GOP Support for Gonzales Erodes Further

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By LAURIE KELLMAN
The Associated Press
Thursday, March 15, 2007; 8:08 PM

WASHINGTON -- Republican support for Attorney General Alberto Gonzales eroded further Thursday amid an intensifying furor over his role in federal prosecutor firings, as new e-mails surfaced indicating that top White House political adviser Karl Rove had an early hand in the dismissals.

A Senate panel approved subpoenas for Justice Department officials Thursday in a probe of the firings. Subpoenas for President Bush's top aides, including Rove, could come next week.

"The new e-mails show conclusively that Karl Rove was in the middle of this mess from the beginning," said Sen. Charles Schumer, D-N.Y., adding that the revelations make it "imperative" that Rove testify under oath before Congress.

A White House e-mail to David Leitch, then deputy counsel to the president, dated Jan. 6, 2005, regarding U.S. attorneys says Rove was questioning "whether we were going to allow all to stay, request resignations from all and accept only some of them, or selectively replace them."

In a reply three days later, Gonzales' chief of staff, Kyle Sampson, tells Leitch that "we would like to replace 15-20 percent of the current U.S. attorneys _ the underperforming ones."

"The vast majority of U.S. attorneys, 80-85 percent_I would guess, are doing a great job, are loyal Bushies, etc., etc.," Sampson's e-mail says. Later in the e-mail, Sampson wrote that home-state senators may resist replacing prosecutors "they recommended. That said, if Karl thinks there would be political will to do it, then so do I."

Sampson resigned Monday night as Gonzales' staff chief. The e-mails were released Thursday by the Justice Department.

Earlier Thursday, Rove said the controversy was being fueled by "superheated political rhetoric," adding that there was no similar uproar when President Clinton dismissed all 93 U.S. attorneys at the beginning of his first term.

"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.

White House deputy press secretary Dana Perino said the newly released e-mail trail "does not directly contradict, nor is it inconsistent with what we've said."

Rove had a "vague recollection" that it was then-White House counsel Harriet Miers who first raised the idea of replacing all 93 federal prosecutors at the beginning of Bush's second term "and that he thought it was a bad idea and would be unwise."

One Republican, Sen. John Sununu of New Hampshire, has publicly urged President Bush to fire Gonzales. Still another GOP lawmaker, this one in the House and not ready to speak out publicly, said Thursday he planned to call next week for Gonzales to step down. And Sen. Gordon Smith, R-Ore., said Thursday Gonzales had lost the confidence of Congress.


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© 2007 The Associated Press

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