Former GOP allies criticize Gonzales
Some Republicans who had defended him said his credibility is ruined.
WASHINGTON -- Republican support for Attorney General Alberto Gonzales evaporated before his eyes Thursday as a Senate hearing into the firings of eight U.S. attorneys generated more pressure for his resignation.
Struggling to keep his job, Gonzales sat stoically as former allies on the Senate Judiciary Committee turned against him. Two of the panel's Republicans joined Democrats in urging the attorney general to step down. Others sharply criticized his management skills or questioned his credibility.
"I believe that you ought to suffer the consequences that these others have suffered. I believe the best way to put this behind us is your resignation," Sen. Tom Coburn, R-Okla., told Gonzales.
Gonzales defended the firings, apologized for his previous misstatements and rebuffed calls for his resignation.
"I have to know in my heart that I can continue to be effective as the leader of this department. Sitting here today, I believe that I can. And every day I ask myself that question," he said near the start of the daylong hearing. "The moment I think I can no longer be effective, I will resign as attorney general."
Gonzales' testimony before the Senate committee was widely viewed as a make-or-break moment for the attorney general, and lawmakers in both parties agreed that it didn't go well for him.
White House officials, however, said President Bush was pleased with Gonzales' performance. White House spokeswoman Dana Perino said Gonzales "has the full confidence of the president."
The reaction on Capitol Hill wasn't nearly as positive. Democrats said they didn't hear anything to shake their belief that at least some of the prosecutors were fired because they stood up to pressure to go after Democrats or go easy on Republicans.
Republican lawmakers rejected suggestions that the firings were politically motivated, but they criticized Gonzales' handling of the controversy. Even Republicans who defended Gonzales said that he'd made mistakes.
"I think we all will agree -- I think you've agreed -- that this was poorly handled," Sen. Orrin Hatch, R-Utah, told Gonzales. "I mean, how many times do you have to be flagellated over that?"
As Gonzales left the committee room, protesters sang, "Na, Na, Na, Na, Na, Na, Na, Na, Gon-za-les, goodbye," a take-off on the 1969 hit "Na Na Hey Hey Kiss Him Goodbye."
Sen. Arlen Specter, R-Pa., the committee's top Republican, stopped short of calling for Gonzales' resignation, but questioned his credibility and his ability to oversee the Justice Department.
"There are two people who have to decide that question," Specter said, after declaring that Gonzales' actions had created a cloud over the Justice Department. "I want to leave it to you and the president."
Other committee Republicans told Gonzales that his credibility was in tatters. Sen. Jeff Sessions, R-Ala., a former U.S. attorney and formerly one of Gonzales' staunchest defenders, told him that he never should have approved the firings.
"I believe, frankly, you should have said no," Sessions said. "Your ability to lead the Department of Justice is in question. I wish that were not so, but I think it certainly is."
Gonzales insisted that the dismissals were performance-related, not the result of partisan political considerations.