Attorney General Gonzales Refuses to Resign
ROBERT SIEGEL, host:
Attorney General Alberto Gonzales goes before the Senate Judiciary Committee tomorrow. So far, the committee chairman has sent him a list of questions, and the Justice Department today released the attorney general's opening statement. But the two documents - the questions and his prepared answer - barely overlapped at all, as NPR's Ari Shapiro reports.
ARI SHAPIRO: The Justice Department has given Congress lots to chew on in the last few months. For example, at the attorney general's last hearing, Alberto Gonzales said:
Attorney General ALBERTO GONZALES (U.S. Department of Justice): I haven't talked to witnesses because of the fact that I haven't wanted to interfere with this investigation and department investigations.
SHAPIRO: That's investigations into U.S. attorney firings. A month after Gonzales said that, his former White House liaison, Monica Goodling, told the House panel about a conversation with the attorney general that she said made her feel uncomfortable.
Ms. MONICA GOODLING (Attorney General Alberto Gonzales' former White House Counsel): And he had laid out for me his general recollection of some of the process regarding the replacement of the U.S. attorneys. And then he asked me if I had any reaction to his iteration.
SHAPIRO: Goodling told the committee she didn't know if it was an appropriate conversation, so she didn't respond. Then, there was this story of the hospital room confrontation in 2004, when Gonzales was White House counsel. According to former Deputy Attorney General James Comey, Gonzales visited the hospitalized John Ashcroft, who had made Comey acting attorney general. Gonzales wanted Ashcroft to reauthorize the president's domestic spying program, overriding Comey.
Last week, Judiciary Committee Chairman Patrick Leahy set questions about those incidents and others to Gonzales. Today, the Justice Department released the attorney general's written opening statement. It doesn't respond to Leahy's questions at all. Gonzales does say in the statement that he has decided to stay on as attorney general to work on reinforcing public confidence in the department.
Leahy says if the president wants to hang on to an attorney general who has lost so much credibility, that's his prerogative.
Senator PATRICK LEAHY (Democrat, Vermont): The attorney general stay as long as the president feels that he represents the level of confidence that the president wants to be remembered for in the history books. Right now, he set the bar pretty low.
SHAPIRO: And that underscores one reason this is such a strange hearing. The issues are important, but the stakes for the attorney general are almost zero. Although Gonzales has little credibility on Capitol Hill, he's apparently not going anywhere. So that leaves Congress to keep asking questions about controversies and apparent contradictions, and the attorney general will answer them or not.
Ari Shapiro, NPR News, Washington.