Attorney General Alberto R. Gonzales yesterday said that although he may have considered resigning after a former aide admitted screening job applicants for their political beliefs, he has chosen to stay at the Justice Department and "fix the problems" revealed by a Democrat-led probe.
"There are two options available in light of these allegations," Mr. Gonzales said in a 25-page statement to the Senate Judiciary Committee prepared for his testimony today. "I could walk away or I could devote my time, effort and energy to fix the problems.
"Since I have never been one to quit, I decided that the best course of action was to remain here and fix the problems. That is exactly what I am doing," said Mr. Gonzales, who has been under intense pressure from Democrats and some Republicans to resign for several months.
The attorney general will testify before the Judiciary Committee today in an oversight hearing.
Mr. Gonzales' mention of "problems" at the Justice Department refers to admissions by former top aide Monica Goodling in May that she asked improper questions of applicants for career Justice positions.
Another Justice Department official, Bradley J. Schlozman, told the Senate Judiciary Committee in June that he boasted of hiring Republicans into the civil rights division. Mr. Schlozman is now associate counsel to the director at the Executive Office for United States Attorneys.
Ms. Goodling, the Justice Department's White House liaison who testified before the House Judiciary Committee only after being granted immunity, resigned in April. Her admission, however, is the most serious wrongdoing to come out of an investigation by congressional Democrats.
Democrats have charged that some of the eight U.S. attorneys fired last year were removed because they were prosecuting Republican politicians or because they were not moving quickly to prosecute or investigate Democrats. So far, however, no smoking gun has proved such accusations.
Mr. Gonzales came under heavy criticism from Democrats and Republicans alike for his response to the initial furor in the spring, but President Bush repeatedly voiced support for the attorney general, and the political storm has abated. Mr. Gonzales still faces tough questioning today from members of the Senate panel.
Sen. Patrick J. Leahy, Vermont Democrat and Judiciary Committee chairman, last week sent Mr. Gonzales a list of 12 questions. The attorney general was asked, among other things, whether he tried to influence Ms. Goodling's testimony and about his shifting answers on who was ultimately responsible for creating the list of fired attorneys.
Mr. Gonzales focused much of his prepared testimony on counterterrorism measures that the Justice Department is taking, and urged senators to approve provisions that would increase criminal penalties for terrorist activity, and increase intelligence-gathering capabilities for the government. He said the Justice Department is increasing its internal oversight to safeguard civil liberties of U.S. citizens.
In March, the Justice Department's inspector general found that the FBI had abused its ability to comb through the personal information of U.S. citizens without a search warrant, under the auspices of fighting terrorism.
Later news reports said Mr. Gonzales knew of these violations but did not tell Congress about them. Mr. Gonzales is expected to be asked about those reports today.