Sunday, March 25, 2007

[This is Kathy from Birmingham Blues. Safe travels, Steve.]

AG Alberto Gonzales has maintained that he wasn't involved in any discussions regarding the firings of eight US Attorneys. That's his story, and he was sticking to it -- until the Justice Department made another document dump late Friday night.

Attorney General Alberto R. Gonzales met with senior aides on Nov. 27 to review a plan to fire a group of U.S. attorneys, according to documents released last night, a disclosure that contradicts Gonzales's previous statement that he was not involved in "any discussions" about the dismissals.

...The hour-long November meeting in the attorney general's conference room included Gonzales, Deputy Attorney General Paul J. McNulty and four other senior Justice officials, including the Gonzales aide who coordinated the firings, then-Chief of Staff D. Kyle Sampson, records show.

Documents detailing the previously undisclosed meeting appear to conflict with remarks by Gonzales at a March 13 news conference in which he portrayed himself as a CEO who had delegated to Sampson responsibility for the particulars of firing eight U.S. attorneys.

"I was not involved in seeing any memos, was not involved in any discussions about what was going on," Gonzales said.

Of course, the Justice Department is parsing the whole thing, saying the documents don't contradict Gonzales' previous statement.

Spokeswoman Tasia Scolinos said last night that there is no "inconsistency" between the Nov. 27 meeting and Gonzales's remarks. She argued that Gonzales was simply emphasizing at the news conference that he was not involved in the details of Sampson's plans.

Sorry, Ms. Scolinos, but, "I was not involved in seeing any memos, was not involved in any discussions about what was going on," does not square with, "Attorney General Alberto R. Gonzales met with senior aides on Nov. 27 to review a plan to fire a group of U.S. attorneys..."

The Justice Department also announced that the Office of Professional Responsibility and the Department's Inspector General are conducting a joint investigation into the circumstances surrounding the firings. Given how well that went the last time, I don't expect much in the way of results.

As for Gonzales' underlings, who did the actual dirty work, they don't seem to share his job security:

Sampson, who resigned March 12 after the discovery of e-mails contradicting assertions that the White House was not closely involved in the firings, may be the official best positioned to describe the roles top Justice and White House officials played in the ouster of the federal prosecutors.

The Justice Department also said yesterday that Monica Goodling, a senior counselor to Gonzales who worked closely with Sampson on the firings, took an indefinite personal leave from her job on Monday. A Justice official said that she is still employed there but that it is not clear when she will return.

Sampson has agreed to testify before Congress and is scheduled to appear on Thursday.

Sampson's planned testimony complicates the standoff that developed this week between Democrats and the Bush administration, which has refused demands for public testimony from presidential adviser Karl Rove and other White House aides. The House and Senate judiciary committees have authorized, but not issued, subpoenas for the testimony.

Gonzales and other Justice Department officials have said that Sampson quit because he withheld information from other officials and Sampson's action may have led them to give misleading testimony before Congress. Sampson's attorney has disputed that characterization and has said that others in the Justice Department were fully aware of "several years" of discussions with the White House about dismissing the prosecutors.

The point is crucial because Justice officials said in previous statements and testimony that the White House was involved only tangentially, at the end of the process.

This whole mess reminds me of peeling an onion, layer after layer. Will the "loyal Bushies" ever come clean? Stay tuned.

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