Tomorrow, the nation
will be treated to yet another installment in the rather
fascinating tale that could be titled “How Has Alberto
Gonzales Managed to Hang on This Long?”
The Senate Judiciary Committee plans to hear from a
high-ranking Justice Department official about whether
politics motivated the abrupt firings last year of eight
U.S. attorneys, including San Diego's Carol Lam.
After numerous Senate
and House hearings into the firings, tomorrow's gathering
promises to be predictable political theater. No doubt
Democrats again will contend that Attorney General
Gonzales' office yanked Lam and others because it
preferred prosecutors more in line with the Republican
White House's thinking. No doubt they'll again call for
Gonzales' resignation. And no doubt Gonzales' office and
the White House again will brush aside this clamoring as
mere partisan rants – even though some Republicans are
calling for Gonzales to leave, too.
THE REAL TESTIMONY
Perhaps just as interesting as what comes out of the
Senate committee tomorrow is the 13-page document that Lam
recently handed the House Judiciary Committee as it, too,
investigates the firings. The document contains Lam's
responses to questions from the committee, and it sheds
some new light on just how aggressively the Justice
Department shoved her out the door.
A few days after learning last December that she was to
submit her resignation effective Jan. 31, Lam asked
Michael Battle, then the head of the U.S. attorney
executive office, for extra time to ensure “an orderly
transition – especially regarding pending investigations
and several significant cases that were set to begin trial
in the next few months,” Lam wrote in her answers.
At the time, Lam was investigating corruption cases
stemming from her successful prosecution of former Rep.
Randy “Duke” Cunningham, the Rancho Santa Fe Republican
who pleaded guilty to conspiracy and tax evasion charges
after admitting to taking more than $2.4 million in
bribes. Cunningham was sentenced to more than eight years
in federal prison. Besides Lam, four other prosecutors
were presiding over corruption investigations when they
About a month passed when Lam got a call from Michael
Elston, Gonzales' former chief of staff, telling her that
her request for extra time was “not being received
positively” and that she “should stop thinking in terms of
the cases in the office.”
“He insisted that I had to depart in a matter of weeks,
not months, and that these instructions were 'coming from
the very highest level of the government,' ” Lam wrote.
AND NO TALKING
To add insult, Battle later accused Lam of prematurely
leaking her departure to the press, Lam wrote, then
criticized her for speaking with other dismissed U.S.
attorneys about their firings.
Lam submitted her resignation Jan. 16, effective Feb.
Her detractors insist Lam's record on firearms and
immigration prosecutions led to her ouster. Whatever the
reality, Lam's answers to the House panel leave two
One: The forces pushing for her speedy departure were
much higher than Elston or Battle.
Two: When given the opportunity to keep Lam on long
enough to ensure a smooth transition in her
investigations, these high-ranking officials instead
agitated for her speedy departure.
ANY MORE SURPRISES?
The nation already has witnessed plenty of explosive
congressional testimony in the U.S. attorneys scandal,
including last month's revelation about Gonzales'
late-night visit when he was White House counsel to the
hospital bed of former Attorney General John Ashcroft to
pressure him to approve a controversial wiretapping
One wonders if Gonzales already has weathered the most
damaging of the revelations about how his office operated.
Or if there are more surprises in store with tomorrow's
appearance by Bradley J. Schlozman, associate counsel to
the director in the executive office for U.S. attorneys.
Schlozman is expected to testify about his involvement
in reviving a voting-rights lawsuit that dismissed U.S.
Attorney Todd P. Graves of Missouri had disagreed with,
and that Democrats viewed as a Republican effort to remove
the poor and elderly from voting rolls. Gonzales has said
the case had nothing to do with Graves' resignation.
Dana Wilkie is a
Washington-based correspondent for Copley News Service and
a longtime observer of California politics and social