- The Washington Times - Tuesday, March 13, 2007

4:07 p.m.

Attorney General Alberto R. Gonzales abruptly canceled travel plans today amid growing calls for his ouster over the firings of eight federal prosecutors during a White House-directed housecleaning of U.S. attorneys.

Mr. Gonzales also accepted the resignation of his top aide, Kyle Sampson, who authorities said failed to brief other senior Justice Department officials of his discussions about the firings with then-White House counsel Harriet Miers. Mrs. Miers resigned in January.

Sen. Charles E. Schumer, New York Democrat, who is leading a Senate investigation of the firings, called for the second time in three days for Mr. Gonzales to step down. Additionally, Democratic Party Chairman Howard Dean said Mr. Gonzales “ought to be shown the door — he ought not to be in this administration. We have got to end corruption in our government. It is not OK to be corrupt.”

Mr. Gonzales was expected to respond to the criticism this afternoon.

Mr. Sampson declined comment.

The government’s 93 U.S. attorneys are presidential appointees who can be hired and fired at will. But critics say the fate of the eight who were dismissed last year appeared to have been politically motivated. Democratic and Republican lawmakers alike said they were outraged that Justice Department officials weren’t forthcoming on how the firings unfolded — even when asked under oath by Congress.

A Justice Department official said today that Mrs. Miers, in a February 2005 discussion with Mr. Sampson, suggested firing all U.S. attorneys. White House spokesman Tony Snow described the idea as a move to get fresh faces in the four-year term jobs, and said that it was not a firm recommendation.

Mr. Sampson, according to the Justice official, rejected the total housecleaning but spent the next year drawing up a list of potential dismissals. On Jan. 9, 2006, Mr. Sampson sent Mrs. Miers a memo listing what the official described as roughly 10 names of prosecutors who were viewed as underperforming in their jobs.

By September, Mr. Sampson began moving forward with the firings, the Justice official said. The White House did not ask for names to be added or removed from that list, the official said. Mr. Gonzales and Deputy Attorney General Paul J. McNulty signed off on the list around that time, the official said.

Mr. Gonzales was aware of the discussions with the White House, but Mr. McNulty and other senior department officials were not, the official said.

Rep. F. James Sensenbrenner Jr. of Wisconsin, the senior Republican on the House Judiciary Committee, called the Justice Department’s management dysfunctional for sending Principal Associate Deputy Attorney General William E. Moschella to testify before the panel last week “without knowing all the facts.”

“They’re going to have to come up with some answers,” Mr. Sensenbrenner said today. “If they don’t, they’re going to lose everyone’s confidence.

“What I’d like to hear is the truth,” he said, complaining about the Justice Department’s different explanations for the dismissals. If that record is not corrected, Mr. Sensenbrenner said, “then the Justice Department and the attorney general himself are going to die by a thousand cuts.”

President Bush made “no recommendations on specific individuals,” Mr. Snow said. “We don’t have anything to indicate the president made any calls on specific U.S. attorneys.”

White House spokeswoman Dana Perino acknowledged yesterday that complaints about the job performance of prosecutors occasionally came to the White House and were passed on to the Justice Department.

Some of the prosecutors who were fired have said they felt pressured by powerful Republicans in their home states to rush investigations of potential voter fraud involving Democrats.

Mrs. Perino said Deputy Chief of Staff Karl Rove, the president’s top political adviser, vaguely recalls telling Mrs. Miers that he also thought firing all 93 was ill-advised.

Dating to mid-2004, the White House’s legislative affairs, political affairs and chief of staff’s office had received complaints from a variety of sources about the lack of vigorous prosecution of election fraud cases in various locations, including Philadelphia, Milwaukee and New Mexico, she said.

Those complaints were passed on to the Justice Department or Mrs. Miers’ office.

“The president recalls hearing complaints about election fraud not being vigorously prosecuted and believes he may have informally mentioned it to the attorney general during a brief discussion on other Department of Justice matters,” Mrs. Perino said, adding that the conversation would have taken place in October 2006.

“At no time did any White House officials, including the president, direct the Department of Justice to take specific action against any individual U.S. attorney,” she said.

Last week, House Judiciary Committee Chairman John Conyers Jr., Michigan Democrat, said he would seek to interview Mrs. Miers and deputy counsel William Kelly for insight on their roles, if any, in the firings.

Mr. Rove emerged as the Democrats’ newest target after weekend news reports said the New Mexico Republican Party’s chairman urged Mr. Rove to fire David C. Iglesias, then the state’s U.S. attorney.

In a statement yesterday, Mr. Conyers said stories about Mr. Rove’s purported link to the Iglesias dismissal “raise even more alarm bells for us.”

“As a result, we would want to ensure that Karl Rove was one of the White House staff that we interview in connection with our investigation,” Mr. Conyers said.

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