- The Washington Times - Tuesday, March 20, 2007

2:17 p.m.

President Bush sent a powerful message of support today for embattled Attorney General Alberto Gonzales, calling his longtime friend to express unwavering support in the face of calls for his resignation.

The White House also denied reports that it was looking for possible successors for Mr. Gonzales. “Those rumors are untrue,” White House Deputy Press Secretary Dana Perino said.

Mr. Bush called Mr. Gonzales from the Oval Office this morning, and they spoke for several minutes about the political uproar over the firings of eight U.S. attorneys, an issue that has thrust the attorney general into controversy and raised questions about whether he can survive. The White House disclosed Mr. Bush’s call to bolster Mr. Gonzales and attempt to rally Republicans to support him.

“The president reaffirmed his strong backing of the attorney general and his support for him,” Miss Perino said. “The president called him to reaffirm his support.”

Former House Republican Leader Tom DeLay said earlier today that the scandal “is just a taste of what it’s going to be like for the next two years.

“And the Bush administration sort of showed their weakness when they got rid of [former Secretary of Defense Donald H.] Rumsfeld,” the Texan said on NBC’s “Today” show. “This is a made up scandal. There is no evidence of wrongdoing whatsoever. … They ought to be fighting back.”

Mr. Bush’s call came as congressional investigators sifted through 3,000 pages of e-mails and other material concerning the dismissal of the prosecutors. Some of the documents spelled out fears in the Bush administration that the dismissals of eight U.S. attorneys might not stand up to scrutiny.

The documents were not the end of the inquiry. House and Senate panels later in the week are expected to approve subpoenas to top White House aide Karl Rove, former counsel Harriet Miers and others. Miss Miers’ successor, Fred Fielding, was to tell the Judiciary committees later today whether and under what conditions Mr. Bush would allow the officials to testify.

However, the documents tell more of the story of the run-up to the firings and the administration’s attempt to choreograph them to reduce the bloodletting. It didn’t work out that way — the prosecutors were shocked and angered by the dismissals, the lack of explanation from the Justice Department and news reports that the administration had fired the eight for performance reasons.

The bubbling discontent worried Justice Department officials. Of particular concern, according to some references in the e-mails and other material released late yesterday, was the prospect of former U.S. Attorney Bud Cummins testifying before Congress.

“I don’t think he should,” Mr. Gonzales’ chief of staff, Kyle Sampson, wrote in a Feb. 1 e-mail. “How would he answer: Did you resign voluntarily? Who told you? What did they say?”

Mr. Cummins was relieved as U.S. attorney in Little Rock, Ark., and replaced by Tim Griffin, a former assistant to Mr. Rove.

In his e-mail to colleagues, Mr. Sampson listed more questions that Mr. Cummins might have to answer if he were to testify to Congress: “Did you ever talk to Tim Griffin about his becoming U.S. attorney? What did Griffin say? Did Griffin ever talk about being AG appointed and avoiding Senate confirmation? Were you asked to resign because you were underperforming? If not, then why?”

The documents on which Congress will focus in the coming days show that Mr. Gonzales was unhappy with how Deputy Attorney General Paul McNulty explained the firings to the Senate Judiciary Committee in early February.

Speculation has abounded over who might succeed Mr. Gonzales if he doesn’t survive the political tumult. Possible candidates include White House homeland security adviser Frances Fragos Townsend, Homeland Security Secretary Michael Chertoff, former Solicitor General Ted Olson, Assistant Attorney General Kenneth Wainstein, federal appeals Judge Laurence Silberman and PepsiCo attorney Larry Thompson, who was the government’s highest-ranking black law enforcement official when he was deputy attorney general during Mr. Bush’s first term.

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