Attorney General Alberto Gonzales' allies on Capitol Hill have grown more scarce as he left it largely to aides to carry out President Bush's order to straighten out the story behind the firing of eight federal prosecutors.
Senate Republicans leaving their weekly policy lunch Tuesday no longer bothered to defend Gonzales' response to lawmakers' questions about the firings. At most, they mustered an appeal to withhold judgment until the attorney general testifies before the Senate Judiciary Committee on April 17.
That was Sen. Arlen Specter's message during the closed-door meeting, according to three senators who were present.
"Senator Specter today said to give (Gonzales) a fair chance," said Sen. Jeff Sessions, an Alabama Republican and a staunch White House ally who lunched with Gonzales last week. "I think people are trying to do that. But there are some inconsistent stories he (Gonzales) is going to have to explain."
Among them: Why Gonzales said March 13 that he "never saw documents" and "never had a discussion" about the firings. Recently released documents show he participated in an hourlong meeting and approved a detailed plan on the dismissals 10 days before they were carried out.
Gonzales has maintained he was not closely involved in the firings, and did not help select which prosecutors would be told to resign.