Wall Street Journal failed to report that DOJ report called Gonzales' testimony on U.S. attorney firings "not true"

››› ››› JEREMY HOLDEN

The Wall Street Journal reported that Alberto Gonzales "was pilloried by Congress in a manner not usually directed toward cabinet officials," falsely suggesting that only members of Congress have publicly criticized Gonzales over his actions as attorney general. The Journal also quoted Gonzales asking, "What is it that I did that is so fundamentally wrong, that deserves this kind of response to my service?" The Journal did not note that a report by the Justice Department's Office of the Inspector General on the firings of nine U.S. attorneys concluded that Gonzales' congressional testimony on the subject was "not true" and recommended that a special counsel be appointed to investigate whether any crimes were committed with regard to testimony on the scandal.

A December 31 Wall Street Journal article reported that former Attorney General Alberto Gonzales "was pilloried by Congress in a manner not usually directed toward cabinet officials," falsely suggesting that only members of Congress have publicly criticized Gonzales over his actions as attorney general. The article also quoted Gonzales asking, "What is it that I did that is so fundamentally wrong, that deserves this kind of response to my service?" The article further reported, "His political problems started with the firings of nine U.S. attorneys in 2006, which grew into a firestorm that Mr. Gonzales said he never saw coming." The Journal did report that Gonzales gave "evasive answers to Congress" and that he "remains under investigation regarding allegations of political meddling at the Justice Department." But it did not note that in addition to congressional criticism, a report by the Justice Department's Office of the Inspector General (OIG) on the U.S. attorney firings concluded that testimony Gonzales gave to Congress on the subject was "not true" and recommended that a special counsel be appointed to "ultimately determine whether the evidence demonstrates that any criminal offense was committed with regard to the ... testimony of any witness related to the U.S. Attorney removals."

On September 29, 2008, Attorney General Michael Mukasey appointed Nora Dannehy, the acting U.S. attorney for the District of Connecticut, to continue the investigation into the firings.

From the OIG's September 2008 report:

Another serious allegation regarding the Attorney General's statements after the removals concerned a conversation he had with [former Justice Department liaison to the White House] Monica Goodling in his office on March 15, 2007. The conversation took place after Congress had indicated to Gonzales that it proposed to subpoena Goodling and others to testify about the removals, and after Gonzales had directed the Department's Office of Professional Responsibility to investigate the circumstances of the removals. In congressional testimony in April and May 2007, Gonzales repeatedly asserted that out of deference to the ongoing internal investigation he had not discussed the facts of the removals with anyone in the Department.

This turned out to be untrue. When Goodling testified before the House Judiciary Committee on May 23, 2007, pursuant to a grant of immunity, she disclosed her March 15 conversation with Gonzales. Goodling testified that the conversation with Gonzales had made her uncomfortable because she was concerned at the time that she and Gonzales might have to testify about the U.S. Attorney removals at some point. Goodling testified that she was distraught and went to the Attorney General to seek a transfer to another component of the Department. Goodling said that after that part of the conversation, Gonzales was "just trying to chat" and said "'let me tell you what I can remember.'" According to Goodling, Gonzales laid out his general recollection of some of the events concerning the U.S. Attorney removals, and then asked her if she had any reaction to what he said. Goodling said that Gonzales also mentioned that he thought that everybody who was on the removal list was there for performance-related reasons, and Gonzales said he had been upset with [former Deputy Attorney General Paul] McNulty because he thought McNulty wrongly testified that [former U.S attorney for the Eastern District of Arkansas H.E. "Bud"] Cummins was removed only to give [Timothy] Griffin a chance to serve. Goodling said that while there was more to her discussion with Gonzales, she could not recall anything further. Goodling also said she did not believe that Gonzales was trying to shape her recollection of events. As noted above, we were not able to interview Goodling about this or other matters.

[...]

We believe that Gonzales was, in fact, trying to console Goodling during this meeting. However, even in his attempt to console her, he should not have recounted his recollection of the substantive facts of the matter to Goodling. Regardless of his motive, we question Gonzales's judgment in recounting what he believed the facts to be with someone whom he knew to be a prospective witness in both a Congressional investigation and an internal Department investigation. We also question why he stated to Congress that he had never discussed the facts of the removals with anyone in the Department, which was not true.

