Washington Attorney General Alberto Gonzales, facing another tough week amid calls for his ouster, has offered a mea culpa to the nation's 93 U.S. attorneys for the way the Justice Department fired eight of their colleagues.
During the conference call Friday, planned as a pep talk to raise morale at a Justice Department tainted by the firings and the FBI's misuse of the Patriot Act, Gonzales apologized for how the dismissals were handled and for suggesting there were problems with the prosecutors' job performances, according to an official familiar with the conversation.
But the official, who spoke on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to disclose details of the call, said Gonzales did not apologize for firing the eight U.S. attorneys, a decision he and President Bush have defended.
Justice Department spokesman Brian Roehrkasse said Saturday the call was set up to allow Gonzales to reiterate "how important the U.S. attorneys are to him as his representatives in the communities they serve and as prosecutors charged with protecting their communities from violent criminals, drug dealers and predators."
The call was made the same day that his former top aide, who resigned last week amid the controversy, denied that he purposefully withheld information from Justice Department officials who misled Congress about the firings.
Kyle Sampson, the attorney general's former chief of staff, said in a statement released by his lawyer that several senior officials were aware the Justice Department and the White House "had been discussing the subject since the election" of 2004.