Conyers to Gonzales: No, let's keep talking about the US Attorneys
Rep. John Conyers (D-MI) replied to Attorney General Alberto Gonzales' suggestion at this morning's House Judiciary Committee hearing that Congress focus on issues other than the firing of US Attorneys by stating that he'd continue to investigate the matter.
"My hope is that the members will focus their questions today on the US Attorneys and related matters," the Chairman of the House Judiciary Committee said in the Thursday morning hearing. He called for a hearing at a later time to deal with oversight of Justice Department law enforcement activities.
Conyers also suggested that the White House had tried to create "a bigger Republican farm team" full of "loyal Bushies" within the Justice Department. The Michigan Democrat warned that there was a "cover up" going on.
"One asks whether the administration is trying to cover up two simple truths: who created the list, and why?" he asked, referring to the list of US Attorneys that were fired by the Justice Department.
Rep. Lamar Smith (R-TX), the committee's ranking minority member, then accused the Democratic members of the committee of pressing their investigation for partisan reasons and suggested that the investigation could be "wrapped up" quickly.
"For nearly two months, the White House has offered to let us interview its employees and review its documents," Smith said of White House Counsel Fred Fielding's offer of an "off the record" interview with key White House staff, including Karl Rove and former counsel Harriet Miers. "We need to take that offer. If we had accepted it, our answers may have been answered long ago."
After a procedural objection by Rep. Dan Lungren (R-CA) over a protester from the group Code Pink, Conyers had the protester removed, telling her, "With the right attire you're perfectly able to attend this hearing."
New Mexico lawyers sought US Attorney's ouster
In the question and answer, Conyers focused on how various US Attorneys were added to the list. Dissatisfied with Gonzales' reply that his former chief of staff D. Kyle Sampson had followed a process that was previously described, Conyers turned to a specific matter – the firing of the Attorney for New Mexico, David Iglesias.
The Chairman described the testimony of Matthew Friedrich, a counselor to Gonzales, who told the committee in the course of its investigation that he had met with "two prominent New Mexico attorneys" who wanted Iglesias to be removed.
Gonzales acknowledged that he was aware of the discussions and added, that he had "No reason to believe [Friedrich's account was] not correct."
On the question of Iglesias, Gonzales also said he had been contacted by Senator Pete Domenici (R-NM) about his lack of confidence in the US Attorney and confirmed that he had discussed voter fraud cases with Karl Rove, including those relating to Iglesias' work.
"In a conversation he had with me, he raised concern about voter fraud prosecutions in three jurisdictions, including New Mexico," said Gonzales, pointing to a Fall 2006 conversation.
Rep. Linda Sánchez (D-CA), who chairs the Subcommittee on Commercial and Administrative Law, which is leading the US Attorneys investigation, then challenged Gonzales on the appearance of impropriety in the case of Deborah Wong Yang. Yang stepped down from her position as US Attorney to join a firm that represented Rep. Jerry Lewis (R-CA), who was being investigated within her district on public corruption charges.
Sánchez pointed out that Yang received a large hiring bonus, according to a recent New York Times article, and suggested that there appeared to be a conflict of interest. But the Attorney General was unfazed. He first suggested that however much they paid her, "it was a bargain," and he then said no conflict of interest had occurred.
"I'm presuming, knowing Deb Yang the way that I do...she would be recused to anything related to that matter," he said, adding that "Despite her departure, that case will continue as it should."
Sánchez then wrangled with Republican members of the committee who objected to her referring to Rep. Lewis a "target," and called for her remarks to be stricken from the record. Sánchez agreed to have the word "target" removed.
Gonzales says Bush involved in sacking Attorneys
When Rep. Bobby Scott (D-VA) subsequently asked the Attorney General if the White House had asked the Justice Department to remove certain US Attorneys. Gonzales repeated his earlier explanation about Rove raising concerns about voter fraud cases in three federal districts. Gonzales then suggested that the President had been looped into one conversation on the subject.
"I've now been made aware of the fact that there was a conversation with the President that basically mentioned [the voter fraud cases] in October of 2006," Gonzales explained, although he offered no further details.
Returning to Yang's case, Scott then asked if former White House counsel Harriet Miers had sought to have her removed from office. Gonzales suggested that Miers was aware of Yang's desire to earn more money in the private sector.
"I think that Ms. Miers may have known about Ms. Yang's concern about continuing to remain on the job for financial reasons," he said, adding that Miers knew that Yang's district was "very important."
Gonzales pressed on '9th' fired US Attorney
The Washington Post today quoted a former US Attorney in Missouri, Todd Graves, as stating that he had been pushed out of his position after an early 2006 conversation with former top Justice Department official Michael Battle.
Battle, Graves said "made clear to me the fact I was getting a push."
He added, "I felt like I was no longer welcome in the department."
But when Rep. Zoe Lofgren (D-CA) queried Gonzales on the subject, the Attorney General pushed back.
"I have no basis to believe that in fact Mr. Graves, that that particular case had anything to do with Mr. Graves departure," he said.
The Attorney General was referring to a lawsuit against the State of Missouri pertaining to its voting rolls that the Justice Department's Civil Rights Division had planned to bring, which Graves refused to sign on to.
Just before 11 AM, the Committee recessed so members could head to the House floor for a series of votes.