The abrupt departure of Attorney General Alberto Gonzales won’t stop congressional Democrats from pursuing investigations into his tenure at the Justice Department.
“This resignation is not the end of the story,’’ said Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.). “Congress must get to the bottom of this mess and follow the facts where they lead, into the White House.”
And Reid was not alone. Other key congressional Democrats vowed as well on Monday to continue the investigations into the controversial firings of nine U.S. attorneys and other matters – even as Gonzales, a central figure in the investigations, made his exit.
House Judiciary Committee Chairman John Conyers Jr. (D-Mich.), whose committee has undertaken several of the investigations, said Congress still needed answers from the White House.
“If the power of the prosecutor has been misused in the name of partisanship, we deserve a full airing of the facts,” Conyers said. “The responsibility to uncover these facts is still on the Congress and the Judiciary Committee in particular."
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Rep. Linda T. Sanchez (D-Calif.), who chairs the judiciary subcommittee that has been leading the U.S. attorney inquiry, said many questions still remain – and she intends to get to the bottom of “potential criminal wrongdoing at the Department of Justice.’’
“The public deserves answers to questions from the firing of U.S. attorneys to the warrantless surveillance of American citizens," she said.
And another judiciary subcommittee chairman, Rep. Jerrold Nadler (D-N.Y.), suggested that a special prosecutor be appointed to investigate “the attorney general’s false statements to Congress and…the apparent criminal violations of law by Attorney General Gonzales and others, including President Bush, by initiating the National Security Agency's warrantless wiretapping program."
"The resignation of Attorney General Alberto Gonzales does not absolve the Bush administration of its various abuses of power,” Nadler said. “Mr. Gonzales is but one actor in the administration's ongoing campaign to evade, ignore and undermine the Constitution.”
In the Senate, Judiciary Committee Chairman Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.) said he hoped Gonzales’ resignation, effective Sept. 17, would hasten the emergence of more information about the U.S. attorney scandal.
“I hope the attorney general’s decision will be a step toward getting to the truth about the level of political influence this White House wields over the Department of Justice,” Leahy said.
Republicans, meanwhile, downplayed the turmoil that marked Gonzales’ tenure. Some commended his service, saying the Democrats’ investigations had been politically motivated.
“I hope that history will remember Attorney General Gonzales for his honorable service to his country, rather than for the absurd political theater to which some critics have subjected him,” said Sen. Orrin G. Hatch (R-Utah), a member of the Judiciary Committee.
Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) said he hoped the next attorney general would avert the political firestorm that had enveloped Gonzales from his earliest days at the Justice Department.
“It is my hope that whomever President Bush selects as the next attorney general, he or she is not subjected to the same poisonous partisanship that we’ve sadly grown accustomed to over the past eight months,” McConnell said.
Since Democrats took control of Congress in January, the Justice Department firings of the U.S. attorneys has ballooned into a national scandal with Democrats and some Republicans charging that the White House exerted its olitical might against career prosecutors.
Democrats have also investigated shake-ups in the Justice Department’s civil rights division, the administration’s wiretapping program and allegations of potentially inhumane treatment of detainees at Guantanamo Bay.