Saying that Alberto Gonzales handled last year's prosecutor purge in a "very incompetent manner," GOP Sen. Tom Coburn has just added his voice to those calling for the attorney general to resign.
As we noted earlier, Gonzales said today that there is "nothing improper" in firing a U.S. attorney for "poor management, policy differences or questionable judgment, or simply to have another qualified individual serve." Coburn asked Gonzales whether the same standard shouldn't be applied to him.
The attorney general said it was a "fair question," but he refused to answer it directly. Coburn ultimately did it for him.
Coburn: You said earlier this was an unfortunate episode. You also said that these attorneys were evaluated based on their leadership skills and management skills. And you answered a question from Sen. Graham earlier about your position. In light of all this, why would we not use the same standards to judge your performance in handling this event that you applied to these same individuals?
Gonzales: I think that's a fair question, Senator. And I think that I clearly made mistakes here -- clearly -- and I accept responsibility for those mistakes, Senator. I've tried to identify where those mistakes were made and institutionalize where we can make changes to make the department even stronger. I think the department under my leadership in the past two years, I think we've done some great things. I think the department has been managed in a good way. This has not been managed in a good way, and I accept responsibility for that. But I still continue to have great faith in the career people at the department. Cases still continue; investigations still continue. Obviously, I have a lot of work to do to restore confidence and trust. I am committed to doing that.
Coburn: That's not what I asked you. I said: Why should you not be judged by the same standards at which you judged these dismissed U.S. attorneys?
Gonzales: Senator, again, I've identified my mistakes. And you'll make your decisions based upon my testimony, based upon the review of the record in terms of what has happened, and based upon the testimony of others. And, Senator, what I can commit to you is that I've acknowledged mistakes. We all make mistakes. And I'm committed to addressing those mistakes and working with you to make our country even stronger.
Coburn: Well, I believe there's consequences to a mistake. I was quoted in the paper as saying I think this has been handled in a very incompetent manner. And I believe most people -- I don't care which side of the aisle they are -- would agree with that. U.S. attorneys' reputation ... has been harmed. The confidence in U.S. attorneys throughout this country has been damaged. The reputation of the attorney general's office has been tarnished and brought into question. I disavow, aggressively, any implication that there was a political nature in this. I know that's the politics of the blood sport that we're playing. I don't think it had anything to do with it. But to me, there has to be consequences to accepting responsibility. And I would just say, Mr. Attorney General, it's my considered opinion that the exact same standards should be applied to you in how this was handled. And it was handled incompetently. The communication was atrocious. It was inconsistent. It's generous to say that there were misstatements. That's a generous statement. And I believe you ought to suffer the consequences that these others have suffered. And I believe that the best way to put this behind us is your resignation.
Gonzales: Senator, I don't know whether or not that puts everything behind us, quite frankly. I am committed -- I know the mistakes that were made here. And I am committed to fix those mistakes. And I'm committed to working with you and try to restore the faith and confidence that you need to have to work with me.
Coburn: Well, Mr. Attorney General, you set the standard. You said leadership skills, management skills. They were sorely lacking in this instance. And the responsibility is to start with a clean slate, a new set of leadership skills, a new set of management skills, to heal this in the country, to restore the confidence in this country. I like you as a man. I like you as an individual. I believe you're totally dedicated to your job and this country. But I think mistakes have consequences, and I believe that should be the one that it should be.