U.S. News

Gonzales concedes missteps in attorney firings

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - Embattled U.S. Attorney General Alberto Gonzales conceded on Sunday he mishandled the dismissals of eight U.S. attorneys last year in one of several controversies swirling around President George W. Bush.

Attorney General Alberto Gonzales in Washington, March 13, 2007. Gonzales conceded on Sunday he mishandled the dismissals of eight U.S. attorneys last year in one of several controversies swirling around President Bush. REUTERS/Jonathan Ernst

In written testimony before appearing at a congressional hearing this week that could decide if he keeps his job, Gonzales said he made “honest mistakes” and had been “less than precise with my words when discussing the resignations.”

“While I firmly believe that these dismissals were appropriate, I have equal conviction that the process by which these U.S. attorneys were asked to resign could have -- and should have -- been handled differently,” Gonzales said in testimony submitted to the Senate Judiciary Committee.

The dismissal of eight prosecutors in December, shortly after Democrats won control of Congress, has blown up into another controversy for Bush, whose political approval has been dragged down by an unpopular war in Iraq.

Democratic critics who have gone after Bush on a number of issues since taking over Congress say the eight prosecutors were discharged for political reasons, including being too tough on Republicans.

Gonzales, who is scheduled to testify before the committee on Tuesday, denied accusations that the firings were improper or that he had intentionally misled Congress about them.

“Based upon the record as I know it, it is unfair and unfounded for anyone to conclude that any U.S. attorney was removed for an improper reason,” Gonzales said.

In his written testimony, Gonzales said he made a mistake in “not ensuring that these U.S. attorneys received more dignified treatment” in the process.

But Gonzales dismissed the notion that he would ever ask for a resignation for partisan reasons or to interfere with a case being prosecuted. He said key decisions were made by his aide, Kyle Sampson.

It was not clear whether the statement will satisfy skeptical senators, including some Republicans on the Senate Judiciary Committee.

“He has an uphill struggle to re-establish his credibility with the committee,” South Carolina Republican Sen. Lindsey Graham said on Fox’s “News Sunday” program.

Sen. Arlen Specter, the ranking Republican on the committee, said Gonzales will have to “deal with the facts” in explaining the dismissals.

“He won’t be able to have generalizations on Tuesday when he comes before our committee,” Specter said.

Specter, of Pennsylvania, said Gonzales should think about reinstating the eight fired U.S. attorneys if he cannot prove they were removed properly.

“At a minimum, he ought to have a case by case analysis and either justify the reasons for replacing them or concede he was wrong,” Specter said on ABC-TV’s “This Week” program.

A Democrat on the committee, Sen. Charles Schumer of New York, said Gonzales’ statement was not much help. “Not a single important question we have asked is answered in his opening statement,” Schumer said.

Specter also said he believed the White House would agree to a transcript of interviews of administration officials involved in the dismissals. The White House has suggested interviews in private with no transcript.

“There is not going to be any budging as far as I’m concerned -- and I think others in Congress too on congressional oversight -- to have a transcript. This is indispensable,” said Specter.