April 16, 2007 — - Attorney General Alberto Gonzales' assertion that he was not involved in identifying the eight U.S. attorneys who were asked to resign last year is at odds with a recently released internal Department of Justice e-mail, ABC News has learned.
That e-mail said that Gonzales supported firing one federal prosecutor six months before she was asked to leave.
Gonzales was scheduled to testify before the Senate Judiciary Committee Tuesday, but his testimony was postponed until Thursday because of the shooting rampage at Virginia Tech University.
When Gonzales appears before the committee, a central focus will be the extent of his involvement in the firings.
Gonzales has insisted he left those decisions to his staff, but ABC News has learned he was so concerned about U.S. attorney Carol Lam's lackluster record on immigration enforcement in San Diego that he supported firing her months before she was dismissed, according to a newly released e-mail from his former chief of staff.
The e-mail, which came from Gonzales aide Kyle Sampson, appeared to contradict the prepared written testimony Gonzales submitted to Congress over the weekend in advance of his Senate Judiciary Committee hearing Tuesday. In his prepared testimony, Gonzales said that during the months that his senior staff was evaluating U.S. attorneys, including Lam, "I did not make the decisions about who should or should not be asked to resign."
But the recently released e-mail from Sampson, dated June 1, 2006, indicated that Gonzales was actively involved in discussions about Lam and had decided to fire her if she did not improve. In the e-mail to other top Justice Department officials, Sampson outlined several steps that Gonzales suggested, culminating in Lam's replacement if she failed to bolster immigration enforcement.
"AG [Attorney General] has given additional thought to the San Diego situation and now believes that we should adopt a plan" that would lead to her removal if she "balks" at immigration reform, Sampson wrote.
The e-mail laid out other possible ways to deal with Lam short of dismissal. Gonzales supported the idea of first having "a heart to heart with Lam about the urgent need to improve immigration enforcement" and of working with her "to develop a plan for addressing the problem." Sampson said another alternative would be to "put her on a very short leash."
"If she balks on any of the foregoing or otherwise does not perform in a measurable way … remove her," Sampson wrote of Gonzales' suggested plan. "AG then appoints new U.S. [attorney] from outside the office."
The Lam situation gets to the heart of the U.S. attorney controversy and the focus of the upcoming Gonzales hearing. Senators want to know why the eight prosecutors were fired. Were they fired for cause? Was their performance at issue? Or were their political motives?
Well, as Josh Marshall points out, there was no heart to heart talk with Carol Lam. From Josh Marshall's post:
But here's the problem, here's what gets left unsaid. Should the AG have a 'heart to heart' or 'put her on a short leash' or what if she resists, etc. etc. etc. But do you remember that they never spoke to Lam? No leash or heart to heart. They never even mentioned any of it to her.
This is the part of the equation that just won't add up no matter how hard they try to push the numbers together.
Consider the scene. May 2006. Lam has already sent one congressman to prison. News has just broken that her investigation now threatens to bring down the House Appropriations Committee Chairman. And she'd just brought her probe to the heart of the Bush CIA.
While this is going on top Justice Department officials are having an entirely separate conversation about how to deal with Lam's record on immigration enforcement. Talk it out with her? Give her one last chance? Keep her on a short leash?
All these possibilities. But no one ever gets around to telling Lam anything about it.
Does that sound right to you?
The fact that the immigration issue was never raised with Lam by the Department of Justice points strongly to the conclusion that it was not the reason for her firing but the pretext for it.
It couldn't possibly have something to do with the fact that Carol Lam's investigation was starting to reach the White House itself. Surely not.