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Quick Guide & Transcript: Attorney general faces Senate panel, Week in Review

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(CNN Student News) -- April 20, 2007

Quick Guide

Gonzales on the Hill - Find out why the U.S. attorney general testified before a Senate panel on Thursday.

U.S. Attorneys 101 - Learn about the controversy surrounding the firings of eight U.S. attorneys.

Week in Review - Review the week's top headlines, including the tragedy at Virginia Tech.



DANIELLE ELIAS, CNN STUDENT NEWS ANCHOR: We're glad you're with us as we wrap up the week on CNN Student News. I'm Danielle Elias. In the spotlight: The attorney general testifies before a Senate panel about the controversy surrounding the firing of eight federal attorneys. In our memories: Ceremonies in Oklahoma City pay tribute to the victims on the anniversary of one of the worst bombings in U.S. history. And in the rear view: We look back at the week's top headlines, including a governor's recovery from a severe car crash.

First Up: Gonzales on the Hill

ELIAS: First up today, testimony from the nation's top lawyer. Attorney General Alberto Gonzales appeared before a Senate committee Thursday, discussing eight U.S. attorneys who lost their jobs last year. Now, the firings have received a lot of media attention. Not because the attorneys lost their jobs, but because of speculation over why they were fired. The controversy has put Gonzales on the hot seat. And as Tara Mergener explains, Thursday's testimony didn't turn down the heat.


TARA MERGENER, CNN REPORTER: With his job on the line, Attorney General Alberto Gonzales said the firings of eight federal prosecutors were justified, but could have been handled better.

ALBERTO GONZALES, ATTORNEY GENERAL: I apologize to them and to their families for allowing this matter to become an unfortunate and undignified public spectacle.

MERGENER: Gonzales was grilled before the Senate Judiciary Committee Thursday, but never wavered from his stance that the decision to fire the prosecutors was performance-based. Skeptics believe otherwise.

SEN. PATRICK LEAHY, (D) VERMONT: The investigation of this affair already has pulled back the curtain to reveal unbridled political meddling, Katrina-style cronyism, and unfettered White House unilateralism.

MERGENER: Gonzales is also under fire for giving conflicting accounts of the events leading up to the prosecutors' dismissals, first saying he had only an indirect role, then later stating he had a greater involvement after e-mails about the matter were released by the justice department.

GONZALES: Senator I've already said that I misspoke. It was my mistake.

MERGENER: Those hoping to learn many new details of the controversy...

SEN. CHUCK SCHUMER, (D) NEW YORK: I hope and expect we'll be treated to a minimum of "I don't recall."

MERGENER: ....may have been disappointed.

GONZALES: I don't remember...I don't recall...I have no recollection.

MERGENER: While there are members of both parties calling for Gonzales to resign, his supporters say it's a witchunt. A White House statement released after Thursday's hearing says Gonzalez still has the full confidence of the president. Reporting for CNN Student News, I'm Tara Mergener in Washington.


U.S. Attorneys 101

ELIAS: Now, as you heard in that report, Alberto Gonzales apologized during his testimony to the eight U.S. attorneys who were fired. As the nation's top law enforcement official, Gonzales oversees all 93 U.S. attorneys. So why is it such a scandal for the attorney general to fire lawyers who report to him? Carl Azuz looks into the background of the controversy.


CARL AZUZ, CNN STUDENT NEWS: U.S. attorneys serve at the pleasure of the president. That means he can ask them to leave whenever he wants. Back in 1993, when President Clinton took office, his administration asked for the resignations of all sitting U.S. attorneys. Go back a little farther to 1981, and you'll find that President Reagan did the very same thing. But both Clinton and Reagan were firing attorneys who'd been appointed by the presidents who preceded them. So it could be argued that the new presidents were just cleaning house, appointing new attorneys who'd better represent their views. Now President Bush's firings came in the middle of his second term -- unusual timing. And President Bush had appointed the same eight attorneys he fired. So what? Doesn't he still have the right to fire them? Absolutely. But consider this statement that the nation's top attorney made in January:

ALBERTO GONZALES, U.S. ATTORNEY GENERAL: I would never, ever make a change in the United States attorney position for political reasons.

AZUZ: And therein lies the rub. Why would the White House fire the attorneys, if not for political reasons?

REP. RAHM EMANUEL, (D) ILLINOIS: There's something about what they were doing professionally that cost them their job. Now originally, the White House said it was job performance. They didn't think they were good. But in fact, they've all scored unbelievably high in their ratings as U.S. attorneys.

