"I don't remember ... I wasn't involved ... I don't recall"

Alberto Gonzales and the slippery slope.

Published March 27, 2007 2:44PM (EDT)

More from the Alberto Gonzales slippery slope.

Alberto Gonzales press conference, March 13, 2007

"What I know is that there began a process of evaluating strong performers, not-as-strong performers, and weak performers. And so far as I knew my chief of staff was involved in the process of determining who were the weak performers. Where were the districts around the country where we could do better for the people in that district, and that's what I knew ... [T]hat is in essence what I knew about the process; was not involved in seeing any memos, was not involved in any discussions about what was going on. That's basically what I knew as the Attorney General."

News item, March 24, 2007

"Attorney General Alberto R. Gonzales and senior advisers discussed the plan to remove seven United States attorneys at a meeting last Nov. 27, 10 days before the dismissals were carried out, according to a Justice Department calendar entry disclosed Friday."

Alberto Gonzales interview with NBC's Pete Williams, March 26, 2007

Gonzales: Let me try to be more precise about my involvement. When I said on March 13th that I wasn't involved, what I meant was that I -- I had not been involved, was not involved in the deliberations over whether or not United States attorneys should resign.

After I became attorney general, I had Kyle Samson coordinate a department review of the performance of United States attorneys. And I expected him to -- to consult with appropriate Department of Justice officials who had information and knowledge about the performance of United States attorneys. From time to time, Mr. Samson would tell me something that would confirm in my mind that that process was ongoing.

For example, I recall him mention to me that -- inquiry from the White House about where were we in -- in identifying underperformers? And there are other similar type reminders that occurred during this process that I'm going to discuss specifically with the Congress. I was never focused on specific concerns about United States attorneys as to whether or not they should be asked to resign. I was more focused on identify -- or making sure that the White House was a prop -- was appropriately advised of the progress of our review. And I was also concerned to ensure that the appropriate Department of Justice officials, people who know -- knew about the performance of -- of United States attorneys, that they were involved in the process.

Now, of course, ultimately at the end of the process or near the end of the process, the recommendations were -- were presented to me. There had been a lot of work done to review the performance of the United States attorneys. And recommendations were presented to me that reflected the recommendations of Kyle Samson and of others in the department. And so there was obviously a discussion with respect to that -- that recommendation.

And, of course -- having decided there will be changes, there was -- there was a discussion about how do we implement this change? And so that is in -- in essence -- the context of my involvement and the substance of my comments on March 13th.

Williams: So you didn't get into the decision about specifically which U.S. attorneys to include on this list until the very end?

Gonzales: Absolutely. Now, that's not to say that during the process I may not have heard about the performance -- or particular matter with respect to the United States attorney. For example -- we've already confirmed that Senator Domenici did call me about the performance of the United States attorney in New Mexico.

The president -- the White House has already confirmed that there was a conversation with the president, mentioned it to me in a meeting at the Oval Office -- in terms of concerns about -- about the commitment -- to pursue voter fraud cases in -- in three jurisdictions around the country. I don't remember that conversation, but what I'm saying is during the process there may have been other conversations about specifically about the performance of U.S. attorneys. But I wasn't involved in the deliberations as to whether or not a particular United States attorney should or should not be asked to resign.

Williams: By the way, do you --

Gonzales: I don't recall being involved. Let me -- let me be more -- more precise because I know that -- with respect to this particular topic, people parse carefully the words that I use. And -- and I wanna be careful about what I say. And, of course, at the end of the day, I will have the opportunity to present my story to the Congress, as will other DOJ officials -- Department of Justice officials.

By Tim Grieve

Tim Grieve is a senior writer and the author of Salon's War Room blog.

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