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False testimony called ‘mistake’

- The Washington Times - Tuesday, March 13, 2007

Attorney General Alberto R. Gonzales yesterday took the blame for inaccurate congressional testimony by Justice Department officials who said the White House was not involved in the firing of eight U.S. attorneys late last year.

"I acknowledge that mistakes were made here. I accept that responsibility," Mr. Gonzales said, adding he was "dismayed" that Congress received "incomplete information."

Top Senate Democrats, however, renewed calls for Mr. Gonzales to resign, and Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Patrick J. Leahy, Vermont Democrat, said he will subpoena White House officials, possibly including presidential adviser Karl Rove, to testify on the matter.

Presidential counselor Dan Bartlett told reporters it is "highly unlikely that a member of the White House staff would testify publicly to these matters."

But Mr. Leahy and Sen. Arlen Specter of Pennsylvania, the ranking Republican on the Judiciary Committee, sent a letter yesterday to Mr. Rove asking him to cooperate with their investigation.

Deputy Attorney General Paul J. McNulty told Congress last month that the White House was not involved in the firings. White House spokeswoman Dana Perino said last week that the Bush administration simply signed off on Justice Department "recommendations."

However, e-mails released yesterday to Mr. Leahy's committee showed that top Gonzales aide D. Kyle Sampson worked with Harriet Miers, who was White House counsel, for about two years to identify which U.S. attorneys would be fired.

Mr. Sampson resigned Monday on the grounds that he did not notify his superiors of his close communication with the White House about the firings.

The White House also said yesterday that Miss Miers began the conversation about two years ago by proposing that all 93 U.S. attorneys be removed.

Mr. Gonzales said he was aware of Miss Miers' original proposal but "immediately rejected" it as a "bad idea." After that initial decision, Mr. Gonzales said, he "was not involved in seeing any memos, was not involved in any discussions about what was going on."

The White House, meanwhile, distanced President Bush from the firings, saying he was aware of talks between the Justice Department and his administration, but was not directly involved in the process.

"We don't have anything to indicate the president made any calls on specific U.S. attorneys," said White House spokesman Tony Snow, with Mr. Bush in Mexico on the last leg of his trip to Latin America.

White House spokesman Tony Fratto also minimized the amount of White House input on the firings.

"We never added or subtracted from the list that was developed by DOJ," Mr. Fratto said. "They sent over their recommendations and we didn't object."

The attorneys were fired, Mr. Gonzales said, because they were "weak performers." U.S. attorneys serve "at the pleasure" of the president and can be terminated at any time.

"I stand by the decision, and I think it was the right decision," the attorney general said.

Incoming presidents often dismiss all 93 U.S. attorneys, as did President Clinton in 1993. In that case, Mr. Clinton was accused of playing politics, because one U.S. attorney was investigating a Democratic congressman.

Some in Congress accuse the Bush administration of approving these most recent firings for political reasons.

The latest development in the U.S. attorneys case follows revelations last week that the FBI abused USA Patriot Act provisions that allow the agency to collect private data on U.S. citizens without their knowledge.

Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid of Nevada and other Democrats are pressuring Mr. Gonzales to resign as the nation's top law-enforcement official.

"It appears he's over his head in his job," Mr. Reid said yesterday.

"I am here not because I give up; I am here because I've learned from my mistakes, because I accept responsibility and because I'm committed to doing my job," Mr. Gonzales said.

• Christina Bellantoni contributed to this article.