Gonzales' written statementTPM Media
By Paul Kiel
April 15, 2007
First, I will address the issue of the resignations of eight of 93 U.S. Attorneys. I know this is an issue of concern to the Committee, and I want you to know that I share your commitment to bringing all of the facts to light on this matter. I hope we can make great progress on that goal today.
I also want the Committee and those U.S. Attorneys to know how much I appreciate their public service. Each is a fine lawyer and dedicated professional who gave many years of service to the Department. I apologize to them and to their families for allowing this matter to become an unfortunate and undignified public spectacle, and I am sorry for my missteps that have helped to fuel the controversy.
The Justice Department has tried to be forthcoming with the Congress and the American people about the process that led to the resignations. The Department has provided thousands of pages of internal and deliberative documents to the Congress. I consistently and voluntarily have made Justice Department officials available for interviews and hearings on this subject.
I have taken these important steps to provide information for two critical reasons: (1) I have nothing to hide, and (2) I am committed to assuring the Congress and the American public that nothing improper occurred here. The sooner that all the facts are known, the sooner we can all devote our exclusive attention to our important work – work that includes protecting the American people from the dangers of terrorism, violent crime, illegal drugs, and sexual predators. I know that the Committee must be eager to focus on those issues of great importance to the American people as well.
At this point, we can all agree that U.S. Attorneys serve at the pleasure of the President. We further should agree on a definition of what an "improper" reason for the removal of a U.S. Attorney would be. As former Acting Solicitor General and Assistant Attorney General Walter Dellinger has stated, an improper reason would be: "The replacement of one or more U.S. attorneys in order to impede or speed along particular criminal investigations for illegitimate reasons."
I agree with that. Stated differently, the Department of Justice makes decisions based on the evidence, not whether the target is a Republican or a Democrat.
For the benefit of the Committee as well as for the American people, I would like to be abundantly clear about the decision to request the resignations of eight (of the 93) United States Attorneys – each of whom had served his or her full four-year term of office:
I know that I did not, and would not, ask for a resignation of any individual in order to interfere with or influence a particular prosecution for partisan political gain.
I also have no basis to believe that anyone involved in this process sought the removal of a U.S. Attorney for an improper reason.
These facts have been made clear through the testimony of Justice Department officials who have appeared before the Congress, as well as by the thousands of pages of internal documents that the Department of Justice has released. Based upon the record as I know it, it is unfair and unfounded for anyone to conclude that any U.S. Attorney was removed for an improper reason. Our record in bringing aggressive prosecutions without fear or favor and irrespective of political affiliations – a record I am very proud of – is beyond reproach.
While reasonable people may dispute whether or not the actual reasons for these decisions were sufficient to justify a particular resignation, again, there is no factual basis to support the allegation, as many have made, that these resignations were motivated by improper reasons. As this Committee knows, however, to provide more certainty, I have asked the Justice Department's Office of Professional Responsibility (OPR) to investigate this matter. Working with the Department's Office of Inspector General (OIG), these non-partisan professionals will complete their own independent investigation so that the Congress and the American people can be 100 percent assured of the facts.
The Committee should also know that, to ensure the independence and integrity of these investigations, and the investigations of congressional committees, I have not spoken with nor reviewed the confidential transcripts of any of the Department of Justice employees interviewed by congressional staff. I state this because, as a result, I may be somewhat limited when it comes to providing you with all of the facts that you may desire. I hope you understand that, to me, it was absolutely essential that the investigative work proceeds in a manner free of any complications by my efforts to prepare for this testimony.
While I firmly believe that these dismissals were appropriate, I have equal conviction that the process by which these U.S. Attorneys were asked to resign could have – and should have – been handled differently.
I made mistakes in not ensuring that these U.S. Attorneys received more dignified treatment. Others within the Department of Justice also made mistakes. As far as I know, these were honest mistakes of perception and judgment and not intentional acts of misconduct. The American public needs to know of the good faith and dedication of those who serve them at the Department of Justice.
As I have stated before, I want to be as crisp and clear as I can be with the Committee about the facts of my involvement in this matter as I recall them.
The Coordination Process
Shortly after the 2004 election and soon after I became Attorney General, my then-deputy-chief-of-staff Kyle Sampson told me that then-Counsel to the President Harriet Miers had inquired about replacing all 93 U.S. Attorneys. Mr. Sampson and I both agreed that replacing all 93 U.S. Attorneys would be disruptive and unwise. However, I believed it would be appropriate and a good management decision to evaluate the U.S. Attorneys and determine the districts where a change may be beneficial to the Department.
I delegated the task of coordinating a review to Mr. Sampson in early 2005. Mr. Sampson is a good man and was a dedicated public servant. I believed that he was the right person (1) to collect insight and opinions, including his own, from Department officials with the most knowledge of U.S. Attorneys and (2) to provide, based on that collective judgment, a consensus recommendation of the Department's senior leadership on districts that could benefit from a change.
I recall telling Mr. Sampson that I wanted him to consult with appropriate Justice Department senior officials who would have the most relevant knowledge and information about the performance of the U.S. Attorneys. It was to be a group of officials, including the Deputy Attorney General, who were much more knowledgeable than I about the performance of each U.S. Attorney. I also told him to make sure that the White House was kept informed since the U.S. Attorneys are presidential appointees.
Mr. Sampson periodically updated me on the review. As I recall, his updates were brief, relatively few in number, and focused primarily on the review process itself. During those updates, to my knowledge, I did not make decisions about who should or should not be asked to resign.
