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Bush in strife over role in lawyer firings

  Law Center  -   POSTED: 2007/03/14 16:43

Embattled Attorney General Alberto Gonzales said Wednesday it's up to President Bush whether he remains in the administration and said he wants to stay and explain to Congress the circumstances surrounding the firings of eight U.S. attorneys.

Amid an escalating political row and calls from some Democrats for his resignation, Gonzales said, "I work for the American people and serve at the pleasure of the president."

"I think you can look at the record of the department in terms of what we've done ... going after child predators, public corruption cases," he said on NBC's "Today" show. "I think our record is outstanding."

Critics charge that the prosecutors were ousted because of political considerations.

Gonzales acknowledged, as he had on Tuesday, that mistakes were made in the handling of the U.S. attorney firings and said he wanted to remain in the job to make things right with Congress.

"I think we've done a good job in managing the department. .. Things are going to happen," he said. "We are going to work with Congress to make sure they know what happened. ... We want to ensure that they have a complete and accurate picture of what happened here."

"I didn't become attorney general by quitting," Gonzales said on CBS's "The Early Show."

Several Democrats have called for Gonzales' resignation, among them presidential candidates Hillary Rodham Clinton and John Edwards.

"The buck should stop somewhere," Clinton said in an interview with ABC's "Good Morning America" which was broadcast Wednesday morning. She added that Bush "needs to be very forthcoming -- what did he say, what did he know, what did he do?" and that high-level White House adviser Karl Rove also "owes the Congress and the country an explanation" for his role in the affair.

The firestorm of criticism has erupted in the wake of the disclosure of e-mails within the administration which showed that Gonzales' chief of staff, Kyle Sampson, had discussed the possible firings of U.S. attorneys in early 2005 with then-White House Counsel Harriet Miers.

Gonzales accepted Sampson's resignation this week; Miers had left the administration earlier this year.

It was the second time in as many weeks that Gonzales came under withering criticism on Capitol Hill. Last week, the attorney general and FBI Director Robert S. Mueller admitted that the FBI had improperly, and at times illegally, used the USA Patriot Act to secretly pry out personal information about Americans in terrorism investigations.

Gonzales, himself a former White House counsel, has been friends with Bush for years, going back to when he served as Bush's secretary of state in Texas. Bush retains full confidence in the attorney general, spokesman Dan Bartlett, traveling with Bush in Mexico, said Wednesday. "He's a standup guy," Bartlett said of Gonzales.

As for the firings, Bartlett said White House officials had heard complaints from members of Congress regarding prosecutors and Bush had raised the subject during an October 2006 meeting with Gonzales. He described the exchange as "offhand" and said Bush did not name any specific prosecutors but did identify their states.

"This briefly came up and the president said, 'I've been hearing about this election fraud issue from members of Congress and want to be sure you're on top of it as well,' " Bartlett said.

Bartlett said that Gonzales had responded, "I know, and we're looking at those issues."

In the NBC appearance Wednesday, Gonzales said he had a "general knowledge" of Sampson's conversations with Miers about the prosecutors, but said "I was obviously not aware of all communications."

"I think we have an obligation to ensure where we can improve upon performance around the country," he said.

One of the ousted U.S. attorneys, David Iglesias, who was the U.S. attorney in New Mexico, told Congress had had received a call from Sen. Pete Domenici, R-N.M., that he considered intimidating. Democrats in Congress have charged that some prosecutors were sacked because there was a belief within the administration that they were not moving quickly enough on political corruption cases involving Democrats.

Domenici acknowledged calling Iglesias but denied trying to put any pressure on the prosecutor to speed up his investigation.

Asked Wednesday if politics played a role in the firings, Gonzales said, "These firings were not politically motivated. They were not done in retaliation. They were not done to interfere with a public corruption case."

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