Another Senator asks Gonzales to leave
WASHINGTON – A Senate panel authorized subpoenas for Justice Department officials Thursday in a probe of the prosecutor firings that have jeopardized Attorney General Alberto Gonzales’ job and raised questions about White House involvement. A second Republican senator urged Gonzales’ departure.Subpoenas for President Bush’s top aides, including political adviser Karl Rove, could be approved next week.One Republican, Sen. John Sununu of New Hampshire, has publicly urged President Bush to fire Gonzales. A second, Gordon Smith of Oregon, said Thursday Gonzales had lost the confidence of Congress.”The senator believes it would be helpful to have an attorney general that Congress can have more confidence in,” said Smith’s spokesman, R.C. Hammond.Still another Republican, this one in the House and not ready to speak out publicly, said he planned to call for Gonzales to step down.Other Republican lawmakers spent Thursday urging colleagues to refrain from joining that chorus until they hear more from Gonzales and his aides directly.”Let’s give them a chance to respond before we get tough,” said Sen. Arlen Specter of Pennsylvania, the senior Republican on the Judiciary Committee. “I’m prepared to get tough, but I want to get tough with a basis for doing so.”The panel wants to question Gonzales about statements made by his deputies that the firings were not efforts to install new prosecutors without Senate confirmation. An e-mail released this week revealed the attorney general’s top aide discussing how to “run out the clock” by invoking a new provision in the Patriot Act that would allow such indefinite appointments.Any answers may come too late to save Gonzales’ job, some lawmakers say.One Republican member of the House Judiciary Committee who spoke on condition of anonymity because he has not yet announced his position, said Thursday he has told White House officials that Gonzales stands no chance. The lawmaker said he expects to be among other Republicans calling for Gonzales’ resignation after the attorney general tells his story on Capitol Hill.Regardless of Gonzales’ fate, questions will be asked under oath of his aides and most of the prosecutors he fired. The Judiciary Committee approved subpoenas for five Justice officials Thursday as a safeguard against the attorney general retracting his permission for them to testify voluntarily.They are Kyle Sampson, Gonzales’ chief of staff who quit this week; Michael Elston, top aide to Deputy Attorney General Paul McNulty; Associate Attorney General Bill Mercer; Monica Goodling, Gonzales’ senior counsel and White House liaison, and Mike Battle, the departing director of the office that oversees all 93 U.S. attorneys.Justice Department spokesman Brian Roehrkasse said the subpoena authorizations were not needed because Gonzales had agreed to make his aides available.The Senate panel also authorized subpoenas for six of the eight fired U.S. attorneys. The six – Carol Lam of San Diego, Bud Cummins of Arkansas, Paul Charlton of Arizona, John McKay of Seattle, Daniel Bogden of Nevada and David Iglesias of New Mexico – testified under subpoena last week before the House Judiciary Committee.Judiciary Chairman Patrick Leahy, D-Vt., delayed until March 22 a vote on subpoenas for Rove; former White House Counsel Harriet Miers and her deputy, William K. Kelley. E-mails released this week either authored by or mentioning Rove, Miers and Kelley appeared to contradict the administration’s contention that Bush’s staff had only limited involvement in the purge.Rove said Thursday the controversy is being fueled by “superheated political rhetoric,” and he said there was no similar uproar when President Clinton dismissed all 93 U.S. attorneys at the beginning of his first term in the White House.”We’re at a point where people want to play politics with it. That’s fine,” Rove told students at a journalism seminar at Troy University in Alabama.It’s customary for new presidents to bring in their own team of prosecutors when they take office. Democrats say the Bush administration singled out some of its own nominees because they chafed at the president’s priorities and efforts by Republican members of Congress and others to influence political corruption investigations.”Eight U.S. attorneys who did not play ball with the political agenda of this administration were dropped from the team,” said Senate Democratic Whip Dick Durbin of Illinois. “We have a right to ask what that political agenda was and whether or not it was a reasonable firing and dismissal.”Some of the fired prosecutors testified last week that lawmakers leaned on them to speed up prosecutions that would hurt Democrats. Others said they felt intimidated by the agency to stay quiet. All of them were miffed by the Justice Department’s contention that the dismissals were performance-related. The department then fired back, enumerating publicly what were described as performance problems for each of the fired prosecutors.Gonzales at first shrugged off the furor as an “overblown personnel matter” in a USA Today column. A day later, the inspector general of his department released a report showing a different problem: The Justice Department had abused its power to issue secret national security letters seeking people’s personal information.The twin controversies made Republicans cringe. One, Sununu, called for Gonzales’ firing. Others have muttered tepid support for the attorney general while acknowledging concern about how the firings and their aftermath looked.Bush on Wednesday defended the firings but criticized how they were explained to Congress. The president said he still had confidence in the attorney general but implied that his support was conditioned on Gonzales patching things up with lawmakers.—Associated Press Writer Erica Werner contributed to this report.