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Gonzales Gets Gentler Reception in House Visit

STEVE INSKEEP, host:

It's Morning Edition from NPR News. I'm Steve Inskeep.

REBECCA ROBERTS, host:

And I'm Rebecca Roberts. Attorney General Alberto Gonzales faced another day of questions on Capitol Hill yesterday about the U.S. attorney scandal. As NPR's Ari Shapiro reports, it was not quite as rough as the last time he went to Congress.

ARI SHAPIRO: The attorney general's last testimony before the Senate Judiciary Committee was stunning for its bipartisanship. Republicans and Democrats pilloried the attorney general. Yesterday's hearing on the House side was a little more typical. Republicans never got much tougher than this, from Lamar Smith of Texas.

Representative LAMAR SMITH (Republican, Texas): Have you ever intended to mislead or misinform Congress through any of your statements or testimony about the U.S. attorneys matter?

Attorney General ALBERTO GONZALES (U.S. Department of Justice): Of course not. Now, I realize I had been (unintelligible) in some of my statements to the press, overly broad, perhaps, in my zeal to come out and defend the department.

SHAPIRO: But Democrats complained that after months of investigating, they still don't know why some of the U.S. attorneys were fired or who put their names on the list. Democrat Robert Wexler of Florida focused on New Mexico's U.S. attorney, David Iglesias.

Representative DAVID WEXLER (Democrat, Florida): With all due respect, Mr. Attorney General, you won't tell the American people who put Mr. Iglesias on the list to be fired. It's a national secret, isn't it?

Atty. Gen. GONZALES: Congressman, if I knew the answer to that question, I would have provided you the answer.

Rep. WEXLER: Ah.

Atty. Gen. GONZALES: But I've not spoken with the individuals...

Rep. WEXLER: OK, so you don't know who put it on the list, Mr. Iglesias. Why was Mr. Iglesias put on the list by this mystery person?

SHAPIRO: Gonzales said he wasn't surprised to see Iglesias on the list because he knew that Republican Senator Pete Domenici was unhappy with the prosecutor. Iglesias has said that Senator Domenici pressured him to indict Democrats before the 2006 election. The Senate Ethics Committee is looking into whether Domenici broke a Senate rule.

Domenici and Gonzales talked about Iglesias three times. The conversations focused on voter fraud and public corruption. At the hearing yesterday, Democrat Adam Schiff of California noted that after Gonzales and Domenici talked about Iglesias, after Gonzales says he lost confidence in the prosecutor, the attorney general met Iglesias in New Mexico.

Representative ADAM SCHIFF (Democrat, California): You said not a word about losing confidence with him, did you?

Atty. Gen. GONZALES: I don't recall mentioning that. No, sir.

Rep. SCHIFF: In fact, you were there to announce you were providing resources not for corruption cases, not for voter fraud cases, but for immigration cases, something you never said Senator Domenici raised with you.

Atty. Gen. GONZALES: I don't recall Senator Domenici raising with me concerns about immigration cases.

Rep. SCHIFF: So nothing you did or said in July of '06 during your meeting with Mr. Iglesias is consistent with what you're saying now about your conversations with Senator Domenici.

SHAPIRO: The panel also grilled Gonzales about shifting explanations for why John McKay was fired. McKay was the U.S. attorney in Washington state, where he resisted Republican pressure to charge Democrats after a close gubernatorial election.

Originally, the Justice Department said McKay was fired because he complained to the press about an information sharing system. Then, Justice Department documents showed that McKay was slated for dismissal before he said anything to the press. Justice officials then said McKay was fired because he devoted too many resources to investigating the murder of one of the career prosecutors in his office. Democrat Mel Watt of North Carolina asked the attorney general…

Representative MEL WATT (Democrat, North Carolina): Would you agree that it would be immoral and unconscionable for you all to be firing somebody because they were investigating the death of one of their own staff people?

Atty. Gen. GONZALES: That's a crime that we have an obligation to of course investigate and prosecute those responsible for it. I'm not aware that the department, however, is using that as a reason or excuse...

Rep. WATT: Well, you obviously haven't listened to the testimony of some of the people in the department, then.

SHAPIRO: McKay and Iglesias are well-worn territory by now, but yesterday a ninth U.S. attorney became part of the debate. Todd Graves in Missouri recently said he was forced out. His replacement, Brad Schlozman, was a Bush administration political insider, and he brought a controversial voter fraud case that a judge threw out for lack of evidence. Democrat Linda Sanchez of California pointed out that Gonzales has repeatedly said that only eight U.S. attorneys were fired.

Representative LINDA SANCHEZ (Democrat, California): Are there any more U.S. attorneys that we should know about that were forced out?

SHAPIRO: Gonzales said Missouri's U.S. attorney was not part of the same process that led to the other dismissals. And he defended the voter fraud prosecution, saying the Justice Department is still deciding whether to appeal the judge's ruling.

Ari Shapiro, NPR News, Washington. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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Ari Shapiro has been one of the hosts of All Things Considered, NPR's award-winning afternoon newsmagazine, since 2015. During his first two years on the program, listenership to All Things Considered grew at an unprecedented rate, with more people tuning in during a typical quarter-hour than any other program on the radio.