Attorney General Alberto Gonzales has hurt the Bush administration and the Justice Department with his poor handling of the firing of eight federal prosecutors, a leading Republican said Sunday.
Sen. Arlen Specter (news, bio, voting record) of Pennsylvania, the top Republican on the Senate Judiciary Committee, said Gonzales was certainly undermining himself and his agency's law enforcement efforts.
"The attorney general's testimony was very, very damaging to his own credibility. It has been damaging to the administration," Specter said of Gonzales' appearance before the Senate Judiciary Committee this past week. "No doubt, it is bad for the Department of Justice. It is harmful. There has been a very substantial decrease in morale."
But Specter stopped short of adding his name to the growing ranks of lawmakers, both Democrat and Republican, calling on Gonzales to resign.
"I don't challenge anybody else who wants to do it," Specter said. "My own mindset is to leave it up to the attorney general and the president."
Despite the criticism, Gonzales gave no indication Sunday he might soon resign. Gonzales remains focused on guarding against terrorism and keeping kids and communities safe, said Brian Roehrkasse, a spokesman for the department.
"He has acknowledged and apologized for the mistakes that were made during the handling of the recent resignations of the eight U.S. attorneys," Roehrkasse said in a statement Sunday e-mailed to The Associated Press, "and he intends to continue to work closely with the Congress to reassure them that he is taking all appropriate steps to rectify this unfortunate situation."
Gonzales emerged from a bruising committee hearing Thursday in which he was scolded by senators in both parties and had memory problems. He claimed dozens of times he couldn't recall key details about the prosecutors' firings or about a key November meeting that documents show he attended.
"All of America saw why so many of us had felt for so long that he shouldn't be attorney general," said Sen. Charles Schumer (news, bio, voting record), D-N.Y., a Judiciary committee member and one of Gonzales' most vocal critics. "He was not in command of the facts. He contradicted himself. And he doesn't really appreciate the role of attorney general."
Schumer maintained Sunday that Gonzales ought to step down as soon as possible.
Asked whether Gonzales should resign, Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Patrick Leahy (news, bio, voting record), D-Vt., said: "I don't think he can be effective" if he remains in office.
"A lot of those calls are coming from Republicans," Leahy said. "He's lost the confidence of many Democrats and Republicans in the Congress, and many people throughout America."
But some give Gonzales a chance of getting past the flap.
"I think he can survive," said Sen. Sam Brownback (news, bio, voting record), R-Kan., a member of the Judiciary committee and GOP presidential hopeful. Gonzales has "got difficulties, he's got problems," Brownback said. But as long as the attorney general has got President Bush's backing then "it's time to move on" and drop the calls for him to resign, he said.
Republican Sens. John Sununu (news, bio, voting record) of New Hampshire and Tom Coburn (news, bio, voting record) of Oklahoma have called for Gonzales' resignation. Coburn, a Judiciary committee member, told Gonzales on Thursday the firings were "handled incompetently" and he "ought to suffer the consequences."
Sen. Lindsey Graham (news, bio, voting record), R-S.C., also questioned whether Gonzales should stay. "You said something that struck me — that sometimes it just came down to these were not the right people at the right time," Graham told Gonzales at the hearing. "If I applied that standard to you, what would you say?"
Gonzales replied he could still be an effective attorney general.
Another GOP committee member, Sen. Jeff Sessions (news, bio, voting record), R-Ala., said in an interview "it's going to be difficult for him to be an effective leader." Sessions is a former federal prosecutor.
At the White House on Friday, spokeswoman Dana Perino heaped praise on Gonzales. "He has done a fantastic job at the Department of Justice," she said. "He is our No. 1 crime fighter. He has done so much to help keep this country safe from terrorists."
Specter and Schumer spoke on "Fox News Sunday," Leahy was on CBS' "Face the Nation" and Brownback appeared on CNN's "Late Edition.
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