WASHINGTON – Attorney General Alberto Gonzales made a rare departmentwide address Friday saying that instead of stepping down amid intensifying scrutiny on him and his subordinates, he will stay in an effort to fix the problems.
Gonzales appeared via the department's internal television channel, Justice Vision, and spoke for about 10 minutes. While not admitting that the department in fact made mistakes, he apologized for the atmosphere that allowed allegations of political meddling to be made against the department, and he appealed to his employees for help in further fixing the problem and improving the department's image.
Gonzales also said that while most do not know him personally, he is trying to do his best.
"For many of you, what you know about me is shaped largely by what you read in the newspaper. I wish it weren't this way," Gonzales began.
"I wish you could instead know me as well as my family and those in my office know me. ... They might tell you that no one is more troubled than I am over what this department has gone through in the past six months.
"I am troubled because the allegations regarding politicization of this historic institution ... have occurred on my watch."
Gonzales is in the crosshairs of top Democrats in both the House and the Senate over last year's firings of several U.S. attorneys, which critics say have the appearance of being politically motivated.
The firings spurred a massive investigation involving the House and Senate Judiciary committees. Although several thousand documents have been handed over by the Justice Department and the White House, lawmakers say questions remain regarding the involvement of top White House officials.
Although Gonzales is scheduled to appear before the Senate Judiciary Committee next week, the investigation apears to be heading to loggerheads. Lawmakers have issued subpoenas, and President Bush's chief counsel Fred Fielding has invoked executive privilege, last week telling former White House counsel Harriet Miers not to testify before the House Judiciary. Congressional Democrats have threatened a contempt citation against Miers, although the White House appears resolute in its defiance of the demands.
Several Democrats and Republicans have said Gonzales should resign, but he told his employees Friday that he will not do so.
"From my perspective, there are two options available in light of these allegations: I could walk away — as some have demanded — or I could devote my time, effort and energy to fix the problems," Gonzales said.
"Since I've never been one to quit, I've decided that the best course of action is to remain here and fix the problems. That is exactly what I am doing," Gonzales said.
He noted the hirings of three key officials — Acting Deputy Attorney General Craig Morford, Chief of Staff Kevin O'Connor, and Director of the Executive Office of U.S. Attorneys Kenneth Melson — as part of his plan. All three are long-time Justice employees, a fact that Gonzales said would help return authority to career employees, and rid the department of any stigma of political influence.
Gonzales also noted that hiring processes in several departments and divisions will be reviewed and, if needed, improved.
Gonzales also said that the department needs to improve its internal communications, and he said part of that has begun with him apologizing to current U.S. attorneys over the handling of the firings last year.
"I have expressed my regrets over how the dismissals of their colleagues were handled, accepted responsiblity for that flawed process," Gonzales said.