Gonzales Losing Support Of GOP Senators

alberto gonzales CBS

Republican support for Attorney General Alberto Gonzales eroded Sunday as key senators sharply questioned his truthfulness, and a Democrat joined the list of lawmakers who want him to resign over the firing of eight federal prosecutors.

"We have to have an attorney general who is candid and truthful. And if we find out he's not been candid and truthful, that's a very compelling reason for him not to stay on," said Sen. Arlen Specter, the top Republican on the Senate Judiciary Committee, which oversees the Justice Department.

Specter, R-Pa., said he would wait until Gonzales' scheduled April 17 testimony to the committee on the dismissals before deciding whether he could continue to support the attorney general. He called it a "make or break" appearance.

To Sen. Chuck Hagel, R-Neb., Gonzales "does have a credibility problem. ... We govern with one currency, and that's trust. And that trust is all important. And when you lose or debase that currency, then you can't govern. And I think he's going to have some difficulties."

Hagel cited changing stories from the Justice Department about the circumstances for firing the eight U.S. attorneys. "I don't know if he got bad advice or if he was not involved in the day-to-day management. I don't know what the problem is, but he's got a problem. You cannot have the nation's chief law enforcement officer with a cloud hanging over his credibility," Hagel said.

Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., said Gonzales has been "wounded" by the firings. Speaking on Face the Nation, Graham, who is on the Senate Judiciary Committee, said, "He's going to have to come to the Senate and re-establish his credibility, and he's going to have to prove to us that there was a legitimate reason this was poorly handled, because you can't say it was anything other than poorly handled."

Additionally, Sen. Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif., called for Gonzales to step down over his conflicting statements on how involved he was in the dismissals last fall. Democrats contend the prosecutors' firings were politically motivated.

Feinstein, whose state lost two U.S. attorneys in the purge — in San Diego and San Francisco — joined a growing number of Democrats and Republicans in calling for Gonzales' ouster. She said she now believes Gonzales has not told the truth about the firings.

"I believe he should step down," said Feinstein, also on the committee. "And I don't like saying this. This is not my natural personality at all. But I think the nation is not well served by this. I think we need to get at the bottom of why these resignations were made, who ordered them, and what the strategy was."

If he's had second thoughts about keeping the nation's top lawyer on the job, President Bush is not showing it, reports CBS News correspondent Joie Chen. Mr. Bush is beyond not budging, ramping up his defense of the embattled attorney general this weekend, even as new documents challenged Gonzales' version of the firing of eight U.S. attorneys.

Gonzales has said he participated in no discussions and saw no memos about plans to carry out the firings on Dec. 7 that Democrats contend were politically motivated.

His schedule, however, shows he attended at least one hour-long meeting, on Nov. 27, where he approved a detailed plan to execute the prosecutors' firings.

The White House has stood by Gonzales, saying the documents do not conflict with Gonzales' earlier statements. "The president continues to have confidence in the attorney general," a spokesman said Saturday.

Gonzales maintains the firings were proper, but also has said he relied heavily on his former chief of staff, Kyle Sampson, to plan the prosecutors targeted for dismissal. Sampson, who resigned under fire March 12, is scheduled to appear Thursday before the Senate Judiciary Committee, which is investigating the dismissals.

The committee chairman, Sen. Sen. Patrick Leahy, said he is concerned the Bush administration is trying to make Sampson "the fall guy."

"And yet we find so many emails that contradict what the attorney general has said, contradict what the deputy attorney general has said, contradict what the White House has said. Mr. Sampson's right in the middle of it," Leahy told Bob Schieffer on Face the Nation. "We're going to ask him under oath... I want him to say exactly what happened."

  • Stephen Smith

    Stephen Smith is a senior editor for CBSNews.com

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