Will Gonzales Fall For Attorney Firings?

Attorney General Alberto Gonzales speaks at a news conference at the Justice Department March 13, 2007 in Washington DC. Gonzales was responding to criticism over the firings of eight federal prosecutors, which Democrats charge were politically motivated. (Photo by Mark Wilson/Getty Images) Getty Images

One of the eight recently fired U.S. attorneys at the center of a growing political scandal tells CBS News that he lost his job because he "did not play ball" with powerful Republicans.

"I believe, and I think all my colleagues believe, the real reason is partisan politics," the former U.S. Attorney for the District of New Mexico, David Iglesias told CBS Evening News anchor Katie Couric. "I believe I was fired because I did not play ball with two members of the Republican delegation here in New Mexico. I did not give them privileged information that could have been used in the October and November time frame."

The fallout from the firings continues to grow in Washington, and sources tell CBS News that it looks like Attorney General Alberto Gonzales will take the fall.

Republicans close to the White House tell CBS News chief White House correspondent Jim Axelrod that President Bush is in "his usual posture: pugnacious, that no one is going to tell him who to fire." But sources also said Gonzales' firing is just a matter of time.

The White House is bracing for a weekend of criticism and more calls for Gonzales to go. One source tells CBS News he's never seen the administration in such deep denial, and Republicans are growing increasingly restless for the president to take action.

The Justice Department has said the attorneys were fired for performance issues, but CBS News has also obtained performance reviews for some of the fired U.S. attorneys. Nine months before John McKay was fired as the U.S. Attorney for the Western District of Washington, he was described as an "effective, well-regarded and capable leader," Axelrod reports.

Bud Cummins, the former U.S. Attorney for the Eastern District of Arkansas, was called "very competent and highly regarded" in a January 2006 review obtained by CBS News.

Carol Lam, who was the U.S. Attorney for the Southern District of California, was described as an "effective manager and respected leader" in February 2005.

"I got great office reviews," Iglesias told Couric. "I was not on any kind of resignation list until Nov. 15, 2006, and that was two weeks after I received two very inappropriate calls from two Republican members of Congress."


Meanwhile, the White House dropped its contention Friday that former counsel Harriet Miers first raised the idea of firing U.S. attorneys, blaming "hazy memories" as e-mails shed new light on Karl Rove's role.

Presidential press secretary Tony Snow previously had asserted Miers was the person who came up with the idea, but he said Friday, "I don't want to try to vouch for origination." He said, "At this juncture, people have hazy memories."

The White House also said it needed more time before deciding whether Miers, political strategist Rove and other presidential advisers would testify before Congress.

The Justice Department said late Friday that all of the documents requested by Congress will be delivered to Capitol Hill.

"Given the importance of the issues under consideration and the presidential principles involved, we need more time to resolve them," White House spokeswoman Dana Perino said. She also said White House Counsel Fred Fielding suggested to the House Judiciary Committee that he get back to members on Tuesday.

Fielding called a staff member of the House Judiciary Committee on Thursday afternoon, saying he needed to clear the White House's position with President Bush, according to an official who works for the panel. That official spoke only on condition of anonymity because the conversation had been private.

After receiving word of the delay, committee chairman John Conyers, D-Mich., said his panel would vote next week on subpoenas for Rove, Miers and other officials.

Snow's comments came hours after the Justice Department released e-mails Thursday night pulling the White House deeper into an intensifying investigation into whether eight firings were a purge of prosecutors deemed unenthusiastic about presidential goals.

Kyle Sampson E-mails, 2005
Snow said it was not immediately clear who first floated the more dramatic idea of firing all 93 U.S. attorneys shortly after President Bush was re-elected to a second term.

"This is as far as we can go: We know that Karl recollects Harriet having raised it and his recollection is that he dismissed it as not a good idea," Snow told reporters. "That's what we know. We don't know motivations. ... I don't think it's safe to go any further than that."

Asked if President Bush himself might have suggested the firings, Snow said, "Anything's possible ... but I don't think so." He said Mr. Bush "certainly has no recollection of any such thing. I can't speak for the attorney general."

"I want you to be clear here: Don't be dropping it at the president's door," Snow said.

Subpoenas demanding testimony from White House officials could come next week.

Conyers said the House Judiciary Committee "must take steps to ensure that we are not being stonewalled or slow-walked on this matter." He said, "I will schedule a vote to issue subpoenas for the documents and officials we need to talk to."

"We hope that this delay is not a signal they will not cooperate," said Sen. Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., who is leading the Senate's probe into the matter. "The story keeps changing, which neither does them or the public any good."

More Republicans called for Gonzales' ouster late in the week.

Congressman Dana Rohrbacher became the latest Republican to say Gonzales should go, reported Axelrod.

"Even for Republicans, this is a warning sign … saying there needs to be a change," said Rohrbacher. "Maybe the president should have an attorney general who is less a personal friend and more professional in his approach."

Republican Sen. John Sununu of New Hampshire has called for Bush to replace Gonzales, and a Republican member of the House Judiciary Committee, speaking on condition of anonymity, has said he plans to do the same next week.

House Democratic Whip James Clyburn of South Carolina said the controversies reflected poorly on administration officials generally.

"They don't know anything about running government. They're just political hacks," Clyburn said at a news conference in Columbia, S.C. "Gonzales is just a political hack."

Other GOP lawmakers have joined Democrats in harsh indictments of Gonzales' effectiveness but have stopped short of saying he should be fired.

"I do not think the attorney general has served the president well, but it is up to the president to decide on (Attorney) General Gonzales' continued tenure," said Sen. Susan Collins, R-Maine.

The latest e-mails between White House and Justice Department officials show that Rove inquired in early January 2005 about firing U.S. attorneys. They also indicate Gonzales was considering dismissing up to 20 percent of U.S. attorneys in the weeks before he took over the Justice Department.

In one e-mail, Gonzales' top aide, Kyle Sampson, said an across-the-board housecleaning "would certainly send ripples through the U.S. attorney community if we told folks they got one term only." The e-mail concluded that "if Karl thinks there would be political will to do it, then so do I."

Sampson resigned this week amid the uproar.

The Senate Judiciary Committee has scheduled a vote for next Thursday on authorizing subpoenas for Rove, Miers and her deputy, William K. Kelley. The panel already has approved the use of subpoenas, if necessary, for Justice Department officials and J. Scott Jennings, a White House aide who works in Rove's office.

E-mails between the White House and the Justice Department suggest that Jennings was involved in setting up a meeting on a possible replacement for soon-to-be-fired New Mexico U.S. Attorney David Iglesias and in responding to "a senator problem" with the proposed replacement of Bud Cummins, then U.S. attorney for Arkansas.

Among the Justice Department officials named in the subpoenas is Associate Deputy Attorney General William E. Moschella. Lawmakers want him to testify about whether the White House consented to changing the Patriot Act last year to let the attorney general appoint new U.S. attorneys without confirmation.

In an interview with The Associated Press this week, Moschella said the change was not aimed at bypassing the Senate but ending meddling by judges in filling vacant prosecutors' jobs. Under the former law, federal judges could appoint interim U.S. attorneys in jobs that were vacant for more than 120 days.

"There's a conspiracy theory about this and it's nothing other than that," Moschella said.
  • Sean Alfano

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