the attorney general discussed this process of dismissing the U.S. attorneys and he said, "I never saw documents. We never had a discussion about where things stood." Was that statement accurate?  

Kyle Sampson:  I don’t think it’s entirely accurate what he said. I don’t remember if the attorney general ever saw documents. I didn’t prepare memos for him on this issue. But we did discuss it as early as — before he became the attorney general, when he was the attorney general designate in January of 2005, I think; and then, from time to time, as the process was, sort of, in a thinking phase through 2005 and 2006. And then I remember discussing it with him as the process sort of came to a conclusion in the fall of 2006. (Kyle Sampson Testimony before the Senate Judiciary Committee, 3/29/07)

FACT:  Kyle Sampson discussed the plan with Gonzales multiple times. 

Senator Schumer (D-NY): So were there at least five?

Kyle Sampson:  I don’t remember specifically, but it would — I spoke with him every day, so I think at least five.  (Kyle Sampson Testimony before the Senate Judiciary Committee, 3/29/07)

FACT:  Kyle Sampson continually briefed Attorney General Gonzales on the progress of the plan to fire eight United States attorneys.  “Well, as I said in a previous answer, the attorney general was aware of this process from the beginning in early 2005. He and I had discussions about it during the thinking phase of the process.  Then after the, sort of, more final phase of the process in the 2006 began, we discussed it. He asked me to make sure that the process was appropriate, that I was consulting with the deputy attorney general and others in developing the list. And then ultimately he approved both the list and the notion of going forward and asking for these resignations.” (Kyle Sampson Testimony before the Senate Judiciary Committee, 3/29/07)

FACT:  Karl Rove and then-White House Counsel Alberto Gonzales decided that the U.S. Attorneys should go.  “David – Karl Rove stopped by to ask you (roughly quoting) ‘how we planned to proceed regarding US Attorneys, whether we were going to allow all to stay, request resignations from all and accept only some of them, or selectively replace them, etc.’ I told him that you would be on the hill all day for the Judge’s hearings, and he said the matter was not urgent.” (Email from Colin Newman, Office of White House Counsel, to David Leitch, Office of White House Counsel, as reported by ABC News, 3/15/07)

FACT:  Attorney General Gonzales was even involved in picking the U.S. Attorneys to be fired.

Senator Schumer (D-NY):  Similarly, DOJ spokesman, on March 24th, Ms. Scolinos, said the attorney general did not participate in the selection of U.S. attorneys to be fired. Was that an accurate statement?  

Kyle Sampson: I don’t think that’s an accurate statement. (Kyle Sampson Testimony before the Senate Judiciary Committee, 3/29/07)

FICTION:  Attorney General Gonzales denied being involved in White House deliberations regarding the US Attorney firings.  “I don’t remember that conversation…During the process there may have been other conversations about specifically about the performance of U.S. attorneys. But I wasn’t involved in the deliberations as to whether or not a particular United States attorney should or should not be asked to resign.” (NBC News, 3/26/07)

FACT:  This was contradicted by his Chief of Staff Kyle Sampson and Associate Attorney General William Mercer.  “Mr. Schumer said Monday that Mr. Sampson recalled that in early March, Mr. Gonzales had told him about the White House conversation — the first time, Mr. Sampson said, that he learned of the president’s concern. Mr. Sampson’s lawyer, Bradford A. Berenson, declined to comment on the interview.  According to Mr. Schumer, Mr. Sampson said he believed Mr. Gonzales had attended a June 2006 meeting in which Ms. Lam’s removal was discussed. Another official, William W. Mercer, the acting associate attorney general, recalled with greater certainty that Mr. Gonzales was at the meeting, Mr. Schumer said.” (New York Times, 4/17/07)

FICTION:  Attorney General Gonzales claimed Justice Department officials weren’t given all the information they needed to testify.  “And the mistake that occurred here was that information that he had was not shared with individuals within the department who would then be providing testimony and information to the Congress.” (Press Conference by Attorney General Alberto Gonzales, 3/13/07)

FACT:  Kyle Sampson said he shared all information with officials who would later testify before Congress.

Kyle Sampson:  Senator, I shared information with anyone who wanted it. I was very open and collaborative in the process, in the preparation for Mr. McNulty and Mr. Moschella’s testimony.

Senator Schumer (D-NY):  So I want to ask, did you share information with Mr. McNulty and Mr. Moschella?

Kyle Sampson: I did.

Senator Schumer: So the attorney general’s statement is wrong. It’s false.

(Kyle Sampson Testimony before the Senate Judiciary Committee, 3/29/07)