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WASHINGTON - Republican support for Attorney General Alberto Gonzales eroded Sunday as three key senators sharply questioned his truthfulness and a Democrat joined the list of lawmakers who want him to resign over the firing of eight federal prosecutors.
Sen. Arlen Specter of Pennsylvania, the top Republican on the Senate Judiciary Committee, said Gonzales would have to step down if he did not tell the truth when he told Congress that he was not involved in discussions about a group of fired U.S. prosecutors at the center of the Washington controversy.
“We have to have an attorney general who is candid, truthful and if we find that he has not been candid and truthful, that’s a very compelling reason for him not to stay on,” Specter said on NBC’s “Meet the Press.”
Specter said he would wait until Gonzales’ scheduled testimony next month to the committee on the dismissals before deciding whether he could continue to support the attorney general. He called it a “make or break” appearance.
Specter also suggested Bush compromise over the issue of Karl Rove, Bush’s chief political strategist, and other aides providing testimony to Congress.
To Sen. Chuck Hagel, R-Neb., Gonzales “does have a credibility problem. ... We govern with one currency, and that’s trust. And that trust is all important. And when you lose or debase that currency, then you can’t govern. And I think he’s going to have some difficulties.”
Hagel cited changing stories from the Justice Department about the circumstances for firing the eight U.S. attorneys. “I don’t know if he got bad advice or if he was not involved in the day-to-day management. I don’t know what the problem is, but he’s got a problem. You cannot have the nation’s chief law enforcement officer with a cloud hanging over his credibility,” Hagel said.
Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., said Gonzales has been “wounded” by the firings. ‘He has said some things that just don’t add up,” said Graham, who is on the Senate Judiciary Committee.
‘The nation is not well served by this’
Additionally, Sen. Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif., called for Gonzales to step down over his conflicting statements on how involved he was in the dismissals last fall. Democrats contend the prosecutors’ firings were politically motivated.
Feinstein, whose state lost two U.S. attorneys in the purge—in San Diego and San Francisco—joined a growing number of Democrats and Republicans in calling for Gonzales’ ouster. She said she now believes Gonzales has not told the truth about the firings.
“I believe he should step down,” said Feinstein, also on the Senate Judiciary Committee. “And I don’t like saying this. This is not my natural personality at all. But I think the nation is not well served by this. I think we need to get at the bottom of why these resignations were made, who ordered them, and what the strategy was.”
Gonzales has said he participated in no discussions and saw no memos about plans to carry out the firings on Dec. 7 that Democrats contend were politically motivated.
His schedule, however, shows he attended at least one hourlong meeting, on Nov. 27, where he approved a detailed plan to execute the prosecutors’ firings.
The White House has stood by Gonzales, saying the documents do not conflict with Gonzales’ earlier statements. “The president continues to have confidence in the attorney general,” a spokesman said Saturday.
Feinstein spoke on “Fox News Sunday,” and Hagel was on “This Week” on ABC.