Exclusive: Alberto Gonzales Fully Explains His Non-Involvement in the Firings of U.S. Attorneys

In a letter to Attorney General Alberto Gonzales, Senator Patrick Leahy, Chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee, has requested that by April 15 he submit to the panel in writing "a full and complete account of the plan to replace United States attorneys, and all the specifics of your role in connection with that matter."

The Attorney General has now drafted his statement for the committee. Though he has not yet submitted it. I have obtained the following copy from sources I am not at liberty to disclose.

"Dear Senator Leahy and members of the Senate Judiciary Committee:

First of all, let me say how pleased I am to be afforded the opportunity to make my own statement on an overblown personnel matter that has led to so much speculation and misinformation about the workings of the Justice Department. As you know, I take pride in serving my country as its chief law enforcement officer. I take pride in serving a president who, in the face of repeated calls for my resignation, has unwaveringly expressed his full support for me, his "100 percent confidence." I take pride in upholding the rule of law in a free country, in making sure that terrorists bent on killing Americans cannot abuse our laws by demanding to know the charges against them or gaining access to lawyers or to any other constitutional rights that were never intended to benefit them, and in making sure that quaint, antiquated notions of what constitutes "torture" do not obstruct or impede our untiring efforts to wage war against terrorism

You must also know that a vital tool in the war against terrorism within the U.S. Department of Justice is the provision in the Patriot Act of 2005 that allows the president to appoint interim U.S. Attorneys for an indefinite period without confirmation by the senate. Now as you know, when I testified before you on January 18 I assured this committee that our administration never expected to need this provision, that we wanted the senate to be involved in every appointment of a U.S. Attorney because we believe the appointee has a greater imprimatur of authority if in fact he or she has been confirmed by the Senate. I also told you on January 18 that we would never, ever make a change in a United States attorney for political reasons or if it would in any way jeopardize an ongoing serious investigation.

Given those statements, you may wonder why we have appointed so many new U.S. attorneys without consulting you and why in December we replaced seven U.S. attorneys who had earned strongly positive reviews for their work as prosecutors.

First of all, let me say again that I was not involved in these firings. I know you have seen e-mails and memos indicating the White House started work on these firings two years ago, and I know you have heard testimony from Kyle Sampson, my former chief of staff, that I was consulted about them "at least five times over a two-year period." But this means less than one consultation every four months, during a time when I was engaged in countless other tasks required by my position, above all by the relentless demands of the war against terrorism. As the Attorney General of the United States, as the man in charge of some 120,000 people in the Department of Justice, there's just no way that I can be personally familiar with all the problems of every U.S. Attorney in the land, that I can follow the cases they're pursuing or not pursuing, that I can evaluate them and decide who should be replaced and when they should be replaced. For minor matters like that I have to rely on my staff.

Now with respect to the firings, I don't recall being involved in deliberations involving the question of whether or not a particular U.S. attorney should or should not be asked to resign. The whole question of my involvement has become far too involved because of speculation from people who were not involved with those deliberations and therefore not in a position to speak about them with any degree of authority or credibility or verifiability. But since I was involved in them, or rather not really involved in them, I can say without hesitation or qualification or equivocation that they were far too involved for me to be involved with them on a day to day basis even though I signed off on the recommendations and signed off on the implementation plan. And that's the extent of my involvement. I know what I did, and I know the motivations for the decisions that I made were not based on improper reasons.

Now let me explain the reasons for the firings. As you know, U.S. attorneys serve at the pleasure of the president, so every president has the right to appoint and replace them whenever he chooses. Neither he nor the Justice Department is required to explain why any U.S. attorney may be asked to resign. From the simple fact that they were asked to resign you can see that they no longer pleased the president, which should be reason enough. But in deference to the Senate in general and to this committee in particular, for which the president and I have nothing but the utmost respect, I will add a few more words of explanation.

In all but one case, the attorneys who were asked to resign had been very positively reviewed for their work. But the quality of their work is not the only basis on which we evaluate them. What matters just as much is their loyalty to the president and his agenda. If they aren't vigorously pursuing cases of voter fraud, they're jeopardizing the integrity of our electoral system, which last fall, I must say, gave one party a grossly unfair advantage over the other. If they aren't cracking down on illegal immigration, then they're letting millions of undocumented workers take good-paying jobs like fruit picking away from our own fellow citizens; they're letting these illegals send their children to already overcrowded schools and strain social services already overburdened in communities across the land. In the case of Attorney Carol Lam, for instance, here was someone who distracted herself with something fairly trivial--a bribery case involving a former Congressman--instead of enforcing the laws on immigration. Let's face it; we can't prosecute all offenses. We've only got so much time and energy and personnel at our disposal. We have to focus on the truly important issues--voter fraud, illegal immigration, terrorism--and put other things like bribery in their proper place at the bottom of the list. We need attorneys who understand that, who understand the president's agenda. And if they aren't on board with that agenda, they have to be replaced.

Now you may wonder about some of the people we've chosen to replace the attorneys who have left. You may wonder why so many of them have come from the Justice Department or the White House or government agencies rather than from the districts where they's been assigned to work. And you may wonder why many of them have little or no experience as prosecutors. So let me explain. First of all, to fill these posts we wanted people we had known firsthand, people who had worked closely with us and understood the president's agenda, people who would do what we wanted. Secondly, we wanted fresh blood in these offices, people untainted by years in the courtroom, people with new ideas about pursuing the president's agenda. We didn't want that agenda undermined by prosecutorial experience, which might skew their sense of priorities about the kinds of cases they should take or the way they should handle them. So for every decision we made, we felt that the basis for the reason for the decision was not based on anything improper. And that is why I signed off on those decision even though, as I have said, I was not actually involved with the process involved in making them. But mistakes were made in explaining those decisions to the American people, and I take full responsibility for admitting those mistakes and for explaining that I was not really involved with making any of them.

Finally, you may ask why so many U.S. attorneys were appointed without your involvement even though I assured you on January 18 that "with respect to every United States attorney position in this country, we will have a presidentially-appointed, Senate-confirmed United States attorney." Today I ask you to consider carefully just what that statement says. It says what we WILL do with new appointments. It does not refer to anything we HAVE done in the past. Last year, given the critical need for new U.S. attorneys to pursue the president's agenda, we filled vacancies without consulting you--under the provisions of the Patriot Act of 2005. From now on, however, we WILL submit every appointment for your confirmation because, as I have said already, this administration has nothing but the highest respect for United States Senate and every one of its members.

I thank you once again for giving me the opportunity to explain just how and why these attorneys were replaced and to explain also my own non-involvement in this process. Since I believe I have anticipated all of your questions, I regret that I will be unable to answer any others.

Yours respectfully,

Alberto Gonzales
Attorney General of the United States