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Ex-Aide Disputes US Attorney General's Statements About Firings

A former U.S. Justice Department aide says Attorney General Alberto Gonzales was involved in the firing of federal prosecutors, contradicting statements made by the nation's top law enforcement official. His testimony to a Senate panel comes amid bipartisan calls for Gonzales' resignation for his handling of the matter. VOA's Deborah Tate reports from Capitol Hill.

Testifying voluntarily and under oath before the Senate Judiciary Committee, the former chief of staff to Alberto Gonzales, Kyle Sampson, took issue with the attorney general's statement earlier this month that he was not involved in discussions about the replacement of eight federal prosecutors. "I do not think the attorney general's statement that he was not involved in any discussions about U.S. attorney removals is accurate," he said.

Sampson said Gonzales attended a meeting about the matter on November 27 of last year, just days before the attorneys were ousted.

The former aide, who resigned earlier this month, said he had shared information with Justice Department officials about the dismissals last year, despite arguments to the contrary by the attorney general. He said Gonzales signed off on the decision to remove the attorneys. "The attorney general approved the list," he said.

The Democratic-led Judiciary Committee is probing whether the Bush administration misled Congress about the reasons for the dismissals and whether they were politically motivated and aimed at intimidating other attorneys.

Senator Patrick Leahy, a Vermont Democrat, is chairman of the panel. "I want the American people to have confidence in federal law enforcement and I want our federal law enforcement officers to have the independence they need to be effective and to consistently merit the trust of the American people," he said.

The top Republican on the committee, Senator Arlen Specter of Pennsylvania, offered his own harsh assessment of the handling of the attorney firings. "It is generally acknowledged that the Department of Justice is in a state of disrepair, perhaps even dysfunctional, because of what has happened," he said.

Sampson defended the decision to replace the attorneys, saying it was based on legitimate reasons relating to their performance, although he acknowledged such reasons could also be perceived as political.

Senator John Cornyn, a Texas Republican, said he saw nothing wrong with the dismissals. "What I have heard, there is no evidence that any of this replacement of U.S. attorneys was designed to or actually did impede a criminal investigation or prosecution," he said.

Attorney General Gonzales is scheduled to appear before the committee next month.

White House spokeswoman Dana Perino reiterated that President Bush has confidence in his attorney general.