“Ex-Aide Contradicts Gonzales on Firings.” That’s one of two lead headlines in this morning’s Washington Post. The Post goes on to explain that the aide in question, Kyle Sampson “spoke with Gonzales at least five times about the plan to dismiss selected U.S. attorneys [whereas] Gonzales has at times portrayed himself as more detached from the process of developing a list of prosecutors to be dismissed.”
But the process that culminated in the firing of the prosecutors lasted nearly two years. Five meetings in almost two years suggests substantial detachment.
Moreover, Sampson’s testimony is consistent with Gonzales’ position that he had no substantive role in developing the list of prosecutors to be dismissed. According to the Post, Sampson’s testimony shows that Gonzales approved the general concept of firing some prosecutors (and wisely rejected the idea of firing them all), was aware of which prosecutors were under consideration for dismissal, and signed off on the decisions that others made. But Sampson also testified that Gonzales neither added nor substracted names to the list.
Here’s how Gonzales described his role at his March 13 press conference, which has become the centerpiece of attempts to discredit the Attorney General:
What I know is that there began a process of evaluating strong performers, not as strong performers and weak performers. And so, as far as I knew, my chief of staff was involved in the process of determining who were the weak performers; where were the districts around the country where we could do better for the people in that district.
But, again, with respect to this whole process, like every CEO, I am ultimately accountable and responsible for what happens within the department.
But that is, in essence, what I knew about the process. I was not involved in seeing any memos, was not involved in any discussions about what was going on. That’s basically what I knew as the attorney general.
We now know that Gonzales had a few discussions over a two year period, but apparently they involved keeping him apprised, and he made no contribution when it came to selecting which U.S. attorneys should be dismissed. If Gonzales, who was speaking off-the-cuff in response to a question, had said that he was not involved in “substantive discussions” or that he had no “input,” instead of saying he was not involved in any “discussions,” there probably would be no inconsistency. As it is, the inconsistency amounts to very little.
If President Bush wishes to dismiss Gonzales because he wants a more engaged Attorney General, or simply a more capable all around leader, there should (and will) be no objection. But Gonzales should not lose his job over his statement at the press conference.
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