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Gonzales 'Proud to Be Part' of Justice Department Amid Attorney Firing Probe

One day after facing a barrage of lawmakers' questions over whether he's qualified to keep his post, Attorney General Alberto Gonzales led a quiet moment of silence Friday in honor of those killed at Virginia Tech Monday by a mentally disturbed student.

He then gave a quick word of thanks to his fellow employees.

Gonzales is under scrutiny for the way eight U.S. attorneys were fired last year and for the conflicting statements made since the firings by Justice Department officials, including himself. Several lawmakers have called for his resignation over the matter, although most are Democrats.

But support among Republicans appears to be eroding quickly. On Thursday, one key Republican — Sen. Tom Coburn, R-Okla. — also called for his resignation, and Friday, Sens. Jeff Sessions and Sam Brownback opened the door for resignation without specifically saying Gonzales should resign.

Speaking in a courtyard at the Justice Department Friday along with about 100 department employees, Gonzales somberly marked the remembrance for the 32 students slain in Blacksburg, Va., by a lone gunman who also killed himself. He then asked for "a minute to say something."

Gonzales told them he was "proud to be a part of the Department of Justice family," and said he was proud of each employee's work. The attorney general then asked for his workers to maintain focus on work despite recent distractions.

"I ask each of your to continue what you all do so well, and that is doing the right thing all of the time," Gonzales said.

With that, Gonzales wished them all a happy weekend and made a quick departure.

Gonzales is plodding through the toughest days of his two-year tenure at the helm of the Justice Department. Nevertheless, President Bush continues to offer support for his embattled cabinet member, White House spokeswoman Dana Perino said Friday.

Calling Gonzales "our number one crime fighter," Perino said there was no talk of replacing him, and the president called him Thursday to his express support.

"The president was pleased that the hearing had finally been held; that the attorney general was fully responsive to the Congress, answered hours worth of questions after providing thousands of pages of documents, and again proving that there was no credible allegation of wrongdoing," Perino said.

"The attorney general did apologize for the way it was handled, said it could have been handled better, and the president agrees with that. But the attorney general continues to have the president's full confidence," she added.

Gonzales also made a round of phone calls to Capitol Hill, trying to round up support among Republicans, including Sens. John Cornyn of Texas, Arlen Specter of Pennsylvania.

Gonzales was grilled before the Senate Judiciary Committee Thursday, and received tough treatment from Democrats and Republicans alike.

Coburn, the first Republican on the committee to call for Gonzales' resignation, urged the nation's cop to take the fall for the mishandling of the firings.

"I believe you ought to suffer the consequences and think best way to put this behind us is with your resignation," Coburn said.

Sessions, R-Ala., said Thursday he was "troubled" over Gonzales' apparent memory lapses, specifically about a pivotal meeting in November when a final list of attorneys to be fired was presented.

And Friday, Sessions released a statement calling for deep thinking on Gonzales and the administration's part, with one of the outcomes being resignation.

"I think that the Attorney General should take the weekend to consider Thursday's hearing and to determine whether he can reconstitute the Department of Justice and be an effective leader there," Sessions said.

"He should also have a frank discussion with the White House. If he and the President decide that he cannot be an effective leader moving forward, then he should resign. As he said during the hearing, 'It's not about Al Gonzales.' The bottom line is that he must do what is in the best interest of the Department of Justice," he said.

Sen. Sam Brownback, a Kansas Republican who sits on the committee, also issued a tepid statement Friday.

"Although his answers suggested that there were serious managerial issues at the Department of Justice, I did not see a factual basis to call for his resignation. As for whether the attorney general should resign, that is a question I leave to him and to the president," he said.

Republican Sens. John Sununu of New Hampshire and Gordon Smith of Oregon also have called on Gonzales to resign. Specter and Sen. Lindsay Graham, also both Republicans, stopped short of calling for Gonzales' ouster, but nevertheless had harsh words for him.

Graham, R-S.C., told FOX News that Gonzales "can survive, but he's got a lot of damage to repair."

"It's pretty hard to unscramble the eggs, but that is a possibility," said Specter of Pennsylvania, calling Thursday's hearing the equivalent of a "reconfirmation hearing."

Sens. Patrick Leahy and Charles Schumer led the Democrats in Thursday's skewering, with Leahy of Vermont continuing his charges that it appears Gonzales has not been telling the truth, and Schumer of New York criticizing Gonzales over his management of the department.

And on Friday, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., renewed her call for Gonzales to resign.

"By his actions and with his testimony yesterday, Attorney General Alberto Gonzales has lost the trust of the American people. The nation cannot have a chief law enforcement officer whose candor and judgment are in serious question. The president should restore credibility to the office of the Attorney General. Alberto Gonzales must resign," Pelosi said in a prepared statement.

Seven of the eight U.S. attorneys were fired last December, and one earlier in the year. Democrats have been critical of the firings because, they say, it appears that they were fired for political reasons. Justice Department officials have claimed that the firings were for performance-related matters. Some of the attorneys were running political corruption investigations.

As part of the probe, the Justice Department has released thousands of e-mails to congressional investigators, some of which show White House involvement in the selection process, fueling Democrats' fury. Top White House advisor Karl Rove has appeared in some of the e-mails, but White House officials said other communications by Rove may have been lost entirely because he used a Republican National Committee address instead of his White House account.

The White House maintains that there is no evidence so far that partisan politics have played a role in any of the firings.

Gonzales admitted Thursday that for two of the firings, he was unaware of the reasons for doing so until after he approved them.

FOX News' Ian McCaleb contributed to this report.