Gonzales Under Siege

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Roger L. Wollenberg / UPI / Landov

Attorney General Alberto Gonzales speaks to reporters about the ongoing controversy regarding U.S. attorneys who were forced to resign, during a news conference at the Justice Department in Washington, D.C., March 13, 2007.

After weeks of conflicting explanations for last December's firing of eight federal prosecutors, Attorney General Alberto Gonzales has finally taken personal responsibility for the burgeoning scandal, announcing at the Justice Department that "mistakes were made here." But his belated admission has done little to quiet the outcry on Capitol Hill, where several leading Democrats continue to call for his resignation and even key Republicans are joining the criticism and calls for further investigation into whether the mass dismissals of the U.S. attorneys was politically motivated.

Gonzales, who cancelled an out-of-town trip to appear at a hastily called Department of Justice (DOJ) press conference Tuesday, said, "I was not involved in seeing any memos, was not involved in any discussions about what was going on ... That's basically what I knew as attorney general." Gonzales then said he had accepted the resignation of his close collaborator and chief of staff Kyle Sampson, citing Sampson's role in orchestrating the firings. DOJ explained that Sampson had withheld information from two key Justice Department officials, who later gave sworn testimony to Congress about the firings that now appears to have been incomplete and inaccurate.

Yet Gonzales stood by the decision to fire the eight U.S. attorneys and repeated his claim that politics was not a factor in the dismissals. In an apparent attempt to shield the White House, Gonzales' aides protrayed the firings as a largely DOJ operation.

Evidence of growing White House sensitivity to the politically charred controversy surfaced yesterday when Dan Bartlett, one of Bush's top advisers, made a lengthy appearance in Mexico to lay out the White House version of events. Calling Gonzales "a stand-up guy," Bartlett stressed the President's full support for his attorney general.

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