Spin, Alberto, spin!

When the attorney general's first story fell apart, he came up with another. That one's crumbling, too.

Published April 17, 2007 4:00PM (EDT)

Maybe two more days is the last thing Alberto Gonzales needs. While the attorney general cools his heels waiting to testify before the Senate Judiciary Committee, the mountain he's going to have to climb when he gets there keeps getting a little higher.

As we noted earlier today, Gonzales said at a televised press conference on March 13 that he was "not involved in any discussions about what was going on" as his staff went about the work of identifying "weak performers" among sitting U.S. attorneys. That statement was false. In sworn testimony last month before the Senate Judiciary Committee, the attorney general's former chief of staff, Kyle Sampson, said that Gonzales had been advised repeatedly about the impending firings.

Gonzales tried to cover his tracks by saying that he'd misspoken. In a Washington Post Op-Ed over the weekend, Gonzales acknowledged that he had "directed my then-deputy chief of staff, Kyle Sampson, to initiate this process; fully knew that it was occurring; and approved the final recommendations. Sampson periodically updated me on the review. As I recall, his updates were brief, relatively few in number and focused primarily on the review process. During those conversations, to my knowledge, I did not make decisions about who should or should not be asked to resign."

That last bit was a nice sort of fallback denial, even it did raise some obvious follow-up questions: If the attorney general didn't make decisions about who "should or should not be asked to resign," why not and who did? But as the New York Times reports today, there's a more central problem with Gonzales' new version of events: Like the first one, it doesn't seem to be true.

In a TV interview on March 27, Gonzales said that he "wasn't involved in the deliberations as to whether or not a particular United States attorney should or should not be asked to resign." But in a sworn interview with Senate investigators over the weekend, Sampson apparently said that Gonzales was, in fact, involved in such discussions -- among them, a meeting last fall in which Justice Department officials discussed the future of soon-to-be-ousted U.S. attorney David Iglesias and another meeting in June 2006 about soon-to-be-ousted U.S. attorney Carol Lam.

How will Gonzales backpedal around this one? We'll be tuning in Thursday to find out.

By Tim Grieve

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

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