March 22, 2007 — -- A wounded attorney general began efforts to shore up his support among the 93 current U.S. attorneys around the country after growing criticism of the firings of eight U.S. attorneys last year.
Today in St. Louis he began the first of a series of meetings he will hold around the country in the next couple of weeks.
"I can honestly say, it's good to be out of Washington," Gonzales said.
The gathering responded with laughter, but the meeting had a more serious overtone.
Gonzales met with Missouri's two U.S. attorneys to discuss a new public service announcement, set for release tomorrow, on fighting online child predators. The announcement is part of the larger Project Safe Childhood, a Department of Justice effort to combat child exploitation on the Internet. The PSAs are targeted at young girls, cautioning them about the potential dangers of posting their pictures on Internet Web sites like MySpace.
After the roundtable discussion with the two U.S. attorneys and law enforcement officials, the attorney general took a few questions.
Asked if he intended to stay on as the head of the Justice Department, Gonzales stood firm in the face of growing calls from Capitol Hill for him to step down from the post.
"I'm not going to resign," he said. "I'm going to stay focused on protecting our kids. There's a lot work that needs to be done around the country. The department is responsible for protecting our kids, for making our neighborhoods safe, for protecting our country against attacks of terrorism, to going after gangs, going after drug dealers. I'm staying focused on that.
"We're going to work with Congress and determine what happened here," Gonzales said of the controversial firings.
According to a Justice Department official, the attorney general has been maintaining a low profile and not doing any interviews or attending meetings on Capitol Hill because he wants to review the materials and the documents before he starts answering questions.
Sources say the attorney general is in good spirits and pretty upbeat, though one official who has spoken to Gonzales said the attorney general now realizes he should have been kept more in the loop on personnel matters instead of delegating so much to his former chief of staff D. Kyle Sampson.
Sampson resigned March 12 after internal Justice Department e-mails surfaced, showing his involvement in the plan and communications with the White House counsel's office.
Gonzales is due to testify before the Senate Judiciary Committee on April 17. Kyle Sampson has also been called to testify before the same committee next week.
After the roundtable in St. Louis, Gonzales also met with a handful of regional U.S. attorneys in a closed-door meeting at the St. Louis U.S. attorney's office.
The attorney general is due back in Washington, D.C., later this afternoon and will be meeting with more U.S. attorneys for a meeting of the attorney general's advisory council. The AGAC, which consists of about 15 to 20 U.S. attorneys, met yesterday without Gonzales.
Justice officials say at this time there is nothing on the attorney general's schedule showing that he is going to Capitol Hill for meetings in the next few days. Wednesday the attorney general had lunch in his dining room at the Justice Department with Sens. Orrin Hatch, R-Utah, Jon Kyl, R-Ariz., John Cornyn, R-Texas, and Jeff Sessions, R-Ala.
On Friday, Gonzales will continue business as usual, rolling out the new public service announcements for Project Safe Childhood.
The campaign has been coordinated with the Ad Council and the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children. The PSAs have been in the works for months, and the Justice Department says this rollout is not a reaction to the recent criticism of the Justice Department.