For instance, I recall two specific instances when Mr. Sampson mentioned to me that Harriet Miers had asked about the status of the Department's evaluation of U.S. Attorneys.
I also recall Mr. Sampson mentioning Assistant Attorney General Rachel Brand as a possible candidate to be U.S. Attorney if a vacancy were to occur. I am not sure he mentioned a specific district, but it may have been Michigan. I do not recall my response, nor when it happened. But I do recall thinking I did not want to lose Ms. Brand as head of Legal Policy. I also recall Mr. Sampson mentioning career prosecutor Deborah Rhodes for San Diego in the event of a vacancy. I do not recall my response or any other discussion. Nor do I recall the timing of when this was raised with me. Although these names were mentioned to me, I do not recall making any decision, either on or before December 7, 2006, about who should replace the U.S. Attorneys who were asked to resign that day.
Near the end of the process, as I have said many times, Kyle Sampson presented me with the final recommendations, which I approved. I did so because I understood that the recommendations represented the consensus of senior Justice Department officials most knowledgeable about the performance of all 93 U.S. Attorneys. I also remember that, at some point in time, Mr. Sampson explained to me the plan to inform the U.S. Attorneys of my decision.
I believed the process that Mr. Sampson was coordinating would produce the best result by including those senior Justice Department officials with the most knowledge about this matter. As in other areas of the Department's work – whether creating a plan to combat terrorism or targeting dangerous drugs like methamphetamine – my goal was to improve the performance of the Justice Department. And as in other areas of the Department's work, I expected a process to be established that would lead to recommendations based on the collective judgment and opinions of those with the most knowledge within the Department.
In hindsight, I would have handled this differently. As a manager, I am aware that decisions involving personnel are some of the most difficult and challenging decisions one can make. United States Attorneys serve at the pleasure of the President, but looking back, it is clear to me that I should have done more personally to ensure that the review process was more rigorous, and that each U.S. Attorney was informed of this decision in a more personal and respectful way.
I also want to address suggestions that I intentionally made false statements about my involvement in this process. These suggestions have been personally very painful to me. I have always sought the truth. I never sought to mislead or deceive the Congress or the American people about my role in this matter. I do acknowledge however that at times I have been less than precise with my words when discussing the resignations.
For example, I misspoke at a press conference on March 13th when I said that I "was not involved in any discussions about what was going on." That statement was too broad. At that same press conference, I made clear that I was aware of the process; I said that "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, and that's what I knew." Of course, I knew about the process because of, at a minimum, these discussions with Mr. Sampson. Thus, my statement about "discussions" was imprecise and overbroad, but it certainly was not in anyway an attempt to mislead the American people.
I certainly understand why these statements generated confusion, and I regret that. I have tried to clarify my words in later interviews with the media, and will be happy to answer any further questions the Committee may have today about those statements.
It is said that actions speak louder than words. And my actions in this matter do indeed show that I have endeavored to be forthcoming with the Congress and the American people.
I am dedicated to correcting both the management missteps and the ensuing public confusion that now surrounds what should have been a benign situation. For example:
In recent weeks I have met personally with more than 70 U.S. Attorneys around the country to hear their concerns and discuss ways to improve communication and coordination between their offices and Main Justice. These discussions have been frank, and good ideas are coming out, including ways to improve communication between the Department and their offices so that every United States Attorney can know whether their performance is at the level expected by the Attorney General and the Deputy Attorney General. Additionally, I have asked the members of the Attorney General's Advisory Committee of United States Attorneys to present to me recommendations on formal and informal steps that we can take to improve communication.
During these meetings I am also sharing with the U.S. Attorney community several key messages that I wish to also share with the Committee:
First, the process of selecting U.S. Attorneys to be asked to resign, while not improper, should have been more rigorous and should have been completed in a much shorter period of time.
Second, every U.S. Attorney who was asked to resign – Dan Bogden, Margaret Chiara, Paul Charlton, David Iglesias, Carol Lam, John McKay, Kevin Ryan, and Bud Cummins – served honorably, and they and their families made sacrifices in the name of public service. The Justice Department owes them more respect than they were shown. In some cases, Department leaders should have worked with them to make improvements where they were needed. In all cases, I should have communicated the concerns more effectively, and I should have informed them of my decisions in a more dignified manner. This process could have been handled much better and for that I want to apologize publicly.
And third, I am also telling our 93 U.S. Attorneys that I look forward to working with them to pursue the great goals of our Department in the weeks and months to come. I have told them that I expected all of them to continue to do their jobs in the way they deem best and without any improper interference from anyone. Likewise, in those offices where U.S. Attorneys have recently departed, I emphasized the need to continue to aggressively investigate and prosecute all matters – sensitive or otherwise – currently being handled by those offices.
I wish to extend that sentiment to the Committee as well. During the past two years, we have made great strides in securing our country from terrorism, protecting our neighborhoods from gangs and drugs, shielding our children from predators and pedophiles, and protecting the public trust by prosecuting public corruption. Recent events must not deter us from our mission. I ask the Committee to join me in that commitment and that re-dedication.
We must ensure that all the facts surrounding the situation are brought to full light. It is my sincere hope that today's hearing brings us closer to a clearing of the air on the eight resignations.
That is why I intend to stay here as long as it takes to answer all of the questions the Committee may have about my involvement in this matter. I want this Committee to be satisfied, to be fully reassured, that nothing improper was done. I want the American people to be reassured of the same.