Gonzales: 'I Serve at the Pleasure of the President'

ByABC News via logo

March 14, 2007 — -- Attorney General Alberto Gonzales said today on "Good Morning America" that he served at the pleasure of the president and had no plans to resign from office.

Gonzales was responding to New York Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton's call for him to resign, amid accusations that his office had fired eight U.S. attorneys for political reasons.

"The buck should stop somewhere," Clinton told ABC News senior political correspondent Jake Tapper in an exclusive interview. Clinton added that "the attorney general -- who still seems to confuse his prior role as the president's personal attorney with his duty to the system of justice and to the entire country -- should resign."

George Stephanopoulos talked to Gonzales today on "GMA" about the controversy.

Stephanopoulos: Sen. Clinton says that you should resign. What's your response?

Gonzales: Good morning. I'm focused on doing my job as attorney general. Obviously I'm not happy with the way some of the decisions were made, with respect to these seven United States attorneys.

We've discovered some of the problem. We're going to work with the Congress to make sure they fully understand what happened here.

Stephanopoulos: But Mr. Attorney General, something does seem fishy here. Five of the eight dismissed were involved in high profile political corruption cases. One was being complained about because he wasn't going after Democrats aggressively enough. So it really does appear here, at least, like you singled out prosecutors that weren't with the program.

Gonzales: You know, sadly, George, if that were the case, there would have been many, many more U.S. attorneys who would have been asked to leave. Because we have public corruption investigations and prosecutions going all over the country, at the state, federal and local level.

I'm very proud of the work of the attorneys in going after those public officials who breach the public trust. Those in no way had anything to do with those decisions. I would never retaliate or make a decision that would interfere with an ongoing investigation. The fact that an investigation is ongoing doesn't provide protection if they're not doing their job.

Stephanopoulos: But excuse me, sir, five out of eight of these [attorneys] got good or excellent performance reviews. That was never a factor that went into the decision?

Gonzales: One of the things that I'm concerned about is whether we have an adequate system in place, communicating with U.S. attorneys with respect to concerns we have with respect to performance. So we'll looking at that going forward.

I will just say that there were a number of factors that went into this decision that were made at the Department of Justice and recommended to the White House.

Stephanopoulos: You are now getting a lot of complaints, not only from Democrats, but a parade of Republican senators are calling it badly handled. What do you say to your Republican allies who are so troubled by this?

Gonzales: I would say that mistakes were made, as I said yesterday.

Stephanopoulos: What were your mistakes?

Gonzales: George, my mistakes were -- let me just say this -- I'm responsible for everything that happens in the Department of Justice.

I relied upon my chief of staff to drive this process in terms of evaluating where we could make improvements in districts. I relied upon my chief of staff that people who were talking to the hill [Capitol Hill] had the appropriate information to make sure that communications to the hill were complete and were accurate.

And in that sense, I could have done a better job. I will be focused on making sure we do a better job and provide information to the Congress, so they know what happened here.

Stephanopoulos: When was the last time you spoke to the president about this?

Gonzales: Shortly before he left on his trip to Latin America, but again, I enjoy working for this president. It's a privilege to serve as the attorney general of the United States. But I serve at the pleasure of the president and will continue to do my job so long as that remains the case.

Stephanopoulos: Do you think you let him down?

Gonzales: I think, again, you know with respect to any large organization, mistakes were made. I am accountable for those kind of mistakes. The question isn't whether or not mistakes are made, but what we do in response to those mistakes. We identify them, take corrective measures and move forward.

Stephanopoulos: So if it turns out that evidence of political interference comes up, will you resign?

Gonzales: Complaints should not rise that there will be retaliation, or we shouldn't take actions that will interfere with the corruption case. We have an obligation to ensure that Department of Justice employees are doing their job.

Stephanopoulos: So you're not going anywhere?

Gonzales: I serve at the pleasure of the president, George.

Stephanopoulos: Mr. Attorney General, thank you very much.