Republican senator calls for Gonzales to quit
POSTED: 4:14 p.m. EDT, April 19, 2007
Story Highlights• NEW: Republican Sen. Coburn urges Gonzales to resign
• Gonzales: Alleging partisanship is an attack on career Justice Dept. employees
• Gonzales says he'll resign if he can no longer be an effective leader
• Sen. Arlen Specter questions attorney general on extent of involvement
WASHINGTON (CNN) -- Attorney General Alberto Gonzales confronted a fresh call for his resignation from a fellow Republican Thursday as he struggled to survive a bipartisan Senate challenge to his credibility in the case of eight fired prosecutors.
Oklahoma Republican Sen. Tom Coburn told Gonzales that the situation was handled incompetently and said there should be consequences.
"The communication was atrocious. It was inconsistent -- it's generous to say that there was misstatements; it's a generous statement. And I believe you ought to suffer the consequences that these others have suffered," Coburn said.
"And I believe the best way to put this behind us is your resignation."
Coburn is the first Republican on the Senate Judiciary Committee to call for Gonzales' resignation.
Gonzales disagreed, and said he didn't think resigning would put the controversy to rest.
Earlier, Gonzales defended his leadership of the Justice Department as free from partisan politics.
"We've prosecuted members of Congress; we've prosecuted governors, Republicans," Gonzales said in response to a question from Sen. Herbert Kohl, D-Wisconsin.
"And so, this notion that somehow we're playing politics with the cases we bring is just not true." (Watch Sen. Kohl ask Gonzales if he should resign )
Gonzales said those alleging partisanship were "attacking the career professionals" in the Justice Department.
"They're the ones -- the investigators, the prosecutors, the assistant U.S. attorneys -- they're the ones doing the work," he said.
In his opening statement, Gonzales apologized to the eight fired prosecutors and their families, saying, "They deserve better from me and the Department of Justice which they served for many years." (Watch Gonzales' opening statement )
He added: "I firmly believe that nothing improper occurred."
Facing negative public opinion polls on his performance, Gonzales said, "Every day I ask myself that question, 'Can I continue to be effective as leader of this department?'
"I believe that I can," he told Kohl.
"The moment I believe I can no longer be effective, I will resign as attorney general," he said.
Sen. Dick Durban, D-Illinois, said Gonzales had failed the leadership test.
"Your conduct of this department has made it more difficult for these [Justice Department] professionals to do their job effectively. And if you ignore that reality, then you cannot be effective as an attorney general," Durban said.
Despite the criticism, the White House reiterated its support for Gonzales.
"I think the president has full confidence in the attorney general, and whenever that changes for any public servant, we'll let you know, and I see no indication of that," White House spokeswoman Dana Perino said Thursday.
A CNN poll released Thursday shows that Americans are split over Gonzales' future, with at least a quarter of the public unsure how they feel about him.
Overall, 28 percent of Americans view him favorably, and a third have an unfavorable view.
Tough questions from ranking Republican
Earlier in Thursday's proceedings, Sen. Arlen Specter, R-Pennsylvania, focused on Gonzales' contention that he had limited involvement in the firings. ( Interactive: View key events in the U.S. attorneys firings)
Specter went through a list of meetings Gonzales attended where the topic was discussed, then asked, "Do you think it's honest to say that you had only 'limited' involvement?' "
Gonzales later replied, "It was limited involvement," and he said the discussions of U.S. attorneys such as Carol Lam were only part of his job as attorney general. Lam, a federal prosecutor in San Diego, California, was among the eight who lost their jobs. She skippered the bribery probe that led to a guilty plea in 2005 from U.S. Rep. Randy "Duke" Cunningham, a Republican.
Gonzales said any talks about Lam with senior staff stemmed from complaints he had received about her performance.
Specter pressed Gonzales on earlier statements concerning the extent of his involvement in the firings.
"I'm asking you, do you prepare for your press conference?" Specter said. "Were you prepared when you said you weren't involved in any deliberations?"
"Senator, I've already conceded that I misspoke at that press conference," Gonzales replied, referring to a March 13 briefing. "There was nothing intentional." (Watch as tensions are raised during hearing )
Later, Sen. Sam Brownback, R-Kansas, asked Gonzales to run down concisely the reasons for the dismissal of each prosecutor.
The attorney general listed reasons from office management and morale to the handling of a death penalty case as he went through the instances.
"It's difficult for me to talk critically about these individuals who served our country. But you're asking me these questions," he told Brownback during the questioning.
Criticism of Gonzales also came from Sen. John Cornyn, R-Texas, who is usually viewed as a supporter of the Bush administration.
"I believe you are a good and decent man," Cornyn told Gonzales. "But I have to tell you that the way this process has been handled is really deplorable."
Cornyn said, "It would have been much better to tell each attorney, 'Thank you for your service,' " and explain that it's time for someone else to do their job and serve their country.
Now their reputations have been sullied by all the controversy, the senator said.
Asked what he would have done differently, Gonzales said he would have prevented his then-chief of staff, Kyle Sampson, from allowing the dismissal process to take two years, and there should have been a face-to-face meeting with each lawyer, with time allotted for them to respond to concerns.
Opening the session, Sen. Patrick Leahy, D-Vermont, the panel's chairman, admonished prominent activist Cindy Sheehan and members of the anti-war group "Code Pink" for holding up signs and obstructing people's view in the chamber.
"Nobody is more protective of First Amendment rights than I, but if signs are being held up and are blocking the views of people, I don't care whether signs are for the attorney general or opposed to the attorney general, if signs are being held up blocking the views of others who have just as much a right to be here as everyone else, the people doing that will be removed," Leahy said.
Thursday's session was delayed for two days because of this week's shooting rampage at Virginia Tech.