AZUZ: So many of those who believe politics were at play, want the attorney general to step down. Now the Bush administration admits mistakes were made in how the firings were handled -- specifically, how information about them was released. But the president insists that no laws were broken:

PRESIDENT GEORGE W. BUSH: The Justice Department, with the approval of the White House, believed new leadership in these positions would better serve our country. The announcement of this decision and the subsequent explanation of these changes has been confusing and in some cases incomplete. Neither the attorney general nor I approve of how these explanations were handled. We're determined to correct the problem.

AZUZ: In the end, one thing is clear in all of this: Critics say the firings were politically motivated; Bush administration supporters say the controversy is politically fueled. What you keep hearing is "political." But hey, this is Washington. What did you expect? I'm Carl Azuz for CNN Student News.


Fast Facts

RACHAEL RICHARDSON,CNN STUDENT NEWS: Time for some fast facts! The U.S. attorney general is the head of the Department of Justice, which oversees several agencies, including the FBI, the U.S. Marshals Service and the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, and Firearms and Explosives. The attorney general is appointed by the president and is a member of the president's cabinet. The office of the attorney general was created by the Judiciary Act of 1789.

Remembering Oklahoma City

ELIAS: Thursday was the 12th anniversary of a deadly bombing in Oklahoma City. The names of the victims were read by family members at a memorial ceremony. 168 seconds of silence were observed, one second for every person who was killed in the explosion. More than 500 others were injured in the blast at the Alfred P. Murrah Federal Building. It was later demolished and the site was turned into a park.

Week in Review

ELIAS: This week also marked the anniversary of another tragic moment. Eight years ago today, two students at Columbine High School killed 13 people and wounded 23 others before taking their own lives. The big story this week, another school shooting, this one at Virginia Tech University. That story and others in our Week in Review.


Today's Week in Review brings your class the images of stories that made headlines this week. Included here is a brief description of each topic:

New Jersey Gov. Jon S. Corzine remains in critical condition, a week after a high-speed crash left him with several broken bones. Corzine was riding in an SUV driven by a state trooper when the accident occurred. Officials have said Corzine was not wearing his seatbelt. One of the governor's doctors says he hopes Corzine's condition will be upgraded within days. However, health officials add that it could be months before Corzine regains the use of a broken leg.

Students and teachers at Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University are honoring the victims of the nation's deadliest school shooting. A 23-year-old gunman killed and wounded dozens of people on Monday. Mourners are focusing on the friends and family they lost in the shootings, holding vigils, tributes and services both on and off the Virginia Tech campus. President Bush attended Tuesday's convocation service in Cassell Coliseum, telling mourners that "people all over this country are thinking about you and asking God to provide comfort for all that have been affected."

The Iraqi capital is reeling from a series of bombings that killed more than 200 people in a 24-hour period. Most of the deaths were at the same Baghdad marketplace that insurgents targeted in February, killing scores of people. Gen. David Petraeus, the top U.S. commander in Iraq, says the eruption of violence comes at a time when leaders are seeing progress with a new security plan. He added that progress should be measured in months, not days or weeks.



RICHARDSON: Time for the Shoutout! Friday's Shoutout goes out to Mr. Pilkington's Social Studies class at Kiewit Middle School in Omaha, Nebraska! What event was created in 1970 to raise public awareness about environmental problems? If you think you know it, shout it out! Was it: A) Arbor Day, B) National Cherry Blossom Festival, C) Grand Canyon Day or D) Earth Day? You've got three seconds -- GO! Earth Day was first celebrated in 1970, the same year President Nixon created the Environmental Protection Agency. That's your answer and that's your Shoutout!


ELIAS: Earth Day is coming up on Sunday. So teachers, to get your students thinking green, why not use one of our Learning Activities? Students can learn about greenhouse gases and research environmental issues in their own community. Check them out at

Before We Go

ELIAS: Before we go, get ready to open your eyes wide and your mouth even wider. It's the world's longest shish kebab! This gargantuan griller is over 11 feet long and has more than 15 pounds of meat. Heck, it took three people just to carry it to the table! The record-setting skewer was roasted up in honor of Israel's Independence Day.


ELIAS: And that'll stick a fork in today's show. Have a great weekend. We'll see you back on Monday for more CNN Student News. I'm Danielle Elias.



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