Department of Justice Seal

Transcript of Media Availability with Attorney General Alberto R. Gonzales

March 13, 2007 - 2:20 P.M.

ATTORNEY GENERAL GONZALES: Let me give you some core principles, some things that I believe in. One, I believe in the independence of our U.S. Attorneys. They are the face of the Department. They are my representative in the community. I acknowledge their sacrifice. I acknowledge their courage to step into the arena on behalf of the American people.

Secondly, the Attorney General, all political appointees, such as U.S. Attorneys, serve at the pleasure of the President of the United States.

Third, I believe fundamentally in the constitutional role of the Senate in advice and consent with respect to U.S. Attorneys and would, in no way, support an effort to circumvent that constitutional role.

I believe in accountability. Like every CEO of every major organization, I am responsible for what happens at the Department of Justice. I acknowledge that mistakes were made here. I accept that responsibility and my pledge to the American people is to find out what went wrong here, to assess accountability, and to make improvements so that the mistakes in this instance do not occur again in the future.

Finally, let me just say one thing: I've overcome a lot of obstacles in my life to become Attorney General. I am here not because I give up. I am here because I've learned from my mistakes, because I accept responsibility, and because I am committed to doing my job. And that is what I intend to do here on behalf of the American people.

With that I'll take your questions.

QUESTION: Mr. Attorney General, can you explain what the White House role is specifically when your successor, Harriet Miers, suggested that perhaps all U.S. attorneys should be changed over. Is that the seed that started all of this? How does that connect to the actual termination of --

ATTORNEY GENERAL GONZALES: As we can all imagine in an organization of 110,000 people, I am not aware of every bit of information that passes through the halls of the Department of Justice, nor am I aware of all decisions. As a general matter, some two years ago, I was made aware of a request from the White House as to the possibility of replacing all the United States Attorneys. That was immediately rejected by me. I felt that that was a bad idea and it was disruptive.

QUESTION: (Off mic.)

ATTORNEY GENERAL GONZALES: What I know is that there began a process of evaluating strong performers, not-as-strong performers, and weak performers. And so far as I knew my chief of staff was involved in the process of determining who were the weak performers. Where were the districts around the country where we could do better for the people in that district, and that's what I knew. But again, with respect to this whole process, like every CEO, I am ultimately accountable and responsible for what happens within the department. But that is in essence what I knew about the process; was not involved in seeing any memos, was not involved in any discussions about what was going on. That's basically what I knew as the Attorney General.

QUESTION: Were there any discussions between you and the White House regarding you stepping down or Deputy Attorney General Paul McNulty stepping down, and with regard to the Chief of Staff Kyle Sampson, is he still here at the Justice Department working?

ATTORNEY GENERAL GONZALES: Kyle Sampson has resigned. I accepted his resignation yesterday as chief of staff. As a technical matter he is still at the department as he transitions out and looks for other employment.

With respect to the first part of your question, I work for the American people. I serve with the pleasure of the President of the United States. I will say in doing my job it is easier to have the confidence of members of the Congress and I will continue to do the very best that I can to maintain that confidence and that's what I intend to do: continue to do my job on behalf of the American people, ascertain what happened here, and assess accountability and take corrective actions.

Obviously I am concerned about the fact that information, incomplete information, was communicated or may have been communicated to the Congress. I believe very strongly in our obligation to ensure that when we provide information to the Congress, it is accurate and that it is complete and I am very dismayed that that may not have occurred here.

QUESTION: How could your chief of staff be working closely with the President on which U.S. attorneys to be let go and you not know the specifics?

ATTORNEY GENERAL GONZALES: Well, again, as -- I accept responsibility for everything that happens here within this department. But when you have 110,000 people working in the department obviously there are going to be decisions that I'm not aware of in real time. Many decisions are delegated. We have people who were confirmed by the Senate who, by statute, have been delegated authority to make decisions.

Mr. Sampson was charged with directing the process to ascertain who were weak performers, where we could do better in districts around the country. That is a responsibility that he had during the transition. We worked with respect to U.S. attorneys and presidential personnel at the White House. That was the role that he had when he was in the counsel's office. That was the role that he had when he was at the Department of Justice under General Ashcroft and so naturally when questions came up with respect to the evaluation of performances of U.S. Attorneys it would be Kyle Sampson who would drive that effort.

Yes, ma'am?

QUESTION: With all due respect, your -- the sense of being a CEO sounds a little bit like Ken Lay, that he was so detached from the day to day operations. How can you make that statement given the fact that you spend an enormous time at the White House and your chief of staff reports to you and spends, you know, all day with you?

ATTORNEY GENERAL GONZALES: Again, I accept responsibility for what happened here and I regret the fact that information was inadequately shared with individuals within the department of Justice and that consequently information was shared with the Congress that was incomplete. But the charge for the chief of staff here was to drive this process and the mistake that occurred here was that information that he had was not shared with individuals within the department who was then going to be providing testimony and information to the Congress.

QUESTION: (Off mic.)

ATTORNEY GENERAL GONZALES: I just described for Pete the extent of my -- of the knowledge that I had about the process. I never saw documents. We never had a discussion about where things stood. What I knew was that there was ongoing effort that was led by Mr. Sampson, vetted through the Department of Justice, to ascertain where we could make improvements in U.S. attorney performances around the country.


QUESTION: -- information. What mistakes were made at the Department of Justice and specifically was there a mistake made in in considering the political performance of U.S. attorneys in evaluating them:

ATTORNEY GENERAL GONZALES: Well let me just say that one of the things that we discovered that we do not have, in my judgment, an adequate system of communication with our U.S. Attorneys around the country. When these U.S. Attorneys were advised that changes were going to be made, quite frankly they should have been told why those changes were being made, and I regret that that didn't happen. That should have happened in this particular case.


QUESTION: -- Mr. Sampson drew up his list and are you now feeling like maybe they were removed without cause and that maybe it was an unfair removal since you were not aware of -- you're saying now you were not aware of the details of why he drew up this list?

ATTORNEY GENERAL GONZALES: I stand by the decision. Again, all political appointees can be removed by the President of the United States for any reason. I stand by the decision and I think it was the right decision. Thank you very much.