The committee did not ask about ousted Michigan U.S. attorney Margaret Chiara, and Comey did not mention her during his testimony.
Comey testified that he never saw a list of the U.S. attorneys who had been fired, and that he had been asked by former Attorney General John Ashcroft's chief of staff and Gonzales former chief of staff Sampson to comment on which U.S. attorneys were weak or underperforming.
Comey, who left the Justice Department in the summer 2005 and now works for Lockheed Martin, testified that he did have a February 2005 meeting with Sampson. "It was a 15-minute meeting. Two topics were covered, as I recall. And one was him asking me, as best I can recall, who did I think were the weakest U.S. attorneys."
Comey, who also served as a prosecutor in Virginia before becoming the U.S. attorney in Manhattan, described the efforts of the department and his hope that the current controversy did not damage its work.
"The Department of Justice is made up of 110,000 people who you don't see if you're in Washington. ... And when you visit those people, they are a fired-up group. They love doing good for a living ... whenever people talk about morale, the great hope for the Department of Justice, even as morale may have been hurt by this, is that those fired-up people who love what they do still love it and are not going to let anything get in the way of that."
Gonzales has met with more than 70 of the 93 U.S. attorneys from around the country to hear their concerns and express his commitment to the department. In the next two weeks, Gonzales is expected to attend an annual conference of U.S. attorneys from around the country.
Before that conference, Gonzales is scheduled to testify before the House Judiciary Committee. Gonzales' April 17 testimony before the Senate Judiciary Committee undercut support from members of Congress, though Gonzales has maintained continued support from President Bush.
Even though senior Justice Department officials have been interviewed by House and Senate Judiciary Committee staffers, and the Department has released more than 3,000 pages of internal e-mails, it is unclear who designed the list of the fired U.S. attorneys.
Rep. John Conyers, chairman of the House Judiciary Committee, said at the hearing, "Mr. Gonzales has told us that it was not him. Mr. Kyle Sampson has denied making the substantive judgments. We've interviewed senior officials in the department, and all deny making the actual decision to place the names on the list. The role of the White House remains elusive."