WASHINGTON – Embattled Attorney General Alberto Gonzales will return to Capitol Hill on Wednesday, this time to meet with Democratic Sen. Mark Pryor, who recently called for the attorney general's resignation, accusing Gonzales of lying to the senator and his constituency in Arkansas.
Pryor was referring to a meeting he had in mid-December 2006 in which the attorney general asked him to consider Tim Griffin, a former aide to White House political strategist Karl Rove, for the job of U.S. attorney for Arkansas.
Gonzales' former Chief of Staff Kyle Sampson told committee investigators that Gonzales assured Pryor he wanted Griffin to go through Senate confirmation if Pryor approved of him. But four days after that conversation, Sampson pushed forward a plan from the Justice Department to circumvent the Senate confirmation process through the use of a provision slipped into the renewed U.S.A. Patriot Act that allowed interim U.S. attorneys to serve indefinitely without Senate approval. That provision has since been removed by lawmakers made aware of its unintended consequences.
"The attorney general not only lied to me as a person, but, when he lied to me, he lied to the Senate and he lied to the people I represent," Pryor said last month after hearing Sampson's statements.
Gonzales returned to Capitol Hill last week to testify on the firing of eight U.S. attorneys, including Bud Cummins, whom Griffin was set to replace. He told the Senate Judiciary Committee, of which Pryor is not a member, that he "never liked this plan" to circumvent the Senate confirmation process and keep U.S. attorney nominees in a permanent "acting" status
Gonzales said he "never accepted it," but that is a contradiction to statements by Sampson to committee investigators that the attorney general did not reject the plan when it was put forth.
Asked if the attorney general could do anything to repair his relationship with Pryor, the senator told FOX News on Tuesday, "Yes and no."
"I can move on. ... If he remains attorney general, I can continue to work with him. ... I believe in forgiveness," said Pryor, characterized by colleagues as a mild-mannered, temperate lawmaker in the vein of his father, former Sen. David Pryor.
Some Republican senators on the Judiciary Committee are also unmoved by the attorney general's performance last week before the committee.
Gonzales called the lawmakers on Friday, a day after his testimony, to gauge reaction to his testimony. Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., said, "I told him he has a lot of damage to clean up. Can he recover from the damage? Maybe so, maybe not." Graham said he told Gonzales he needed to meet with Pryor right away to repair a broken relationship.
Sen. Pete Sessions, R-Ala., also stopped short of calling for Gonzales' dismissal, but has not ruled it out. "I need to wrestle with that ... because the Department of Justice needs to come first," he said.
While Republicans are unimpressed by the attorney general, Democrats appeared to have a communication breakdown over whether to hold a vote of no confidence against Gonzales. Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid and New York Sen. Chuck Schumer appeared to be considering such a plan, but no other senator seems to know anything about it.
Sen. Dick Durbin, D-Ill., the No. 2 Democrat said it had been brought up as an idea, but is not something the Democratic Caucus is considering. Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Patrick Leahy, D-Vt., also said nobody said anything about it to him.
"I dont think it's a good idea. If Republicans don't have confidence in him, I don't have confidence in him, why do we need this vote?" Leahy said.
As Gonzales continues to fight for his survival — with the seemingly undisputed backing of President Bush — the Senate Judiciary Committee is expected to authorize another subpoena in its ongoing investigation of the attorney dismissals, this one for Sarah Taylor, who heads the White House political shop and is a top aide to Rove.
Committee staff interviewed Justice Department official William Moschella for a second time on Tuesday; staffers meet again with Deputy Attorney General Paul McNulty on Friday.