Crunch Time for Gonzales

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Joshua Roberts / Atlas Press

U.S. Attorney General Alberto Gonzales testifies to the House Appropriations Committee in Washington, D.C., on March 14, 2006.

Attorneygate is getting stickier and stickier. All of Washington is now anxiously awaiting the release of documents later today that could well determine the fate of Attorney General Alberto Gonzales. Meanwhile, the specifics of one firing, that of San Diego Prosecutor Carol Lam, is getting curioser and curioser.

The documents in question will be made public "by the close of business" Monday, according to a just-released Justice Dept. announcement. Gonzales, the same announcement says, has no public engagements on his schedule Monday, and the Department of Justice says there are no current plans to explain the new material, which is still being prepared for release, to the public.

Gonzales's future as the nation's top law enforcement officer is in serious doubt as the scandal surrounding the firing of eight U.S. attorneys last year reaches into the White House. Republicans, rather than defending Gonzales, are making clear they believe the Administration needs to be much clearer about the role of the White House in firing the eight federal prosecutors. Speaking on a Sunday television talk show, John Cornyn, perhaps the Administration's strongest defender in the Senate, declared, "I've told the Attorney General that I think this has been mishandled, that by giving inaccurate information... at the outset, it's caused a real firestorm, and he better get the facts out fast."

At the same time an increasingly testy Senator Patrick Leahy, chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee, said he would subpoena Karl Rove, Harriet Miers, and other White House officials involved in firings, and that he would like them to testify in public before the panel. Visibly exasperated, Leahy said, "I want testimony under oath. I am sick and tired of getting half-truths on this," adding, "I do not believe in this 'We'll have a private briefing for you where we'll tell you everything,' and they don't." But it remains unclear whether, or under what condictions, the White House will permit its officials to testify on the matter. A decision is expected later in the week from White House counsel Fred Fielding.

Meanwhile, the timeline of the firing of Carol Lam has raised even more eyebrows. On a weekend talk show, Senator Dianne Feinstein, a Democrat on the Judiciary committee, revealed that on May 10, Lam, the U.S. attorney in San Diego, had informed the Justice Department about her plans to issue a pair of search warrants in a criminal investigation of defense contractor Brent Wilkes and Kyle "Dusty" Foggo, a former senior CIA administrative official. At the time, Foggo had just resigned after questions were raised about his links to former Republican Representative Randy "Duke" Cunningham, who has pleaded guilty to bribery and is currently serving a prison term. As previously released documents now indicate, the day after Lam informed DoJ of her plans to execute a search warrant on Foggo, Kyle Sampson, chief of staff to Gonzales, e-mailed William Kelley, the deputy White House counsel, telling him that Lam should be gotten rid of. "Please call me at your convenience to discuss the following," Sampson wrote in his e-mail to the White House. He then cited a "real problem we have right now with Carol Lam that leads me to conclude that we should have someone ready to be nominated on 11/18, the day her four-year term expires."

A DoJ spokesman later insisted there was no link between her dismissal and the public corruption investigations she was conducting at the time. The DoJ notes that the day after Sampson's emails, the FBI searched Foggo's house as well as his one-time CIA office. He was later indicted on fraud and money-laundering charges. "We have stated numerous times that no US attorney was removed to retaliate against or inappropriately interfere with any public corruption investigation or prosecution," according to a Justice Dept. statement. The suggestion is that she may not have been doing enough about prosecuting illegal immigration, though a specific and official reason for her dismissal has not been issued.