WASHINGTON — A leading congressional critic accused Atty. Gen. Alberto R. Gonzales on Monday of making misleading statements about a conversation with President Bush regarding a U.S. attorney who has said he was fired for political reasons.
D. Kyle Sampson, Gonzales' former chief of staff, told Senate investigators over the weekend that the attorney general told him in early March that he and Bush had discussed U.S. Atty. David C. Iglesias' performance before the November election, Sen. Charles E. Schumer (D-N.Y.) said in a briefing with reporters.
Gonzales said in a March 26 interview with NBC News that he had no recollection of a meeting with Bush about Iglesias.
Schumer said Sampson's statement "appeared to contradict" the statement by Gonzales in his television interview.
A Justice Department spokesman said Monday that Gonzales continued to have no recollection of the October meeting with Bush. Iglesias was fired about two months later.
Schumer indicated that he considered the flap the latest blow to Gonzales' credibility in the furor over the firings of eight U.S. attorneys in various parts of the nation last year.
When the controversy initially erupted, Gonzales claimed that he played virtually no role in the dismissals. Since then, he has acknowledged that he was aware of the process leading to the firings and was briefed on it by Sampson and others.
In an appearance billed as crucial to determining whether he retains his job, Gonzales was due to testify today about the firings before the Senate Judiciary Committee, whose members include Schumer.
On Monday, however, committee members and Justice Department officials agreed to postpone Gonzales' testimony until Thursday because of the national attention riveted on the mass shootings at Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University.
The dismissals of Iglesias and the other U.S. attorneys have touched off allegations by Democrats in Congress that the White House and Justice Department were conspiring to politicize federal law enforcement.
Some Republicans on Capitol Hill also have criticized how the Justice Department handled the firings and how Gonzales has responded to questions about it.
The White House has acknowledged that Bush and Gonzales discussed concerns that the president had about whether prosecutors in three states, including New Mexico, were aggressively pursuing cases of voter fraud. The meeting took place in the Oval Office in October.
But it remains unclear to what extent the conversation focused on Iglesias, or whether it touched upon complaints about his performance by Sen. Pete V. Domenici of New Mexico, an influential Republican on Capitol Hill.
Iglesias has said that he believes he was dismissed for failing to pursue a corruption case against state Democrats.
Bush has stood by Gonzales, a longtime loyalist, as the controversy over the U.S. attorney firings has blossomed. But a poor performance by Gonzales in his congressional appearance could lead the White House to jettison him.
Separately, the House Judiciary Committee said Monday that the Justice Department had not fully complied with a subpoena the panel issued last week for records about the prosecutorial purge.
"We will review all available legal options to secure compliance with the subpoena," the panel's chairman, Rep. John Conyers Jr. (D-Mich.), said in a statement.