U.S. Democratic senators say Gonzales should go

  • World
  • Sunday, 11 Mar 2007

By Thomas Ferraro

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - U.S. Attorney General Alberto Gonzales should resign following disclosures of mass firings of federal prosecutors and a report the FBI improperly obtained information on private citizens, top Democratic senators said on Sunday. 

In addition, a key Republican voiced concerns of his own about Gonzales and his embattled Justice Department, although he stopped short of calling for a resignation. 

US Attorney General Alberto Gonzales (R) listens during a news conference at the Justice Department in Washington November 2, 2006. Gonzales should resign following disclosures of mass firings of federal prosecutors and a report the FBI improperly obtained information on private citizens, top Democratic senators said Sunday. (REUTERS/Larry Downing)

"I think we need a change in the top at the Justice Department," said Sen. Charles Schumer of New York, a member of the Democratic leadership. 

Sen. Joseph Biden, a Delaware Democrat and a 2008 White House contender, said, "I think we'd be better off if he did (resign), but that's a judgment the president is going to have to make." 

Sen. Arlen Specter of Pennsylvania, senior Republican on the Judiciary Committee, said it was matter for President George W. Bush and Gonzalez to decide, but added, "I do think there have been lots of problems." 

The three lawmakers made their comments in wake of the recent disclosure of the firings of eight federal prosecutors and a report last week that found that the FBI, which part of the Justice Department, abused its power in snooping on Americans. 

U.S. lawmakers, particularly Democrats, have battled with Gonzales before on matters from easing protection of U.S. civil liberties to having helped shape administration policies blamed for contributing to the torture of terror suspects. 

"I think for the sake of the nation, Attorney General Gonzales should step down," Schumer told CBS's "Face the Nation." 

Biden said on CNN's "Late Edition," "I think Gonzales has lost the confidence of the vast majority of the American people." 

Specter told CBS more facts need to be known before any conclusions are reached about the fired prosecutors, all Bush appointees. 

But at Senate meeting last week, Specter, who has often locked horns with Gonzales, said, "one day there will be a new attorney general, maybe sooner rather than later." 

Specter later said he was not suggesting Gonzales step down, but was unhappy how he had brushed off dismissals of the U.S. attorneys as an "overblown personnel matter." 

Two of the former prosecutors said they were fired after receiving improper calls from Republican lawmakers or staffers about ongoing investigations. Another was replaced by a former White House aide, and had warned fellow ousted colleagues that the administration might retaliate if they complained. 

The Justice Department has denied any wrongdoing on its part, saying the prosecutors were ousted largely for job-related issues or policy differences. 

But with most of them having received positive job evaluations, the Democratic-led Congress is looking into whether any of these U.S. attorneys were possibly dismissed for being too tough on Republicans in their criminal probes or not tough enough on Democrats. 

Congressional hearings are also planned into a report last week by the Justice Department's inspector general that the FBI illegally or improperly obtained private records during terrorism and espionage investigations. 

Bush promised swift action on the findings, but reiterated his confidence in Gonzales and FBI Director Robert Mueller. 

Sen. Lindsey Graham, a South Carolina Republican, said he does not expect Gonzales, who earlier served as Bush's White House counsel, to resign. But he told CNN, "The idea of how these U.S. attorneys were handled, is at best clumsy." 

(Additional reporting by Doug Palmer) 

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