Today, 31 Democrats led by Sen. Chuck Schumer sent the following letter to Attorney General Alberto Gonzales urging him to recuse himself from the Abramoff case. Below is the letter and signatories.
Schumer stated, "If there was ever a case that was both sensitive and rife with potential conflict - it is this one. The Attorney General can avoid any appearance of impropriety by recusing himself."
February 16, 2006
The Honorable Alberto Gonzales
United States Department of Justice
950 Pennsylvania Avenue
Washington, D.C. 20530
Dear General Gonzales:
As you know, we have previously called for a special counsel to ensure the public's confidence in the investigation and prosecution of those involved in the corruption scandal surrounding Jack Abramoff's dealings with the federal government.
In the same vein, however, we believe that public confidence can only be assured and that the appearance of conflict can only be avoided if you recuse yourself from overseeing the investigation and the prosecution of this case.
First, in light of your previous service as White House Counsel and your close connection to many Administration officials, the appearance of conflict looms large as the investigation has potentially widened to include Administration officials. FBI officials have said the Abramoff investigation "involves systemic corruption within the highest levels of government." Indeed, one White House official, David H. Safavian, the White House's top procurement officer, has already been charged with wrongdoing in connection with Mr. Abramoff's dealings with the federal government. Furthermore, as reported in the media, in confidential e-mails recently sent by Mr. Abramoff himself, Mr. Abramoff met President Bush in "almost a dozen settings." This latest revelation comes on top of other news reports that Mr. Abramoff also organized at least one and possibly several meetings with White House staff for his clients.
These meetings with the President and White House staff occurred while you were serving as White House Counsel, in which capacity you were also the White House's chief ethics advisor and enforcer. Therefore, given the possible ties between Mr. Abramoff and senior government officials with whom you are familiar and to whom you may have provided legal advice, you will avoid the appearance of a conflict if you recuse yourself now.
Second, recent precedent militates in favor of your recusal. As you may recall, in December 2003, when presented with a similar situation involving a widening investigation that threatened to implicate individuals within the White House, former Attorney General John Ashcroft recused himself. General Ashcroft's recusal then quickly paved the way for James Comey's appointment of Special Prosecutor Patrick Fitzgerald to take over the Valerie Plame leak investigation. That investigation, of course, has been widely praised for its independence and integrity.
Given the expanding scope of the investigation into the Executive branch, public confidence in the process will be ensured only if you recuse yourself. Along with the appointment of a special counsel, your recusal would assure the public that no political considerations will be a part of this investigation or subsequent prosecutions and also make certain that no conflict of interest will impede final resolution of the investigation.
We know you share our commitment to restoring the public's trust in our government. We hope you will take the most appropriate action here by recusing yourself and endorsing the appointment of a special counsel so we can guarantee that justice is done while preserving the integrity of the Justice Department.
We look forward to hearing from you on this matter soon.