The Embattled Attorney General
Gonzales still has the president's support, for now
Democrats like Leahy and New York's Charles Schumer had been lambasting Gonzales over the U.S. attorney firings for weeks. What seemed more worrisome for Gonzales and the White House was the eroding support in the GOP. Before the hearing, among Republicans, only New Hampshire's John Sununu had called for Gonzales to go. But now that's changing. "I believe," said Oklahoma Sen. Tom Coburn at the hearing, "that the best way to put this behind us is your resignation." Others wouldn't go that far, but few Republicans had much nice to say. Sen. Lindsey Graham called the attorney general's explanations of the firings "a stretch." Pennsylvania's Arlen Specter, the committee's ranking Republican, said Gonzales's answers "did not stick together."
A stoic Gonzales vowed to press on. He conceded mistakes were made but promised to fix them. "I believe," he said "that I continue to be effective as the attorney general of the United States."
And there's much more to do. Gonzales has said he hopes to move past the acrimony to push through some of his top priorities-stemming the spike in violent crime in some areas of the country, going after violent international gangs, targeting illegal prescription drug sales over the Internet, protecting kids from pedophiles and sexual predators, and beefing up immigration laws to make the borders less porous. "I will conclude with one final, and I believe urgent request," Gonzales told the Judiciary Committee at an oversight hearing in January. "Please give the president's judicial nominees an up-or-down vote."
But a determination on Gonzales's fate may come first. "As a general rule of thumb, whoever attacks wins; whoever defends loses. And Gonzales is in the defense position," says crisis management consultant Eric Dezenhall, who served in the Reagan White House. "I think the Bush administration is on a downswing, and he's caught in that larger vortex."
Some in the GOP believe that getting rid of Gonzales, and trying to get a new attorney general confirmed with just 20 months left for the Bush administration, would be more trouble than it's worth. But other Republican legislators are grumbling privately that Gonzales has become a net liability for the 2008 campaign. They don't think he has the credibility, the competence, or the communication skills to defend GOP policies on issues ranging from domestic surveillance to Guantánamo Bay, and they want a stronger advocate during campaign season. So, despite Bush's avowed loyalty, Gonzales's fate would seem to hang in the balance as the White House keeps a sharp eye out for more Republican defectors calling for the resignation of this most embattled and isolated attorney general.
With Kenneth T. Walsh