The United States House Committee on the Judiciary and the Senate Committee on the Judiciary, have oversight authority over Department of Justice (DOJ). In 2007 it conducted conduct public and closed-door oversight and investigative hearings on the DOJ's interactions with the White House and staff members of the Executive Office of the President. A routine oversight hearing on January 18 2007 by the Senate committee was the first public congressional occasion that Attorney General Gonzales responded to questions about dismissed United States Attorneys (USAs). Both committees invited or subpoened past and present Department of Justice officers and staff to appear and testify during 2007, and both committees requested or subpoenaed documents, and made the documents that were produced publicly available.
What we're trying to do is ensure that for the people in each of these respective districts, we have the very best possible representative for the Department of Justice," Gonzales testified, adding later: "I would never, ever make a change in a United States attorney for political reasons or if it would in any way jeopardize an ongoing serious investigation. I just would not do it.Alberto Gonzales was scheduled to testify before Congress on April 17, 2007 (Link to Gonzales's [[April 19], 2007 opening statement]). In the aftermath of the mass shooting at Virginia Tech, Senate Judiciary Committee chairman Patrick Leahy postponed the hearing until April 19. In advance of his testimony, a separate Gonzales statement was published in the Washington Post on April 15, 2007. He said "While I accept responsibility for my role in commissioning this management review process, I want to make some fundamental points abundantly clear. I know that I did not -- and would not -- ask for the resignation of any U.S. attorney for an improper reason. Furthermore, I have no basis to believe that anyone involved in this process sought the removal of a U.S. attorney for an improper reason." The Gonzales statement responded to the allegations that his previous testimony contradicted Sampson testimony before Congress. Gonzales stated: "While I have never sought to deceive Congress or the American people, I also know that I created confusion with some of my recent statements about my role in this matter. To be clear: I directed my then-deputy chief of staff, Kyle Sampson, to initiate this process; fully knew that it was occurring; and approved the final recommendations. 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. During those conversations, to my knowledge, I did not make decisions about who should or should not be asked to resign."
On April 19, 2007, Gonzales testified before the Senate Judiciary Committee. Gonzales received intense questioning from both the Democratic and Republican members on the committee. Many Republicans on the committee openly criticised the attorney general and his handling of the matter questioning his honesty, competence and stating that he should "suffer the consequences" from the controversial firings. Gonzales also admitted during the testimony that when he ordered the firing of the US attorneys he did not know the reason for firing two of them. The attorney general stated that he "didn't have an independent basis or recollection" about the job performance of Nevada U.S. Attorney Daniel G. Bogden. With regards to Chiara, Gonzales stated, "Quite candidly . . . I don't recall the reason why I accepted" staff advice on why to dismiss Chiarra and only after the fact did Gonzales learn "it was a question of . . . poor-management issues. In another interesting exchange, Gonzales stated that he had approved the decision but didn't recall when the decision was made. ("'Well, how can you be sure you made the decision?' Mr. Leahy asked."'Senator, I recall making the decision from this -- I recall making the decision,' Mr. Gonzales replied. "'When?' Mr. Leahy responded."'Senator,' Mr. Gonzales replied. 'I don't recall when the decision was made.') Gonzales stated more than 60 times that he "couldn't recall" certain incidents.
After Gonzales's April 19, 2007 testimony to the Judiciary Committee, both Senators Leahy and Specter expressed their disappointment with the results. Both stated that they still do not have a clear explanation of the reasons the eight attorneys were fired, with Leahy suggesting that political influence was the likely explanation, and Specter suggesting that incompetence might be the likely explanation. Both Senators also expressed the concern that, either way, the controversy was undermining the integrity of the Department of Justice. The White House put out a statement that day saying "the president was pleased with the attorney general's testimony, and that he felt he answered [the] questions, and that he had admitted mistakes were made, but that he has the full confidence of the president." Leahy replied to the interviewer about the White House statement: "Well, the president has set a very low bar, indeed." CNN later reported that White House insiders thought that Gonzales had hurt himself with his recent testimony and described his performance before the Judiciary committee as "going down in flames," "not doing himself any favors," and "predictable.
A few days later, President Bush reiterated "The Attorney General ... gave a very candid assessment, and answered every question he could possibly answer, honestly answer, in a way that increased my confidence in his ability to do the job....[A]s the investigation, the hearings went forward, it was clear that the Attorney General broke no law, did no wrongdoing. And some senators didn't like his explanation, but he answered as honestly as he could. This is an honest, honorable man, in whom I have confidence. Nevertheless, Gonzales continued to come under increasing criticism, including from "key GOP lawmakers".Link to Gonzales's oral statement May 10, 2007 Link to Gonzales's extended written statement, May 10, 2007 He provided no additional information regarding the controversy to the frustration and incredulity of many on the committee. He "acknowledged for the first time Thursday that [other] U.S. attorneys might have resigned under pressure from the Justice Department, but said their departures were unrelated to the controversial firings of eight prosecutors last year. Gonzales testified that there was nothing improper about the dismissal or resignations of Graves, Heffelginger, or Yang. He addressed the cases of Biskupic in Wisconsin and Paulose in Minnesota. Unlike the April 19, 2007 hearing before the Senate Committee on the Judiciary, several Republicans came to the defense of Gonzales, including Lamar Smith of Texas.
McNulty's testimony that the attorneys were fired for "performance related issues" caused the attorneys to come forward in protest.
In response Gonzales stated "I don't recall being involved in deliberations involving the question of whether or not a U.S. attorney should or should not be asked to resign...I signed off on the recommendations and signed off on the implementation plan. And that's the extent of my involvement...I know what I did and I know the motivations for the decisions that I made were not based on improper reasons. Media attention has highlighting Sampson's inability to recall the events surrounding the Dismissal of the U.S. Attorneys. Sampson could not recall information asked by committee members over a hundred times.
In a press conference on April 3, 2007, President Bush responded to questions about the attorney general and the ongoing controversy by stating: "Attorney General Al Gonzales is an honorable and honest man and he has my full confidence...I will remind you there is no credible evidence that there has been any wrongdoing...I appreciate [the dismissed US Attorneys'] service. I'm sorry that these hearings and all this stuff have besmirched their reputations. It's certainly not the intent of anybody in this administration.
On April 13, 2007, documents were released in response to further Congressional inquiry that appeared to contradict parts of Sampson's testimony. Sampson said during his testimony that "[he] did not have in mind any replacements for any of the seven who were asked to resign" on December 7, 2006. The released emails showed that Sampson had identified five Bush administration insiders as potential replacements for sitting U.S. attorneys months before those prosecutors were fired: Jeffrey A. Taylor, now chief prosecutor in the District of Columbia, Deborah Rhodes, now the U.S. attorney in Alabama, Rachel L. Brand, head of the Justice Department's Office of Legal Policy, Daniel Levin, a former senior Justice and White House official who was listed as a San Francisco candidate, and Tim Griffin, a former aide to presidential adviser Karl Rove who was later appointed the top federal prosecutor in Little Rock. In response to this information, Sampson's attorney stated that these candidates were only tentative suggestions and never seriously considered. Justice Department spokesman Brian Roehrkasse said the list "reflects Kyle Sampson's initial thoughts" and "in no way contradicts the department's prior statements" about the lack of a candidate list."
Goodling cited McNulty's testimony to the Committee as being "incomplete or inaccurate," and stated that McNulty should have properly disclosed to the committee his:
McNulty responded in a press release from the DOJ, the same day as the hearing, stating: