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Gonzales Hearing Turns 'Pink'

OK, this time around, Attorney General Alberto Gonzales's appearance on Capitol Hill began with an act of dignity by the majority. Then the partisan sparks started flying, providing the appearance that House Republicans are much more aggressively defending Gonzales than their Senate GOP counterparts did three weeks ago.

The hearing into the 2006 firings of U.S. attorneys began with House Judiciary Chairman John Conyers (D-Mich.) throwing out anti-war protestors. The so-called Pink Slip ladies - who wear pink slips and T-shirts while attending hearings protesting the Iraq war - were holding signs and wearing labels with the words "resign" and other symbols Conyers viewed as undignified. The chairman personally told a few to leave before the hearing started, and then, just before Gonzales began his opening statement, Republicans objected because another "Pink Lady" was in the TV shot behind the attorney general.

Conyers agreed it was wrong and ousted her. "Don't make any statements," Conyers lectured, adding of his investigation into the firings, "We've done this too long. We've spent far too much time trying to resolve this."

This is a dramatically different approach than that of Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.), who allowed the Pink Ladies to stay for the entire five hours of Gonzales's testimony April 19, allowing them to heckle and sing protest songs at the attorney general during breaks. [The hearing recessed a little while ago for votes on the House floor; several more Pink Ladies have taken up seats in the hearing room, some of whom were thrown out earlier. There was just a lot of shouting back and forth between a committee staffer and the ladies, and Capitol Police are looking very anxious. We'll monitor how this develops and report back later if they get ousted as well.]

After the protestors left the room here in the Rayburn House Office Building, however, the two sides began sparring over corruption investigations into members on both sides of the aisle. This has turned a good portion of the hearing so far into a debate over the legal definition of a "target" of a federal investigation - a very distinct term that means you're about to be indicted and you have one last chance, essentially, to plead guilty - or just to be under investigation.

So far, not much new information has surfaced in the first 75 minutes of the hearing. Three things worth noting:

• Gonzales denied that Todd P. Graves was ousted as U.S. attorney for Kansas City as part of the process that led to the firing of eight other federal prosecutors last year. As Post colleagues Amy Goldstein and Dan Eggen reported this morning, Graves was asked to leave his post in January 2006, five months before the first of the eight fired prosecutors was notified. This could be a serious contradiction in Gonzales's previous congressional testimonies, in which he specifically said only eight were fired. But the attorney general today said Graves was part of a different process, not the long evaluation process that led to the eight firings: "As part of this review process ... these [eight] were the individuals identified."
• Gonzales denied that the resignation of Debra Wong Yang, the U.S. attorney for Los Angeles, had deterred the investigation into Rep. Jerry Lewis (R-Calif.) about the more than $100 million in earmarks he directed to clients of a lobbying firm with close ties to the lawmaker. "Nothing about that investigation has been affected or impacted in any way," Gonzales said. Liberal activists have been loudly suggesting in the blogosphere and on op-ed pages that Yang might have been forced out of her post because of the Lewis investigation, and Gonzales's former chief of staff, D. Kyle Sampson, has testified in private interviews that former White House Counsel Harriet Miers took interest in seeing Yang on the list of dismissed prosecutors. The attorney general sang Yang's praises, saying that her reported $1.5 million signing bonus with a Los Angeles-based law firm was an under-payment. "She did a wonderful job. ... Whatever [the bonus] was, it was a bargain for the firm."
• Rep. James Sensenbrenner (R-Wis.) turned the tables on Democrats and focused his line of questioning on why there's been no indictment of Rep. William Jefferson (D-La.), the lawmaker who got caught with $90,000 in his freezer allegedly from a businesswoman working undercover for the FBI. Oddly, Sensenbrenner engaged in behavior that was close to the alleged behavior of Republican lawmakers who pressured U.S. attorneys to bring cases against Democrats. Sensenbrenner's pressure on Gonzales is obviously different, since he didn't directly pressure the prosecutor handling the case. "My constituents are asking me, when's something going to happen," Sensenbrenner said, only to be told he couldn't be given an answer about an ongoing investigation. "Everybody's talking about it except you," he told Gonzales angrily.

By Paul Kane  |  May 10, 2007; 12:20 PM ET
Categories:  Hearing Watch , House  
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