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WASHINGTON (AP) - Contrary to his public statements, Attorney General Alberto Gonzales was deeply involved in the firing of eight federal prosecutors, his former top aide said Thursday, adding that the final decision on who was to be dismissed was made by Gonzales and President Bush’s former counsel.
“I don’t think the attorney general’s statement that he was not involved in any discussions of U.S. attorney removals was accurate,” Kyle Sampson, who quit this month as Gonzales’ chief of staff, told the Senate Judiciary Committee. “I remember discussing with him this process of asking certain U.S. attorneys to resign.”
Responding to questions from Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse, D-R.I., Sampson rejected the notion that the dismissals were ordered by young or inexperienced Justice Department officials.
“The decision makers in this case were the attorney general and the counsel to the president,” he told the Senate Judiciary Committee. “I and others made staff recommendations but they were approved and signed off on by the principals.”
The White House response was notably muted.
“I’m going to have to let the attorney general speak for himself,” White House spokeswoman Dana Perino said.
Sampson’s testimony and thousands of e-mails released over the past two weeks point to a much deeper involvement by Gonzales and then- White House counsel Harriet Miers in discussions taking place over several months about which U.S. attorneys to fire.
“The attorney general was aware of this process from the beginning in early 2005,” Sampson testified Thursday. “He and I had discussions about it during the thinking phase of the process. Then in the more final phase … he asked me to make sure that the process was appropriate.”
Gonzales said on March 13 that he did not participate in discussions or see any documents about the firings. Documents released last week show he attended a Nov. 27 meeting with senior aides on the topic, where he approved a detailed plan to carry out the dismissals. Gonzales later recanted, saying he had signed off on the plan to fire the prosecutors.