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(CNN) -- Attorney General Alberto Gonzales is on the defensive Wednesday, trying to fend off calls for him to resign after a mass firing of U.S. attorneys. Eight of them were pink-slipped -- seven on one day. Critics say it was a politically motivated move.
The first of the federal prosecutors to get his walking papers was Bud Cummins of Arkansas. CNN anchor Miles O'Brien asked Cummins about a statement Gonzales made to CNN earlier Wednesday in which the attorney general said the "decisions were not based in any way on retaliation."
O'BRIEN: What do you say to that?
CUMMINS: Well, as far as that statement goes, I accept that that may be true, but the evidence now seems abundantly clear that some of these decisions were made for other reasons that may not be too attractive -- political pressure from outside the department by politicians and party people, just the desire to place friends and acquaintances that wanted to be U.S. attorneys in U.S. attorney positions, and they attempt to create the vacancies to do that.
O'BRIEN: [Tim Griffin] The person who took your job, as a matter of fact, is an adviser to Karl Rove, a friend of Karl Rove, a political adviser to the president. Do you think that was fair?
CUMMINS: You know, that's really not important. What I think -- I served at the pleasure of the president, and they asked me to leave, and I did. And they've actually been honest throughout most of this story about their motivations for asking me to leave.
So, it's really not that important about what happened in my case as it is in the other seven, where they maintained all along that these people somehow had performance issues that played into the decision to remove them. And I think the evidence is -- it's just abundantly clear now that that's probably not the case -- or, in fact, it's not the case.
O'BRIEN: Well, let me -- so wait a minute. Let me just say, by that logic then, if the attorney general came out and said, yes, it was political and this is the reason why, and was upfront about it, would that be OK?
CUMMINS: Well, it would have been OK with us if they had just said nothing. We all took these decisions -- we all knew we served at the pleasure of the president, we accepted the decisions, and we went home quietly.
It was only when the attorney general and the deputy attorney general endeavored to try and explain themselves to Congress, and they said that my colleagues had committed some kind of performance errors. You know, at this point, the attorney general saying his -- he had nothing to do with the process, his chief of staff [Kyle Sampson] handled it, his chief of staff has now resigned, he doesn't really know how they got to where they got, but he still stands by this idea that they're performance-related, I think it would be a lot more honest and fair to these other seven United States attorneys who served very honorably, very loyally to the president and performed very well, if they just simply said, you know, at this point, we're not sure why these decisions were made. And it appears that there were some factors taken into account that probably shouldn't have been, and we retract those statements and we recognize that these seven people served well and honorably, and that this was not our brightest shining moment, and move on.
But for some reason they seem to be stubbornly clinging on to this notion that there was a valid substantive management reason in those seven cases. And I just don't think that's true.
O'BRIEN: You have impeccable Republican credentials, a longtime supporter of the president, helped with the Florida recount [in 2000]. Do you point the finger at his direction on this? Who is to blame?
CUMMINS: Well, I'll say this -- I mean, I think my Republican credentials are in pretty good shape. And as a Republican, I'm disturbed any time that my own team doesn't seem to be wanting to deal in candor with the public and with Congress.
But the attorney general has, I believe, an absolute responsibility to insulate all federal prosecutors, the political appointees and these wonderful career people that we work with and the agents, from outside politics. And the notion that a party chairman or a congressman or a senator from their outside perspective could become critical of a prosecutor, and a job action would be taken in response to that without any internal investigation or utilizing any of the procedures that are in place in the department to determine if somebody is following the book and doing their job, is pretty frightening to me. ...
O'BRIEN: Should Mr. Gonzales step down?
CUMMINS: That's not for me to say.
O'BRIEN: Does he -- does he owe you or the others an apology?
CUMMINS: He doesn't owe me an apology.
O'BRIEN: What about the others?
CUMMINS: I serve at the pleasure of the president. But the others, yes, he should apologize to them, and he should retract his statements as to the other seven.
Former U.S. Attorney Bud Cummins of Arkansas
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