Republican Reaction Must Get Stronger Before Gonzales Resigns

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Luckily for Attorney General Alberto Gonzalez, the Senate is leaving him alone today as it plunges into the Iraq war debate. From Mexico City, Bush signaled lukewarm support for Gonzalez, saying he is “not happy” about the US Attorney mess, but adding, “I do have confidence in AG Al Gonzales.” While Gonzales should have more involved in the whole affair, said Bush, the firings were “entirely appropriate.” Gonzalez himself tried to wiggle clear and keep his job by saying he accepts responsibility for the mess. Yesterday he uttered the famous phrase “mistakes were made.”

At mid day the Republican leadership in the Senate was holding firm on the Attorney General, refusing to join the growing number of Democrats who want his resignation. Gonzalez himself told CNN it was up to the President whether he stays or goes. Bush, as everyone knows, is extremely stubborn and up to a few months ago wouldn’t budge on hardly anything. But his administration is visibly shaken. With Libby down, and Rove a prime Democratic target because of the U.S. Attorneys scandal, it’s always possible he will break. The damage control has to start somewhere and Gonzalez might well walk the plank for the president.

While editorial pages across the country are calling for Gonzales to resign, senior Senate Republicans either had nothing to say, or in the case of Arlen Specter, the ranking member on the Judiciary Committee, urged restraint. On the Senate floor yesterday he asked for more hearings. He wants Harriet Miers to testify before Congress, and had this to say: “There’s been a request for witnesses from the Administration, from the White House. Well, why condemn the parties, why condemn the Department until we have found out what the facts are? My view, as I expressed last Thursday at the Executive Session, has been to tone down the rhetoric.” Another important Republican member of the Judiciary Committee, Lindsay Graham of South Carolina, said this: “This was a poorly handled matter, and it happened on his watch… you can go to anyone who is a U.S. attorney, say, ‘Thank you for your service, your time’s up and we want someone new.’ And no one can say a word about it. This idea of trying to make up reasons that people didn’t perform well, to me, that are at least questionable allegations, is just unseemly.”

Among Republicans, Senator John Ensign of Nevada was among the most outspoken. Yesterday he declared, “The Department of Justice completely mishandled the dismissal of Dan Bogden as Nevada’s United States Attorney. I appreciate the Attorney General’s coming forward today to take responsibility for the mistakes that were made, to find out what went wrong and to address these problems immediately.”

Late Update: “Sen. John Sununu of New Hampshire on Wednesday became the first Republican in Congress to call for Attorney General Alberto Gonzales’ dismissal.” From the AP.

— James Ridgeway

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