Attorney General Alberto Gonzales testified during a Senate hearing last week and the outcry among political leaders for his resignation has intensified.
During his April 19 testimony before the Senate Judiciary Committee, he faced notable scrutiny from both parties but steadfastly claimed that he had both nothing to hide and that he could not recall a number of details regarding the firing of eight U.S. attorneys earlier this year.
Gonzales defended the decision to the panel, saying that “while reasonable people might decide things differently, my decision to ask for the resignations of these U.S. attorneys is justified.”
He also said that he could not recall details in the run-up to the attorneys’ dismissal more than 40 times.
Sen. Arlen Specter of Pennsylvania, the ranking Republican on the committee, led off the hearing with a statement of his own skepticism in Gonzales’ actions and explanations. “We have to evaluate whether you are really being forthright,” said Specter.
Another Republican to openly question Gonzales’ motives was Sen. Lindsey Graham of South Carolina. “Most of this is a stretch,” he said. “I think it’s clear to me that some of these people just had personality conflicts with people in your office or at the White House. . Some of it sounds good, some of it doesn’t, and that’s the lesson to be learned here.”
Sen. Tom Coburn, R-Okla., said he believed the firings were executed “in a very incompetent manner.”
President Bush, however, stood by the attorney general. In a statement after the hearing, the White House professed “full confidence” in Gonzales’ ability to perform the duties of his job.
“President Bush was pleased with the attorney general’s testimony today,” said White House spokeswoman Dana Perino. “After hours of testimony in which he answered all of the senators’ questions and provided thousands of pages of documents, he again showed that nothing improper occurred. He admitted the matter could have been handled much better, and he apologized for the disruption to the lives of the U.S. attorneys involved, as well as for the lack of clarity in his initial responses.”
After the hearing, Sen. Charles Schumer, D-N.Y., called for Gonzales’ resignation. Since then, a number of other high-profile politicians have made the same call.
Coburn, along with Republicans Sens. Gordon Smith of Oregon and John Sununu of New Hampshire, has urged Gonzales to resign. They were joined Wednesday by Sen. John McCain, who became the first Republican presidential candidate to do so.
Several Democratic senators have come out in favor of a Gonzales resignation as well, including Hillary Clinton of New York, Mark Pryor of Arkansas, Maria Cantwell of Washington and Edward Kennedy of Massachusetts.
Presidential candidate and former Sen. John Edwards joined the calls, too. Edwards also said White House adviser Karl Rove should be fired if he refuses to testify in the matter.
McCain said he was “disappointed” with Gonzales’ performance in an interview with CNN’s Larry King. “I think that out of loyalty to the president that that would probably be the best thing that he could do,” McCain said about a potential resignation.
Sen. Patrick Leahy, D-Vt., has also said he doesn’t “think [Gonzales] can be effective” as attorney general if he does not resign in the face of mounting pressure to do so.
Leahy and Specter also issued a letter to Gonzales Wednesday asking him to “promptly supplement your testimony of April 19” in writing by May 4. The letter was in direct response to Gonzales’ frequent insistence that he did not know or could not recall details surrounding the firings.
A House panel also voted Wednesday to grant immunity to Monica Goodling, a former Gonzales aide, to compel her testimony regarding the firings.