Published March 19, 2007
WASHINGTON – The White House defended Attorney General Alberto Gonzales on Monday in response to repeated calls for his resignation over the firing of eight U.S. attorneys.
"The president said he's got confidence in Al Gonzales," said White House press secretary Tony Snow. "This is not fact gathering on whether to allow him to maintain his employment. We hope he stays."
When asked if Gonzales will serve for the rest of President Bush's term, Snow said, "Well, we hope so."
Gonzales is facing increasing pressure to step down in the wake of the firings, though he has apologized for the way he handled the matter. Bush said last week that the firings were mishandled, but expressed confidence in Gonzales.
Lawmakers are awaiting the White House's decision whether Bush's advisers will appear on Capitol Hill to discuss the firing of eight federal prosecutors, but the Democratic chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee said Sunday if White House officials don't voluntarily agree to testify, he will try to subpoena them.
White House Counsel Fred Fielding will visit lawmakers on Tuesday, Snow said. Fielding met with several members of Congress last week.
"On Thursday, I am seeking a vote for a subpoena. I intend to get (testimony) under oath. I am tired of these informal briefings where we don't get the full truth, oftentimes, we don't get the truth. That way, the American people know what's going on," Leahy said.
Republicans are also increasingly expressing concern about the firings of the eight U.S. attorneys, all of whom were removed from political appointments. Some of the fired prosecutors told senators earlier this month that they were targeted for political reasons. The Justice Department had said most were dismissed for poor performance.
"Congress has the constitutional authority to set some parameters and guidelines. We don't want to interfere with the president's basic right to set policy," Sen. Arlen Specter, the ranking Republican on the judiciary panel, told "FOX News Sunday" host Chris Wallace.
"But there's a real question here if he fires for a bad reason, if he fires because a U.S. attorney would not respond to pressure to prosecute or if there was pressure on him to not prosecute. We're taking a look now, Chris, at whether Congress ought to legislate to require some showing of cause," he continued.
Democrats accuse the Justice Department of misleading them about the reasons for the attorneys' dismissal and the extent of White House involvement. More documents from the Justice Department are headed to Congress on Monday.
E-mails already received showed that Rove, as early as Jan. 6, 2005, questioned whether the U.S. attorneys should all be replaced at the start of Bush's second term, and to some degree worked with Miers and former Gonzales chief of staff Kyle Sampson to get some prosecutors dismissed. Sampson, who resigned last week, said senior Justice officials knew the White House "had been discussing the subject since the election" of 2004.
White House spokeswoman Emily Lawrimore declined to comment Sunday as to whether Rove and Miers would testify. Fielding was taking additional time to review the matter "given the importance of the issues under consideration and the presidential principles involved," she said.
The Senate committee already has approved using subpoenas, if necessary, for Justice Department officials and J. Scott Jennings, deputy to White House political director Sara Taylor, who works for Rove.
Although U.S. attorneys serve at the president's pleasure, one of the dismissed prosecutors said he wants to know exactly what happened.
"They asked me to leave. I left. And they told the truth almost consistently throughout this about my situation," said former U.S. Attorney Bud Cummins of Little Rock. Ark. "So I really don't think this is as much about me as it is the positions they've taken to try and explain the other seven. And that's where I personally am still very concerned, because I don't think they've been fair to the other seven colleagues at all."
"Performance has nothing to do with this," said fired attorney David Iglesias, who was working in Albuquerque, N.M. "This is a political hit and I just wish the Justice Department would have been honest when it testified in January that these were, in fact, not performance-related but, in fact, political."
Lawmakers are scheduled to quiz Gonzales on Thursday about his agency's budget request. The hearing will likely focus in part on the prosecutor scandal.
On Sunday Gonzales won support from Republican Texas Sen. John Cornyn, a former federal judge.
"I know Al Gonzales well, and he's a good man. I think he's made some serious mistakes. I think he ought to be given a chance to correct those mistakes and I think if he does, he should continue as attorney general. But this is ultimately the choice that the president will make and General Gonzales himself," Cornyn said.
But Democratic Sen. Chuck Schumer said Gonzales has got to go.
"I wouldn't be surprised if, a week from now, he's no longer attorney general. He has just miscast his role, misperceived his role. Instead of just being the president's lawyer who rubber stamps everything the White House wants, he has a role, as attorney general, as the chief law enforcement officer of the land without fear or favor. And on issue after issue — the U.S. attorneys is obviously the most prominent and most egregious. He's bungled it," Schumer said.
Schumer said Bush could "clear the air" by appointing a new attorney general and coming clean with the facts.
But Specter scolded Schumer for using the issue in a Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee letter urging New Mexico voters to oust Republican Sen. Pete Domenici. Domenici called Iglesias to find out the status of an investigation into alleged voter fraud by Democrats shortly before Iglesias was fired. Domenici's chief of staff offered the Justice Department a list of possible replacements.
"(Schumer) has taken a very political stance. Now, he's got a right to do that. He's a politician and I'm a politician. But I don't think he can do both things at the same time without having a conflict of interest, but that's up for him to decide," Specter said.
FOX News' Malini Bawa and The Associated Press contributed to this report.