|Traffic | Weather | Your account||Movies | Restaurants | Today's events|
3 Republican senators join Gonzales' critics
WASHINGTON — Republican support for Attorney General Alberto Gonzales eroded Sunday as three key senators sharply questioned his honesty over the firing last fall of eight federal prosecutors.
Several Republicans also urged President Bush to allow sworn testimony from his top aides about their role in dismissing the U.S. attorneys, including John McKay of Seattle.
Democrats have accused the Justice Department and the White House of purging the prosecutors for political reasons. The Bush administration maintains the firings were not improper because U.S. attorneys are political appointees.
Meanwhile, McKay told NBC's "Meet the Press" that White House officials questioned his performance in highly partisan political terms at a meeting in Washington in September, three months before his dismissal.
McKay, who had decided two years earlier not to bring voter-fraud charges that could undermine a Democratic victory in Washington's closely fought gubernatorial race, said White House counsel Harriet Miers and her deputy William Kelley "asked me why Republicans in the state of Washington would be angry with me."
McKay said that the question, which he took as a challenge to his 2004 decision, surprised him because the issue had been reviewed by his office and supported by the FBI's office in Seattle. "We expected to be supported by people in Washington, D.C., when we make tough decisions like that," McKay said.
He added that he took umbrage at the idea that he had other responsibilities beyond focusing "on the evidence and not allow[ing] politics into the work that we do in criminal prosecutions." Those involved in the scandal over the firings who acted unprofessionally "or even illegally" must be held accountable for what they did, he said.
Gonzales is facing the toughest test of his two-year tenure at the Justice Department after the release of documents suggesting he was more involved with the firings than he indicated earlier.
Stopping short of demanding Gonzales' resignation, Sen. Arlen Specter cited a Nov. 27 calendar entry placing the attorney general at a Justice Department meeting to discuss the dismissals. Those documents "appear to contradict" Gonzales' earlier statements that he never participated in such conversations, said Specter, the top Republican on the Senate Judiciary Committee, which oversees the Justice Department.
"We have to have an attorney general who is candid, truthful. And if we find out he has not been candid and truthful, that's a very compelling reason for him not to stay on," said Specter, R-Pa.
Specter said he would wait until Gonzales' scheduled April 17 testimony to the committee before deciding whether he could continue to support the attorney general. He called it a "make or break" appearance.
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 also is on the Senate Judiciary panel.
And Sen. Chuck Hagel, R-Neb., said the Justice Department has continually changed its story about the dismissals. "You cannot have the nation's chief law-enforcement officer with a cloud hanging over his credibility," Hagel said.
At the same time, Democratic Sens. Dianne Feinstein of California and Bill Nelson of Florida said Gonzales should step down.
"The nation is not well served by this," Feinstein said. The U.S. attorneys in San Diego and San Francisco were among the eight fired. Nelson said Gonzales should resign because he has "lost his credibility" but added: "I think we ought to go through the procedures and hear what he says."
At a March 13 news conference, trying to stem the furor over the firings, Gonzales said: "I never saw documents. We never had a discussion about where things stood."
But his Nov. 27 schedule, included in a batch of memos sent to Capitol Hill late Friday, showed he attended an hourlong meeting at which, aides said, he approved a detailed plan for executing the firings.
The White House continued to back Gonzales, a fellow Texan and longtime friend of Bush. "The president supports the attorney general," White House spokeswoman Nicole Guillemard said Sunday.
Copyright © 2007 The Seattle Times Company