The OIG report further stated that statements Gonzales made during a March 13, 2007, press conference -- including Gonzales' statement that he was "not involved in any discussions" about the process of removing U.S. attorneys -- "were inaccurate and misleading." The report stated of the press conference: "While it is clear that several of Gonzales's statements at the press conference were untrue, it is difficult to determine whether Gonzales deliberately provided false information." The report continued:

Gonzales stated that prior to the press conference he had not gone back to look at his calendars or other documents to prepare, that the press conference was a hurried reaction to the controversy, and that he simply did not remember the November 27 meeting at which he approved the final removal plan. As noted, we found his alleged failure of memory about a key meeting in his office to remove a group of Presidential appointees extraordinary, no matter how hurriedly the press conference was arranged. More importantly, such inaccurate statements from the Attorney General significantly damaged his credibility and the Department's credibility in its response to this controversy.

As a general matter, Gonzales repeatedly testified that the removals were not undertaken for an improper or illegal purpose. However, he could not have known whether that was true because he did not ask Sampson why the U. S. Attorneys were being removed. Although it is understandable that the Attorney General would rely on the representations of others in important matters he had delegated to them, in this situation he was aware that political concerns may have motivated at least one of the removals. Political leaders in New Mexico had expressed concerns to him directly about [former U.S. attorney David] Iglesias regarding his handling of voter fraud and public corruption matters. Yet, he did not question whether improper political considerations had resulted in Iglesias's or any other U.S. Attorney's removal.

In conclusion, the Inspector General's report stated:

We also determined that the U.S. Attorneys were not given an opportunity to address concerns about their performance or provided the reasons for their removal, which led to widespread speculation about the true reasons for their removal, including that they were removed for improper partisan political reasons. And to make matters worse, after the removals became public the statements and congressional testimony provided by the Attorney General, the Deputy Attorney General, [former Justice Department chief of staff Kyle] Sampson, and other Department officials about the reasons for the removals were inconsistent, misleading, and inaccurate in many respects.

[...]

The most serious allegation that we were not able to fully investigate related to the removal of David Iglesias, the U.S. Attorney for New Mexico, and the allegation that he was removed to influence voter fraud and public corruption prosecutions. We recommend that a counsel specially appointed by the Attorney General assess the facts we have uncovered, work with us to conduct further investigation, and ultimately determine whether the evidence demonstrates that any criminal offense was committed with regard to the removal of Iglesias or any other U.S. Attorney, or the testimony of any witness related to the U.S. Attorney removals.

From the December 31 Wall Street Journal article:

Alberto Gonzales, who has kept a low profile since resigning as attorney general nearly 16 months ago, said he is writing a book to set the record straight about his controversial tenure as a senior official in the Bush administration.

Mr. Gonzales has been portrayed by critics both as unqualified for his position and instrumental in laying the groundwork for the administration's "war on terror." He was pilloried by Congress in a manner not usually directed toward cabinet officials.

"What is it that I did that is so fundamentally wrong, that deserves this kind of response to my service?" he said during an interview Tuesday, offering his most extensive comments since leaving government.

During a lunch meeting two blocks from the White House, where he served under his longtime friend, President George W. Bush, Mr. Gonzales said that "for some reason, I am portrayed as the one who is evil in formulating policies that people disagree with. I consider myself a casualty, one of the many casualties of the war on terror."

His political problems started with the firings of nine U.S. attorneys in 2006, which grew into a firestorm that Mr. Gonzales said he never saw coming. In November of that year, Democrats had taken control of Congress and the power to conduct investigations of Bush administration policies.

His previous role of White House counsel put Mr. Gonzales at the heart of the administration's decision-making on issues relating to terrorism, making him an easier target than the president. Critics also said he allowed the Justice Department to become politicized through its hiring practices and prosecutions, favoring Republicans for plum positions and targeting Democrats for prosecution.

Mr. Gonzales fueled the fire by giving evasive answers to Congress, frequently responding "I don't recall."

Among other things, Mr. Gonzales said Tuesday that he didn't play a central role in drafting the widely criticized legal opinions that allowed the Central Intelligence Agency to use aggressive interrogation techniques on terrorism suspects and expanded the president's power to hold "unlawful combatants" and terrorism suspects indefinitely. He also said he told the truth to Congress about a classified eavesdropping program authorized by the president, and admitted to making mistakes in handling the U.S. attorney firings while maintaining that he made the right decisions. He says that while he bears responsibility as former Attorney General that "doesn't absolve other individuals of responsibility."

Mr. Gonzales, 53 years old, doesn't have a publisher for his book. He said he is writing it if only "for my sons, so at least they know the story."

The chapters on the Bush administration's surveillance program, which involved eavesdropping without court warrants, and other controversial aspects of his work, remain blank. That is in part because he remains under investigation regarding allegations of political meddling at the Justice Department.

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