The Associated Press
WASHINGTON — Republican support for Attorney General Alberto Gonzales eroded Sunday as three key senators sharply questioned his honesty over last fall’s firings of eight federal prosecutors. Additionally, two Democrats joined the list of lawmakers calling for Gonzales’ ouster.
Several Republicans also urged President Bush to allow sworn testimony from his top aides about their role in dismissing the U.S. attorneys — a standoff threatening to result in Capitol Hill subpoenas of White House officials.
The embattled attorney general was facing the toughest test of his two-year tenure at the Justice Department with the release of documents suggesting he was more involved with the firings than he indicated earlier.
Democrats have accused the Justice Department and the White House of purging the prosecutors for political reasons. The Bush administration maintains the firings were not improper because U.S. attorneys are political appointees.
Stopping short of demanding Gonzales’ resignation, Sen. Arlen Specter cited a Nov. 27 calendar entry placing the attorney general at a Justice Department meeting to discuss the dismissals. Those documents “appear to contradict” Gonzales’ earlier statements that he never participated in such conversations, said Specter, top Republican on the Senate Judiciary Committee that oversees the Justice Department.
“We have to have an attorney general who is candid, truthful. And if we find out he has not been candid and truthful, that’s a very compelling reason for him not to stay on,” said Specter, R-Philadelphia.
Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., said Gonzales has been “wounded” by the firings. “He has said some things that just don’t add up,” said Graham, who also is on the Senate Judiciary panel. And Sen. Chuck Hagel, R-Neb., said the Justice Department has continually changed its story about the dismissals.
At the same time, Democratic Sens. Dianne Feinstein of California and Bill Nelson of Florida said Gonzales should step down.
The White House continued to back Gonzales, a fellow Texan and longtime friend of Bush. “The president supports the attorney general,” White House spokeswoman Nicole Guillemard said Sunday.