Attorney General denies political role in US Attorney firings
Attorney General Alberto Gonzales is defending the dismissal of eight U.S. Attorneys and denying that he has a political role in the purge, The Wall Street Journal is reporting.
Facing criticism over the firings, Gonzales deemed them appropriate "but said the Justice Department handled the situation poorly," Evan Perez writes for the Journal.
"We could have rolled out the decisions more smoothly," Gonzales told Perez, in an interview in which the Attorney General also "rejected accusations from Democrats and other critics that the prosecutors were fired for failing to follow" the White House's political agenda.
"To think we made these changes to retaliate or because they didn't carry out certain prosecutions?" Gonzales said, according to Perez. "That did not occur here. I stand by the decision to make the changes."
The growing controvery over the dismissals "has been the latest imbroglio for the Justice Department and Mr. Gonzales, a longtime Bush friend and former White House counsel who has defended the administration's often-controversial law-enforcement programs, from domestic surveillance to the treatment of enemy combatants," writes Perez.
Gonzales also denied political motivation for the moves, Perez says.
"I made recommendations to the president" for changes, Gonzales told Perez. "Ultimately, these are presidential appointees."
Additional excerpts from the Journal article, available in full here, follow...
Part of the problem is the Justice Department's contention that the Dec. 7 dismissals were performance related, which came after initial suggestions that the moves were normal turnover. That switch has prompted protests from some of those let go. Some have taken to referring to the firings as the "Pearl Harbor Day Massacre." And some of have said they wouldn't have protested the moves otherwise.
Internal Justice Department documents, reviewed by The Wall Street Journal, show evaluations offering positive reviews for all the prosecutors' work as recently as last March. Mr. Gonzales said the written reviews were among several factors the department used to evaluate prosecutors, which include numbers and types of prosecutions and management issues.
"It should never have come to this," said John McKay, former U.S. attorney for the Seattle-based western district of Washington, who was among those fired and is now an adjunct law professor at the Seattle University law school. "I resigned quietly and left. But when they started saying it was for 'performance reasons,' I couldn't keep quiet any more."
The situation has put Democrats in the unusual role of championing the cause of Republican appointees to batter the administration. Indeed, many of the ousted prosecutors remain loyal to President Bush and Mr. Gonzales, and blame Republican party operatives for giving the two men bad advice.