House GOP skeptical of Gonzales

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House Republicans don’t believe that the Justice Department did anything illegal by firing eight federal prosecutors last year, but they also don’t believe that Attorney General Alberto R. Gonzales is telling the truth about why the attorneys were dismissed.

Several House Republicans are scoffing at Justice Department assertions that a principal reason for several of the dismissals was that the lawyers were not aggressively prosecuting immigration violations.

“It stretches anybody’s credibility to suggest that this administration would have retaliated against U.S. attorneys for not enforcing immigration laws,” Rep. Dana Rohrabacher, California Republican, told The Washington Times. “This administration itself is so lax in its attitude towards immigration laws and controlling the border.”

Rep. Tom Tancredo, Colorado Republican, said he didn’t think immigration cases had “a single thing to do with” the firings.

“I really just think it was political — filling political jobs with political appointees,” said Mr. Tancredo, who is running for president mostly on his stand against illegal aliens.

An aide to House Republican leadership agreed that the Justice Department’s explanation for the firings is hard to believe.

“I don’t think Republicans buy that,” said the aide.

The Justice Department has noted complaints about Carol Lam, the former U.S. attorney for California’s southern district, from numerous Republican lawmakers. On Oct. 20, 2005, 19 House members sent a letter to Mr. Gonzales complaining that Mrs. Lam’s office would “not prosecute a criminal alien unless they have been previously convicted of two felonies in the district.”

Rep. Darrell Issa, California Republican, also sent Mrs. Lam a letter on May 24, 2006, attacking her record on immigration law enforcement.

But in that case, the Justice Department defended Mrs. Lam’s record. Assistant Attorney General William E. Moschella wrote to Mr. Issa that immigration enforcement was “critically important” to the Justice Department and to Mrs. Lam’s office.

An earlier draft of the letter had said that immigration laws were being “vigorously enforced,” but that language was removed.

Doubts about why the U.S. attorneys were fired have left the door open for suggestions that Mrs. Lam was fired because she was investigating Republican politicians.

“From what I’ve seen, it appears the motivation was based largely on [the prosecutors’] zeal or lack of zeal on prosecution of public corruption, and whether they were prosecuting Republicans or not prosecuting Democrats,” Majority Leader Steny H. Hoyer, Maryland Democrat, told The Times.

Mrs. Lam had already put former Rep. Randy “Duke” Cunningham, California Republican, behind bars for taking $2.4 million in bribes. She was reported to be expanding her probe to include other Republicans.

But Democrats have failed to find any evidence that the Mrs. Lam was fired for improper or illegal reasons, and during a nearly seven-hour questioning of Mr. Gonzales’ former chief of staff last week, Democrats asked few questions about Mrs. Lam’s firing.

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