President Bush Calls Gonzales No-Confidence Vote 'Pure Political Theater'
CRAWFORD, Texas – President Bush on Monday called an upcoming Senate vote of no confidence in Attorney General Alberto Gonzales "pure political theater" and stood by his embattled friend.
"He has done nothing wrong," Bush said during a news conference at his ranch.
The president rapped Senate Democrats preparing a no-confidence vote on the embattled attorney general by week's end and urged them to get back to legislative business.
"I frankly view what's taking place in Washington today as pure political theater," Bush said, sounding exasperated with the furor swirling around his longtime friend. "I stand by Al Gonzales and I would hope that people would be more sober in how they address these important issues."
Bush did not answer a question about whether he intends to keep Gonzales in office through the end of his presidency.
Bush's comments came as support for Gonzales eroded even in the president's own party and the Senate prepared to hold a vote of no confidence in the attorney general, possibly at week's end.
Gonzales, who is headed to Europe this week, scrapped a meeting with his Swiss counterpart and shelved tentative plans for a speech in Hungary. His cancellations also come days before his former White House liaison, Monica Goodling, was to testify about her role in the firings of U.S. attorneys last year.
On Sunday, the top Republican on the Senate Judiciary Committee predicted Gonzales would step down before senators go on record as having confidence in the attorney general, or not.
"I have a sense that before the vote is taken, that Attorney General Gonzales may step down," Sen. Arlen Specter of Pennsylvania said Sunday.
Justice spokesman Brian Roehrkasse said the attorney general's stops in Switzerland and Budapest, Hungary, were never set in stone. He said Gonzales leaves Tuesday for meetings in Munich as part of the G-8 summit there.
Roehrkasse said Gonzales had hoped to give a speech to the International Law Enforcement Academy in Budapest — focusing on the war on terror, child exploitation, intellectual property rights and other topics — but doing so could not be set up. Similarly, Roehrkasse said Gonzales was too short on time to make it to Switzerland, and that no meeting there was ever confirmed.
A spokesman for the Swiss Justice Ministry said Washington called off the meeting, which was set for Wednesday.
"A first meeting was planned for Wednesday in Switzerland between Attorney General Gonzales and Justice Minister (Christoph) Blocher," said Sascha Hardegger, a spokesman for the Swiss Justice Ministry. "It was recently canceled by the United States."
Hardegger said the meeting was set up in response to a U.S. request "in the context of Mr. Gonzales' participation in the G-8 justice ministers' meeting in Munich."
Switzerland is not a member of the G-8 and Blocher will not attend the Munich meeting, Hardegger said. He downplayed the significance of the "short, informal meeting" with Gonzales, but would not say what they planned to speak about.
Hardegger declined to speculate on the reasons for the cancellation, but said it's possible Gonzales and Blocher could meet shortly after the G-8 meeting or at another future date.
"We have just spoken about perhaps another meeting at a later time, but all this is still completely open," he said.