To the attorney general's knowledge

What did Alberto Gonzales know about the firing of eight U.S. attorneys? A early look at his testimony gives us an idea. Sort of.

Published April 15, 2007 10:41PM (EDT)

The big show in Washington this week will be Tuesday's appearance by Attorney General Alberto Gonzales before the Senate Judiciary Committee, where he will admit to misspeaking, not remembering and otherwise messing up the firings of eight U.S. attorneys.

How do we already know what Gonzales will say? Well, the Justice Department has released a draft of his remarks, apparently hoping to steal some of the spotlight away from Tuesday, which is sure to be yet another terrible, horrible, no good, very bad day for the White House.

With his chin up and his tail between his legs, Gonzales will tell the nation that he respects both the Senate and the civil servants he kicked to the curb. He will announce an internal investigation of his own mistakes by the Justice Department's inspector general and Office of Professional Responsibility. Then he will issue several carefully worded mea culpas: He should have ensured a "more rigorous" review process for attorneys. The eight attorneys should have been fired "in a more personal and respectful way." He also should have avoided saying false things in public. "I have been less than precise with my words when discussing the resignations," he plans to say. "I misspoke at a press conference on March 13th when I said that I 'was not involved in any discussions about what was going on.'"

But don't expect Gonzales' appearance to settle all the outstanding questions about U.S. attorney-gate. Gonzales is clearly planning to spend a lot of time Tuesday dwelling on everything that he does not think he remembers, or is sure he doesn't know, or maybe only knew in some way, for which there was a vague memory he might have had, but now no longer possesses, or whatever. The phrase "I do not recall" shows up three times in the prepared remarks, a preemptive strike before any senator has even asked a question. "I have not spoken with nor reviewed the confidential transcripts of any of the Department of Justice employees interviewed by congressional staff," Gonzales plans to say. "I state this because, as a result, I may be somewhat limited when it comes to providing you with all of the facts that you may desire."

The memory lapses could possibly include Gonzales' own role in the scandal. At one point in the testimony, he discusses the deliberations that were conducted about the firings. "To my knowledge, I did not make decisions about who should or should not be asked to resign," he plans to say.

Maybe somebody else has better knowledge. As it stands, the attorney general does not seem to know exactly what he has or has not done.

By Michael Scherer

Michael Scherer is Salon's Washington correspondent. Read his other articles here.

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