Republicans Put Heat On Gonzales

Attorney General Alberto Gonzales testifying before the Senate Judiciary Committee in the U. S. Capitol in Washington Thursday, April 19, 2007 about the controversial dismissal of eight U.S. attorneys. CBS

Attorney General Alberto Gonzales confronted a fresh call for his resignation from a fellow Republican as he struggled to survive a bipartisan Senate challenge to his credibility in the case of eight fired prosecutors.

"The best way to put this behind us is your resignation," Sen. Tom Coburn bluntly told Gonzales, one GOP conservative to another.

Gonzales disagreed and told the Oklahoma senator he didn't know that his departure would put the controversy to rest.

The exchange punctuated a long day in the witness chair at a Senate hearing for the attorney general, who doggedly advanced a careful, lawyerly defense of the dismissals of the prosecutors. He readily admitted mistakes, yet told lawmakers he had "never sought to deceive them," and added he would make the same firings decision again.

That makes three Republican senators who have now called for Gonzales to resign, reports CBS News chief White House correspondent Jim Axelrod.

Arlen Specter, the Senate Judiciary Committee's top Republican, and a former U.S. Attorney, attacked the attorney general's shifting explanations for the firings of eight U.S. Attorneys

"We have to evaluate whether you are really being forthright," Specter bluntly informed the nation's chief law enforcement officer. The Pennsylvania Republican said Gonzales' description of his role in the firings was "significantly if not totally at variance with the facts."

Today's testimony may have convinced more senators that it's time for Gonzales to go, adds Axelrod. If he's aware of that, Gonzales is not indicating he's any closer to making that decision.

"The moment I believe I can no longer be effective, I will resign as attorney general," Gonzales said after first making it clear he did not believe it had come to that.

Struggling to save his credibility and perhaps his job, Gonzales testified at least 45 times — before lunch — that he could not recall events he was asked about.

On Air Force One, White House spokeswoman Dana Perino reiterated that the president has "full confidence" in Gonzales and she sees no indication of that changing, CBS News White House correspondent Mark Knoller reports.

After a long morning in the witness chair, Gonzales returned to face fresh Republican challenges to his credibility. "Why is your story changing?" asked Sen. Charles Grassley of Iowa, noting that the attorney general was now accepting responsibility for the firings after initially saying he had played only a minor role.

In response, Gonzales replied that his earlier answers had been "overbroad" and the result of inadequate preparation.

The process that led to the firings "should have been more rigorous," he added, although he repeatedly defended the decisions themselves.

Moments later, Coburn delivered his verdict. He said the firing issue was "handled incompetently. The communication was atrocious. It's generous to say there were misstatements."

Democrats, too, bored in.

"Since you apparently knew very little about the performance about the replaced United States attorneys, how can you testify that the judgment ought to stand?" asked Sen. Edward M. Kennedy, D-Mass.

  • Alfonso Serrano

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