Attorney General Alberto R. Gonzales must quickly clarify apparent contradictions in his testimony about surveillance laws or risk a possible perjury investigation or a special prosecutor, said the top Democrat and top Republican on the Senate Judiciary Committee.
"This is going to have a devastating effect on law enforcement throughout the country if it's not cleared up," said Sen. Patrick J. Leahy, Vermont Democrat and chairman of the committee, during an appearance on CBS' "Face the Nation."
Pennsylvania Sen. Arlen Specter, the ranking Republican on the committee, said the Justice Department would be "better off" without Mr. Gonzales, but declined to endorse any formal investigations until the attorney general had been given time to respond.
"I think we ought to give the attorney general a chance to correct the record," Mr. Specter said during his own "Face the Nation" appearance. "So let's give him a chance. The Judiciary Committee is not in the business of setting up perjury prosecutions. What we want to do is find out what the facts are so that we can formulate public policy and legislation and get the Department of Justice back on its feet."
Four Democrats on the committee have requested that Solicitor General Paul Clement appoint a special prosecutor to investigate Mr. Gonzales, citing what they say is contradictory testimony from him and former FBI Director Robert S. Mueller III on internal administration discussions of the terrorist-surveillance program.
"We need a special prosecutor. That's the only way to find out the truth," Sen. Charles E. Schumer, New York Democrat, told ABC's "This Week."
"Has Gonzales breached the criminal standard? There's a lot of evidence that said he does, but you need the right type of proceeding, and you need a special prosecutor to find out yes or no," Mr. Schumer said.
Democrats say the testimony of Mr. Mueller appears to contradict Mr. Gonzales' testimony regarding whether the program was discussed in a 2004 meeting with former Attorney General John Ashcroft, who was hospitalized at the time recovering from surgery.
"He has a week," Mr. Leahy said. "You have to follow the law. I have to follow the law. They should have to follow the law. That's the bottom line.
"If he doesn't correct it, then I think that there are so many errors in there that the pressure will lead very, very heavily to whether it's a special prosecutor, a special counsel, efforts within the Congress."
Democratic Sen. Russ Feingold of Wisconsin, who also sits on the Judiciary Committee, yesterday defended his call for a special prosecutor into the matter.
"The truth is that the attorney general, in my view, has at least lied to Congress and may have committed perjury," he said on "Fox News Sunday."
"This is technical, and it is classified, but there's really nothing more important than not having the attorney general of the United States tell false statements to Congress about these programs and about what's going on."
This is the second major barrage against the administration in a week from Mr. Feingold, who last Sunday announced his support for censuring President Bush.
However, both Mr. Leahy and Mr. Feingold said they are open to cooperating with the White House on suspected-terrorist surveillance laws. Over the weekend, Mr. Bush and administration officials called on Congress to update the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act.
"The proposal would make clear that court orders are not necessary to effectively collect foreign intelligence about foreign targets overseas," Director of National Intelligence Michael McConnell said in a message to lawmakers last Friday.
"As long as it's two foreign countries, we have a deal. That's fine. I agree with that," Mr. Feingold said on Fox. "If they want to do foreign to foreign, we can do it tomorrow."
At the end of the Feingold interview, host Chris Wallace acknowledged the political difficulties facing Mr. Gonzales. "By the way, we invited White House officials and Republicans on the Senate Judiciary Committee to defend Attorney General Gonzales. We had no takers."
Sen. Orrin G. Hatch, Utah Republican, defended Mr. Gonzales during a separate appearance on "This Week."
"He's not going to resign. I have a lot of respect for the man. He's willing to hang in there," he said.