Gonzales Defends Actions on U.S. Attorney Firings

By William Branigin
Washington Post Staff Writer
Thursday, April 19, 2007; 5:44 PM

Attorney General Alberto R. Gonzales told a Senate panel today that the controversial firing of eight U.S. attorneys was "flawed," but he continued to insist that there was "nothing improper" about the removals, and he rebuffed suggestions that he resign.

Appearing before the Senate Judiciary Committee, the nation's chief law enforcement officer faced tough, skeptical questioning from both Democratic and Republican senators, as he argued that he had "limited involvement" in the process that led to the firings but defended them nonetheless.

One Republican senator, Tom Coburn of Oklahoma, pointedly told Gonzales that the dismissals have been handled "in a very incompetent manner," tarnishing the reputations of the prosecutors and damaging public confidence in the Justice Department.

"I believe the best way to put this behind us is your resignation," Coburn said. Gonzales rejected the idea, saying he was committed to correcting his mistakes.

At the end of the hearing, Sen. Charles E. Schumer (D-N.Y.) also urged Gonzales to step down "for the good of the department and the good of the country."

The top Republican on the committee, Sen. Arlen Specter (Pa.), told the embattled attorney general that "your credibility has been significantly impaired" as a result of the hearing, but he stopped short of calling on him to resign.

Earlier, Gonzales said he would quit only if he thought he could no longer be effective.

"I have admitted mistakes in managing this issue, but the department as a general matter has not been mismanaged," he said. "We've done great things."

Saying he was working hard to improve morale at Justice in the wake of the controversy, he told the committee, "The moment I believe I can no longer be effective, I will resign. . . ." But he added, "I believe I can continue to be effective as the attorney general of the United States," and he told senators, "I don't have anything to hide."

In a statement after the hearing, White House spokeswoman Dana Perino said Bush

"was pleased with the attorney general's testimony today" and continues to have "full confidence" in him.

"After hours of testimony in which he answered all of the senators' questions and provided thousands of pages of documents, he again showed that nothing improper occurred," Perino said. "He admitted the matter could have been handled much better, and he apologized for the disruption to the lives of the U.S. attorneys involved, as well as for the lack of clarity in his initial responses." She said Bush "appreciates the work he is doing at the Department of Justice to help keep our citizens safe from terrorists, our children safe from predators, our government safe from corruption, and our streets free from gang violence."

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