- The Washington Times - Monday, March 19, 2007


Attorney General Alberto R. Gonzales’ hold on his job grew more uncertain yesterday as the Senate debated removing his authority to unilaterally name U.S. attorneys and the White House said it merely hoped he would survive the tumult.

Asked whether Mr. Gonzales had contained the political damage from the firings of eight federal prosecutors, White House spokesman Tony Snow said, “I don’t know.”

Mr. Snow declined to predict how long Mr. Gonzales would stay in his job but reiterated President Bush’s support of him.

“No one’s prophetic enough to know what the next 21 months hold,” Mr. Snow said. “We hope he stays.”

The Justice Department also planned to turn over to Congress late yesterday a couple of thousand pages of new documents related to the firings.

White House counselor Dan Bartlett said Mr. Bush had full confidence in Mr. Gonzales and that the attorney general had not offered to resign.

Mr. Gonzales faces a tough week. The Senate devoted yesterday and today to debating and voting on rescinding his authority to appoint replacement U.S. attorneys without Senate confirmation.

“We need to close the loophole exploited by the White House and the Department of Justice that facilitated this abuse,” Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Patrick J. Leahy, Vermont Democrat, said in opening the debate.

In other trouble for the administration, the Justice Department’s inspector general is scheduled to testify today and tomorrow before House and Senate committees on what he says was Justice’s misuse of its power to secretly go through people’s financial, Internet and other records in terrorism cases.

Mr. Gonzales is slated as the star witness Thursday before a House panel considering his department’s budget request. That will be his first public appearance on Capitol Hill since Mr. Bush told him last week to quickly patch up relations with lawmakers.

There was no indication that would happen any time soon. Not a single Republican in Congress has come to Mr. Gonzales’ defense, though some have stated the administration’s right to replace prosecutors without offering a reason.

One Republican senator has called for Mr. Gonzales’ resignation and another has said the attorney general has lost the confidence of Congress. In the House, one Republican member has stepped forward to call for his replacement while another says he will do the same this week. Democrats widely have called for Mr. Gonzales to step down, including presidential hopefuls Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton of New York and former Sen. John Edwards of North Carolina.

However, many Democrats — like most Republicans — are waiting to see which shoe falls next.

Democrats kept up their effort to find out why eight U.S. attorneys were fired after Dec. 7 — noting that six were involved in public-corruption cases at a time when Republicans were still smarting from being stripped of their congressional majority in the November elections.

Some of those fired had pursued Republicans in corruption cases; one, David Iglesias of New Mexico, said he had refused political pressure to rush indictments that would hurt Democrats.

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