Memo: Gonzales Was in Loop on Attorney Firings
DEBBIE ELLIOTT, host:
From NPR News, this is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED. I'm Debbie Elliott.
A new twist this weekend in the saga of the eight fired U.S. attorneys. The White House insists today it still has confidence in Attorney General Alberto Gonzales. But late last night the Justice Department released documents showing that Gonzales took part in a meeting where senior officials discussed plans to dismiss the prosecutors.
NPR's Ron Elving joins me to talk about the potential fallout from this. Ron, what is new and different about the latest revelation?
RON ELVING: Debbie, what's new is a meeting memo from November 27th, right around Thanksgiving time, that shows the attorney general, Alberto Gonzales, was present at a meeting where the plan for the firing of these U.S. attorneys was discussed and approved.
Now, this seems to contradict what he told us 11 days ago when he said he had not taken part in any discussions about these firings. He said he had delegated the matter and just signed off on the work of his staff, especially his chief of staff, Kyle Sampson.
So if this memo leads Congress or others to conclude that the attorney general was involved well before he has admitted, or to a greater extent than he's admitted, it's a rather large log on the bonfire. And it could prove to be especially incendiary, depending on how he handles questions about it in the days to come.
ELLIOTT: Any reaction yet from Capitol Hill?
ELVING: Oh, yes. Some of the senators have already had some things to say about it; it's pretty much what you would expect, tending to whet their appetites, especially those who are going to have Kyle Sampson as their witness this coming Thursday at the Senate Judiciary Committee.
And they're saying this memo could point the way to a conversation that would show that the attorney general has not been truthful in his public statements. And as several have observed, the attorney general is probably the one member of the cabinet who ought to tell the truth all the time more than anybody else.
ELLIOTT: Now, again today more support coming from the White House for Attorney General Gonzales. What did they have to say?
ELVING: Communications Director Dan Bartlett and others in the White House have said that this memo really changes nothing. It does not disprove any of the assertions that the attorney general has made in all this. After all, Mr. Gonzales has said before that he did sign off on these firings at this particular time, November 27th.
And as they've been saying, the memo doesn't say how long they talked about these attorneys or that they had some long discussion on this one particular point, though they had other items on the agenda that day. He was meeting with all of his top staff members. And it does not directly disprove the statements that Alberto Gonzales has made.
ELLIOTT: Ron, how damaging could this whole scenario be for Attorney General Gonzales?
ELVING: Debbie, this is a man who's hanging by a thread. The president has said several times that his job is secure, but his reputation right now is very much on the line. And many Democrats and already a few Republicans have said he ought to resign, if only because this matter has become such a big distraction for the Department of Justice, number one, and for the White House, of course, and for Congress itself.
So when we find out, late on a Friday night, that his office still has some dicey memos which might cast some doubts further on what he's told us, despite all the document dumps we've already seen, well, that just makes the pressure on him all the more intense. And if he's still around when Congress returns from its April break, he's going to have to come to Capitol Hill himself and do some world-class talking.
ELLIOTT: NPR's Washington editor Ron Elving. Thanks.
ELVING: Thank you, Debbie.