WASHINGTON – President Bush gave embattled Attorney General Alberto Gonzales a strong vote of confidence on Monday despite scant support and scathing criticism from key Republicans.
“This is an honest, honorable man, in whom I have confidence,” Bush said.
The president said that Gonzales’ testimony before skeptical Judiciary Committee senators last week “increased my confidence” in his ability to lead the Justice Department. Separately, a White House spokeswoman said, “He’s staying.”
Gonzales has been under fire for what the White House acknowledges was his poor handling of the firing of eight federal prosecutors. He claimed dozens of times at last week’s hearing that he couldn’t recall key details about the prosecutors’ firings or about a key November meeting that documents show he attended.
Bush said that while some senators did not like the way Gonzales answered the questions, he continues to back his attorney general.
“As the hearings went forward, it was clear the attorney general broke no law, there’s no wrongdoing,” Bush said.
However, key GOP lawmakers continued to raise doubts about Gonzales.
Sen. Arlen Specter (news, bio, voting record) of Pennsylvania, the top Republican on the committee, said Monday that keeping Gonzales as attorney general will be “harmful to the Justice Department because he has lost his credibility.”
“When he said that he wasn’t involved in discussions or deliberations, and then is contradicted by his three top aides and also by documentary evidence, … his credibility has been substantially undermined,” Specter said in Harrisburg, Pa. “And I think it does hurt the administration, and inevitably it hurts the (Republican) party.”
Specter added: “As long as (Gonzales is) the attorney general, I will continue to deal with him, but whatever he has to say I will take with more than a grain of salt.”
“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 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.