Fresh disapproval aimed at Gonzales

2 GOP senators, ex-prosecutor level strong criticism

May 18, 2007|By Tom Hamburger and Joe Mozingo | Tom Hamburger and Joe Mozingo,LOS ANGELES TIMES

Washington -- After appearing to have weathered the worst of the Justice Department scandal, Attorney General Alberto R. Gonzales came under fresh assault yesterday on the heels of this week's revelations about his conduct in the Bush administration.

Two Republican senators and a former prosecutor leveled withering criticism at Gonzales yesterday as Senate Democrats called for a no-confidence vote on the attorney general.

A week ago, Gonzales' position seemed to be improving as he received support from Republicans on the House Judiciary Committee. But damaging testimony about Gonzales this week from former Deputy Attorney General James B. Comey undermined faith in his leadership.

"I don't have confidence in Gonzales," Republican Sen. Norm Coleman of Minnesota said during a conference call yesterday, making him the fifth Senate Republican to call for the attorney general's departure.

"I would hope that the attorney general understands that the department is suffering right now, and he does the right thing, and that is allows the president to provide new leadership."

Coleman, who is likely to face a difficult re-election campaign next year, offered Comey's testimony as part of the reason for his call for Gonzales' departure.

Comey told a Senate panel Tuesday that Gonzales, when he was White House counsel, pushed a secret national security order over the objections of the Justice Department, which considered the program illegal.

Also yesterday, Democratic Sens. Dianne Feinstein of California and Charles E. Schumer of New York called for a full Senate vote on their largely symbolic resolution expressing a lack of confidence in Gonzales. The vote could be held as early as next week, they said.

The Democrats' announcement followed remarks by Sen. Arlen Specter of Pennsylvania, the senior Republican on the Senate Judiciary Committee, who predicted that Gonzales might resign after the panel finishes its investigation into the firing of the federal prosecutors.

Calling the Justice Department "close to being dysfunctional," Specter said Gonzales seems "unable to perform" his duties as the nation's chief law enforcement officer.

"I have a sense that when we finish our investigation, we may have the conclusion of the tenure of the attorney general," Specter said during a committee meeting yesterday.

President Bush has said that he has full confidence in Gonzales, and the attorney general has said that he plans to remain as long as he can be effective.

Justice Department spokesman Dean Boyd said in a statement, "The attorney general remains focused on doing the job that the American people expect, like keeping the country safe from terrorism, our neighborhoods safe from violent crime and gangs, and our children safe from predators and pedophiles."

Speaking at Loyola Law School in Los Angeles yesterday, John McKay, a former U.S. attorney in Washington state, said efforts to fire two of his colleagues could be "potential obstruction of justice cases."

He said New Mexico U.S. attorney David Iglesias was removed because he wouldn't go along with voter fraud prosecutions to help the GOP in 2006 elections in that state and that Carol Lam, the former U.S. attorney in San Diego, was removed to derail the expanding investigation of California Republican Rep. Randy "Duke" Cunningham.

McKay said Lam sent a notice last year that she was preparing subpoenas against two people in the Cunningham case, including Kyle Foggo, then a high-ranking CIA official. The next day, May 11, Gonzales' chief of staff, Kyle Sampson, sent an e-mail to a White House legal staffer mentioning "the real problem we have right now with Carol Lam."

"That is powerful circumstantial evidence of a crime. I believe we will see a criminal investigation," McKay said.

McKay called it "incomprehensible" that Gonzales didn't know how so many of his presidential appointees were fired.

"He's either not telling the truth and covering something up, or he's incompetent," McKay said, adding that he doesn't think Gonzales is incompetent.

"The disrespect to the rule of law here is so obvious. The disrespect for what the Department of Justice does is obvious. The idea that the process could be used or would be used for political purposes is unacceptable."

Tom Hamburger and Joe Mozingo write for the Los Angeles Times.

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