Attorney General Alberto Gonzales responded to increasing criticism over last year's firing of eight U.S. attorneys by accepting the blame for his department. "With respect to this whole process," Gonzales said, "like every CEO, I am ultimately accountable and responsible for what happens within the Department."
The embattled attorney general, trading his usual calm for a shaken-up appearance, blamed a communication breakdown, saying "I accept responsibility for what happened here, and I regret the fact that information was not adequately shared with individuals within the Department of Justice, and that consequently, information was shared with the Congress that was incomplete." Gonzales, blasted by several key members of Congress today, still said he believes the Senate does have an important role in the process, "and would in no way support an effort to circumvent that constitutional role."
In a quick volley from the Senate floor after Gonzales' press conference, Senator Charles Schumer (D-NY) took a shot at the attorney general, saying "He misconceives his role because he still sees himself as counsel to the president, his previous job, where you rubberstamp everything the president does… but when you're attorney general, you swear to the constitution to uphold it and defend it. That's his role."
The situation surrounding the firings heated up today after the release of emails showing White House involvement, and after the Department of Justice confirmed the resignation of Attorney General Alberto Gonzales' top aide, who sent many of the emails. Schumer stepped up the pressure, saying, "I renew my call that Attorney General Gonzales should step down. Today's resignation by his chief of staff does not take the heat off the attorney general. It raises the temperature."
The emails released today show that then-White House counsel Harriet Miers and Gonzales' now former chief of staff D. Kyle Sampson discussed the possibility of asking for resignations from all 93 chief federal district prosecutors at the start of the 2004 term. In one of the emails, Sampson wrote, "Harriet, you have asked whether President Bush should remove and replace U.S. Attorneys..." The "first step, " he wrote, was " to agree on the target list of U.S. Attorneys." In another email, Sampson warned the White House the firings could cause a political firestorm, saying they should all be prepared "to withstand any political upheaval that might result… if we start caving to complaining U.S. Attorneys and Senators then we shouldn't do it — it'll be more trouble than it is worth."
But Gonzales said he didn't see any memos or participate in conversations about the possible plan, "As we can all imagine, in an organization of 110,000 people, I am not aware of every bit of information that passes through the halls of the Department of Justice, nor am I aware of all decisions."
"He said, 'I was not involved in any memos or discussions of what was going on,'" Schumer shot back. "Mr. President, did the attorney general not know that eight U.S. Attorneys were to be fired? If he didn't know, he shouldn't be attorney general."
Gonzales did say he thought the plan was a "bad idea," and that firing all 93 U.S. Attorneys would be "disruptive."