- The Washington Times - Wednesday, March 14, 2007

2:40 p.m.

President Bush today said he was “not happy” with how the Justice Department handled the firing of eight federal prosecutors, but gave no indication that he would ask for the resignation of Attorney General Alberto R. Gonzales.

“Mistakes were made. And I’m frankly not happy about them,” Mr. Bush told reporters at a press conference in Mexico during the last leg of his weeklong trip to Latin America.

“Any time anybody goes up to Capitol Hill, they’ve got to make sure they fully understand the facts and how they characterize the issue to members of Congress,” he said. “And the fact that both Republicans and Democrats feel like that there was not straightforward communication troubles me and it troubles the attorney general. So he took action, and he needs to continue to take action.”

Mr. Gonzales yesterday took blame for inaccurate reports to Congress by Justice Department officials, who had said the White House was not involved in the firings.

E-mails released yesterday showed that D. Kyle Sampson, Mr. Gonzales’ chief of staff, worked for close to two years with the White House on targeting which prosecutors to fire.

Mr. Sampson resigned Monday for not informing top Justice officials of his communications with the Bush administration.

Mr. Gonzales this morning denied that one of the eight federal prosecutors was fired to stop a corruption probe of a Republican congressman.

“Decisions were not based on trying to interfere with an ongoing public corruption case,” he said during a morning appearance on Fox News.

“Some have suggested there were improper reasons here, and that’s absolutely not true. These decisions were not based upon retaliation for cases brought or not brought,” Mr. Gonzales said.

One of the fired U.S. attorneys, Carol Lam of California’s Southern District, had prosecuted former Rep. Randy “Duke” Cunningham, California Republican, for taking $2.4 million in bribes.

Cunningham is now serving an eight-year prison sentence, and Mrs. Lam was reportedly widening the investigation to include Rep. Jerry Lewis, California Republican, when she was fired.

An e-mail from Mr. Sampson to White House attorney William K. Kelley on May 11, 2006, referred to “the real problem we have right now with Carol Lam,” and recommended she should be fired.

Still, Mr. Gonzales said Mrs. Lam’s firing had nothing to do with those cases.

“We’ve been very clear about applauding the efforts of Carol Lam and her office in this prosecution,” he said. “On the other hand, a U.S. attorney cannot simply focus on public corruption cases. There are other problems in the community that have to be focused on as well. We advised Ms. Lam of these other priorities, that she needed to focus on these other issues as well.”

Mr. Gonzales made appearances this morning on five TV morning shows in an effort to dampen controversy over his handling of the firings, which have prompted calls for his resignation.

Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton, New York Democrat and the front-runner for her party’s presidential nomination, has called for Mr. Gonzales to resign.

“The buck should stop somewhere,” Mrs. Clinton said in an interview with ABC’s “Good Morning America” that was broadcast this morning.

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