- The Washington Times - Friday, March 23, 2007

ASSOCIATED PRESS

Attorney General Alberto R. Gonzales approved plans to fire several U.S. attorneys in a November meeting, according to documents released last night that contradict earlier assertions that he was not closely involved in the dismissals.

The Nov. 27 meeting, in which the attorney general and at least five top Justice Department officials participated, focused on a five-step plan for carrying out the firings of the prosecutors, Justice Department officials said late yesterday.

At the meeting, Mr. Gonzales signed off on the plan, which was crafted by his chief of staff, D. Kyle Sampson. Mr. Sampson resigned last week during a political firestorm surrounding the firings.

The five-step plan involved notifying Republican home-state senators of the impending dismissals, preparing for potential political upheaval, naming replacements and submitting them to the Senate for confirmation.

The documents indicated that the hourlong discussion, held in the attorney general’s conference room, was the only time Mr. Gonzales met with top aides who decided which prosecutors to fire and how to do it. The eight U.S. attorneys were fired in December.

Justice spokeswoman Tasia Scolinos said it was not clear whether Mr. Gonzales gave his final approval to begin the firings at that meeting. Miss Scolinos also said the attorney general was not involved in the process of selecting which prosecutors would be asked to resign.

On March 13, in explaining the firings, Mr. Gonzales told reporters he was aware that some of the dismissals were being discussed but was not involved in them.

“I knew my chief of staff was involved in the process of determining who were the weak performers — where were the districts around the country where we could do better for the people in that district, and that’s what I knew,” he said last week. “But that is in essence what I knew about the process; was not involved in seeing any memos, was not involved in any discussions about what was going on. That’s basically what I knew as the attorney general.”

Mr. Gonzales this week directed the Justice Department’s Office of Professional Responsibility to investigate the circumstances of the firings, officials said. The department’s inspector general also will participate in that investigation.

Nonetheless, Democrats pounced late yesterday.

“If the facts bear out that Attorney General Gonzales knew much more about the plan than he has previously admitted, then he can no longer serve as attorney general,” said Sen. Charles E. Schumer of New York, who is heading the Senate’s investigation into the firings.

Presidential spokesman Trey Bohn referred questions to the Justice Department, saying White House officials had not seen the documents.

Earlier yesterday, a staunch White House ally, Sen. John Cornyn, summoned White House counsel Fred F. Fielding to Capitol Hill and told him he wanted “no surprises.”

“I told him, ‘Everything you can release, please release. We need to know what the facts are,’ ” the Texas Republican said.

The documents were released a few hours after Mr. Sampson agreed to testify at a Senate inquiry next week into the firings.

Mr. Sampson will appear Thursday at a hearing of the Senate Judiciary Committee, his attorney said. His appearance will mark the first congressional testimony by a Justice Department aide since the release of thousands of documents about the firings.

Mr. Sampson “looks forward to answering the committee’s questions,” wrote his attorney, Brad Berenson, in a two-paragraph letter to Committee Chairman Patrick J. Leahy, Vermont Democrat, and the panel’s top Republican, Sen. Arlen Specter of Pennsylvania.

“We trust that his decision to do so will satisfy the need of the Congress to obtain information from him concerning the requested resignations of the United States attorneys,” Mr. Berenson wrote.


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