WASHINGTON—Attorney General Alberto Gonzales on Thursday stood by the decision to fire eight U.S. attorneys, even though Justice Department documents and congressional testimony raised questions about whether he had legitimate reasons to fire them.
Gonzales said he continues to believe "nothing improper occurred," but his department's explanations for the firings keep shifting. Initially, officials said the prosecutors were fired for "performance-related" reasons, but they later conceded that in some cases the reasons may have been related to policy differences. Critics have contended that the prosecutors may have been fired for failing to investigate Democrats or for pursuing corruption cases against Republicans.
Here are Gonzales' latest explanations for the firings and the criticism raised by Congress and several of the prosecutors.
_David Iglesias of New Mexico:
Gonzales said he'd heard complaints from administration officials, including presidential adviser Karl Rove, and from Sen. Pete Domenici, R-N.M., about Iglesias' performance since 2005. Domenici claimed Iglesias "was in over his head," Gonzales said.
Gonzales wasn't specific about the problems with Iglesias' performance, other than to say that Iglesias wasn't dedicating enough resources to prosecuting public corruption. Gonzales said Rove had complained about Iglesias' handling of voter fraud cases and said Iglesias was put on the list to be fired either shortly before the 2006 congressional elections or shortly after.
Iglesias has said he believes he was fired for declining to go after weak voter fraud cases and for refusing to be pressured by Domenici and Rep. Heather Wilson, R-N.M., into speeding up an indictment against Democrats before the congressional elections.
According to internal Justice Department documents, Iglesias had been recognized for his handling of voter fraud and had received a positive job evaluation before he was fired.
_Carol Lam of San Diego
Gonzales said Lam was asked to resign mainly because of her handling of immigration cases.
Although he said Lam had "served with distinction in a lot of other areas," Gonzales said he couldn't ignore what other Justice Department officials considered to be problems with her office's immigration prosecutions.
Gonzales said Lam was "acutely aware of the concerns," but Lam has said she was never told of them.
Justice Department officials appear to contradict themselves in e-mails released to Congress. In one e-mail, an official asked whether Lam had been been "woodshedded" on immigration. In other e-mails, officials defended Lam's handling of immigration and praised her office for increasing prosecutions.
Democrats have questioned whether the real reason for Lam's firing was her prosecutions of a high-ranking CIA official and of former Republican Congressman Randy "Duke" Cunningham on corruption charges.
_Daniel Bogden of Nevada
Gonzales called the decision to fire Bogden "the closest call," but he added that there were concerns about Bogden's commitment to pursuing obscenity cases and his "level of energy."
Bogden has denied that he was reticent to pursue obscenity cases.
Documents show that Deputy Attorney General Paul McNulty had been "skittish" about firing Bogden because he feared Bogden might have trouble finding a job after a long career as a prosecutor.
Kyle Sampson, Gonzales' former chief of staff, told Congress privately that McNulty was reassured in a 90-second meeting that Bogden wasn't married, according to local media reports.
Gonzales said he regretted not telling Bogden personally of the reasons, but "at the end of the day, we felt it was the right decision."
_Paul Charlton of Arizona
Gonzales said Charlton had fallen out of favor for trying to get a decision on a capital murder case reconsidered and for pushing the FBI to record interviews with defendants "without consideration" of the FBI's opposition.
E-mails released to Congress, however, have indicated that some Justice Department officials had given Charlton a tentative go-ahead to pursue the idea. The documents also appear to show that officials were attempting to come up with an explanation for firing him—after the decision had been made.
_Margaret Chiara of the Western District of Michigan
Gonzales said she was fired for "poor management issues" and "loss of confidence by career individuals."
He added: "It was a question simply of someone not having total control of the office."
In e-mails to Justice Department officials after she was asked to step down, Chiara questioned whether her ouster was connected to the 2006 congressional election. She also complained in Feb. 1, 2007, e-mail to McNulty that "everyone who knows about my required resignation ... is astonished that I am being asked to leave," and she raised questions about the performance explanation.
_John McKay, Western District of Washington
McKay was asked to resign because there were "serious concerns about his judgment" in pushing for information-sharing among federal agencies, even after he knew that certain Justice Department officials disapproved of his lobbying for it, Gonzales said.
McKay has said he believes he may have been targeted because he declined to file charges in a voter fraud case against Democrats after a tight governor's race in Washington state.