A key Senate Republican signaled yesterday that he would push for the removal of Attorney General Alberto R. Gonzales if Democrats agreed to wrap up their probe of the U.S. attorney firings.
"We need to finish this investigation and find a way to end the tenure of Attorney General Gonzales so that we are not distracted by these issues," said Sen. Arlen Specter of Pennsylvania.
Mr. Specter, the ranking Republican on the Senate Judiciary Committee, pressed the panel's chairman, Sen. Patrick J. Leahy, Vermont Democrat, to seek a meeting with President Bush.
"We could work it out. We have had disagreements where we have sat down with the president and worked it out," Mr. Specter said. "We just have to find a way to work it out, Mr. Chairman."
Mr. Leahy brushed aside Mr. Specter's request. "If I thought that there's any willingness to work it out instead of a stonewalling, I would feel a lot better about this," he said.
The White House has offered Congress interviews with top administration officials, but only privately and without a transcript.
"I'm not going to do a behind-closed-door, no-transcript thing where they determine what the agenda's going to be, and there will be no follow-up," Mr. Leahy said.
Congress has issued contempt citations against two White House officials, while Mr. Bush has claimed executive privilege. Mr. Specter said the constitutional showdown is distracting the Senate from "investigating terrorism."
The director of national intelligence has requested an update of the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act by today, but negotiations have stalled because senators are reluctant to give the attorney general control over the program.
Members of Congress, including some Republicans, have been calling for Mr. Gonzales' resignation or firing since spring.
Mr. Specter has said he thinks the Justice Department would be better off without Mr. Gonzales, but that he would not try to tell Mr. Bush how to run the executive branch.
He said yesterday that Mr. Gonzales gave misleading testimony last week to Congress, but he also has accused Sen. Charles E. Schumer, New York Democrat, of pursuing and prolonging the U.S. attorneys probe for partisan political profit.
J. Scott Jennings, the deputy White House political director, appeared yesterday before the committee but did not answer many questions, claiming the president's executive privilege.
Presidential adviser Karl Rove, who was subpoenaed to testify, did not appear.
White House Counsel Fred F. Fielding said in a letter to Congress that Mr. Rove is such a close adviser to the president that he fits into the legal category of "immediate presidential adviser" and is "immune from compelled congressional testimony."