- The Washington Times - Wednesday, March 14, 2007

President Bush yesterday said he was “not happy” that the Justice Department misinformed Congress about White House involvement in the firing of eight federal prosecutors, but said he still has confidence in Attorney General Alberto R. Gonzales.

“I’m, frankly, not happy about it, because there is a lot of confusion over what really has been a customary practice by the presidents,” Mr. Bush said, during a joint press conference with Mexican President Felipe Calderon, in Merida, Mexico.

Meanwhile, Sen. John E. Sununu of New Hampshire became the first Republican senator to join Democratic calls for Mr. Gonzales’ resignation.

“We must have a strong, credible attorney general who holds the confidence of Congress and the American people,” said Mr. Sununu, who has frequently criticized the Bush administration as ignoring civil liberties while fighting the war on terror. “I do not believe Alberto Gonzales can fill that role. The president should fire the attorney general and replace him as soon as possible.”

White House spokesman Tony Snow said of the Sununu remarks: “We’re disappointed, obviously.”

Mr. Bush, who returned from Mexico yesterday afternoon after a week in Latin America, defended the firings, and rejected suggestions that the U.S. attorneys were fired for the wrong reasons.

“What the Justice Department did was appropriate,” Mr. Bush said. “What was mishandled was the explanation of the cases to the Congress. And Al has got work to do up there [on Capitol Hill].”

“The fact that both Republicans and Democrats feel like that there was not straightforward communication troubles me, and it troubles the attorney general,” Mr. Bush said.

Mr. Gonzales made appearances on the five major TV morning shows yesterday, in an effort to dampen controversy over the matter. For the second day in a row, Mr. Gonzales yesterday said he was responsible for misinforming Congress about the firings. However, his chief of staff — D. Kyle Sampson — resigned Monday and has been pegged by Mr. Gonzales and the White House as the true culprit.

“There was a level of exchange of communications with the White House. I wasn’t kept aware of all of those communications,” Mr. Gonzales said during an interview on Fox News Channel. “I had confidence in my chief of staff to ensure that those who were providing information to the Hill had full and complete information.”

“Some mistakes were made there, and … I did accept the resignation of my chief of staff,” he said.

Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Patrick J. Leahy, Vermont Democrat, has threatened to subpoena White House staff — including presidential adviser Karl Rove — if they did not agree to be interviewed. Last night, his committee’s staff said that the panel plans to vote this morning on subpoenas at least for Justice officials, and possibly for White House personnel, although they declined to give names in either category.

The White House has said for weeks that it merely signed off on Justice Department recommendations, but e-mails released Monday showed that Mr. Sampson worked with Bush administration officials for nearly two years to target attorneys.

The targeting process was touched off after Mr. Bush’s re-election in 2004, when then-White House Counsel Harriet Miers suggested that all 93 U.S. attorneys be fired, to inject “new blood” into the prosecutorial system. President Clinton did that very thing in 1993 when he first took office.

Carol Lam, the U.S. attorney for the Southern District of California, had prosecuted former Rep. Randy “Duke” Cunningham, California Republican, for taking $2.4 million in bribes. Cunningham is now serving an eight-year prison sentence.

Mrs. Lam was reportedly widening the investigation to include Rep. Jerry Lewis, California Republican, on May 11, 2006, when Mr. Sampson sent an e-mail to White House attorney William K. Kelley, referring to “the real problem we have right now with Carol Lam.”

Mr. Gonzales told Fox that “decisions were not based on trying to interfere with an ongoing public corruption case.” He said Mrs. Lam had been applauded for her anti-corruption efforts, but had not done enough on other cases.

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