Schumer Calls For Gonzales's Resignation

Two key senators, Chuck Schumer (D, N.Y.) and Arlen Specter (R, Penn), discuss President Bush's latest troop request and other issues. CBS

The Senate's No. 3 Democrat said Sunday that Attorney General Alberto Gonzales should resign because he is putting politics above the law.

Sen. Charles Schumer's comments come after a week in which the Justice Department found itself on the defensive over the dismissal of U.S. attorneys and the FBI's misuse of a type of subpoena known as national security letters.

Appearing on Face the Nation Schumer said Gonzales repeatedly has shown more allegiance to President Bush than to citizens' legal rights since taking his job in early 2005.

"Attorney General Gonzales is a nice man," Schumer said. "But he either doesn't accept or doesn't understand that he is no longer just the president's lawyer, but has a higher obligation to the rule of law and the Constitution, even when the president should not want it to be so. And so this department has been so political that I think for the sake of the nation, Attorney General Gonzales should step down."

Schumer said that unlike other cabinet officers as attorney general, Gonzales is not obligated to follow the president's orders, but is actually supposed to question them. His ultimate obligation is to the Constitution.

"Attorney General Gonzales in his department has been even more political than his predecessor, Attorney (General) John Ashcroft," Schumer said.

There have also been allegations that some U.S. attorneys were fired by the attorney general because some Republicans felt they weren't doing enough to file corruption charges against the Democrats in their states.

Also appearing on Face the Nation Pennsylvania Sen. Arlen Specter, the top Republican on the Senate Judiciary Committee, said Gonzales' resignation was a "question for the president and the attorney general."

"I do think there have been lots of problems," said Specter, who last week suggested that a Gonzales tenure may have run its course. "Before we come to conclusions, I think we need to know more facts."

Specter said Congress should roll back some of the power given to the FBI under the Patriot Act because it has "been very badly abused."

"The only reason it was checked was because when we reauthorized the Patriot Act last year, we inserted the provision for the inspector generals to report it, and that has disclosed these problems," he said. "And I think that the hearings ought to go beyond an analysis of the failures to comply with the law, but very active consideration about withdrawing some of those powers."

Justice spokesman Brian Roehrkasse said the attorney general had made significant strides to protect national security, increase prosecutions of sex offenders and immigration offenses and fight gang violence.

"The attorney general demonstrated decisive leadership by demanding a new level of accountability to address systematic problems in oversight over some of the FBI's national security tools," Roehrkasse said.

On Friday, Gonzales and FBI director Robert Mueller acknowledged the FBI had broken the law to secretly pry out personal information about people in the U.S. as part of its pursuit of suspected terrorists and spies.

The admission came after a blistering 126-page report by the Justice Department's inspector general that found agents improperly obtained telephone records and demanded sensitive data. The information was obtained via security letters, which are special warrants issued without judicial approval.

Under criticism by lawmakers, Gonzales also agreed to tighten the law for replacing U.S. attorneys and to let Congress hear from senior department officials with roles in the ousters.

Several U.S. attorneys allege they were unfairly dismissed without reason after they declined to rush corruption investigations into Democrats before last November's congressional election. Gonzales and other officials have denied the charge.

Over the weekend, Bush pledged an end to the FBI lapses that caused the illegal snooping but expressed confidence in the response by Mueller and Gonzales. Mueller has accepted responsibility, and both have pledged to fix problems.

Mr. Bush said that while the inspector general's report "justly made issue of FBI shortfalls, (it) also made clear that these letters were important to the security of the United States."

On Sunday, Specter and Schumer called the FBI abuses unacceptable. They noted it was Congress that demanded the inspector general review the program even as Justice Department officials were providing assurances the government's surveillance programs were being run responsibly.

In coming hearings by the Judiciary Committee, senators plan to review whether it might be appropriate to scale back some of the government's law enforcement powers in light of the abuses.

"What we found in the Justice Department over and over again is a lack of respect for the rule of law," Schumer said. "There's a view that the executive should be almost without check."

"And that is so wrong," he said. "That's one of the reasons I think we need a change at the top in the Justice Department."
  • Caitlin Johnson

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