March 19, 2007 -- New e-mails released this evening by the Justice Department reveal the in-depth conversations Department of Justice staff members had about the eight U.S. attorneys fired last year. The department released more than 3,000 pages of documents late Monday.
The e-mails detail conversations about attorneys targeted for dismissal. There are no e-mails from Attorney General Alberto Gonzales, who reportedly does not use e-mail, though the Justice Department says messages show some indication that Gonzales' former chief of staff, D. Kyle Sampson, kept the attorney general apprised.
Heat From Democrats
The Justice Department has taken heat from Democrats, who stepped up harsh criticism and calls for Gonzales to step down last week. "They [the U.S. attorneys] should not be sent packing on a whim," said Sen. Charles Schumer, D-N.Y., adding, "especially when the circumstances suggest that their departures may have been motivated by politics."
"First of all, he's [Gonzales] not telling the truth. These were all political," declared Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid. "Never in the history of the country has anything like this ever happened. What is done is untoward, it is wrong, it is unethical, it's immoral. I believe it's illegal, and Gonzales should be fired or he should resign."
The president addressed criticism about political motivations last week by dismissing it. "I've heard those allegations about, you know, political decision-making," Bush said last Wednesday. "It's not true."
Congress to Hear From Justice Department Officials
Several top officials at the Justice Department will go before the Senate Judiciary Committee over the coming months. Gonzales will appear April 17 to answer questions about Department of Justice oversight. The committee also voted last week to allow Chairman Patrick Leahy, D-Vt., to subpoena five current and former Justice Department officials, including Sampson, who stepped down last week amid the controversy.
Though the Justice Department has released e-mails and said it would allow those involved in the plan to testify before the Senate Judiciary Committee, the White House has yet to provide e-mails, documents and witnesses to Congress in its investigation into the controversial firings.
Waiting for the White House
White House counsel Fred Fielding met with members of the House and Senate Judiciary Committees last week, but the committees' Friday deadline for a plan from the White House passed without a commitment from the counsel's office. "Given the importance of the issues under consideration and the presidential principles involved," said White House spokesman Scott Stanzel, "we need more time to resolve them."
The committees expect an answer from Fielding tomorrow, though Democrats on the committees are cautiously optimistic, as the White House could invoke executive privilege and refuse to allow any staff to testify. "Despite those assurances and my continued hope that the White House will resolve these questions in a cooperative fashion," House Judiciary Committee Chairman John Conyers, Jr., D-Mich., said in a statement Friday "The Committee must take steps to ensure that we are not being stonewalled or slow walked on this matter," he said. Conyers warned that he will schedule a vote on subpoenas in an attempt to force the documents' release and witnesses to come forward.
Conyers' counterpart on the Senate Judiciary Committee, Sen. Patrick Leahy, D-Vt., has already scheduled a committee vote on whether or not to issue subpoenas for White House personnel and documents for Thursday. "I want testimony under oath," Leahy said on "This Week with George Stephanopoulos" Sunday. "I am sick and tired of getting half-truths on this."
ABC News' Jan Crawford Greenburg and Jack Date contributed to this report.