House Republican leader says Gonzales should go

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - A congressional Republican leader on Friday joined bipartisan calls for U.S. Attorney General Alberto Gonzales to resign but the White House reaffirmed its confidence in President George W. Bush’s long-time friend.

U.S. Attorney General Alberto Gonzales frowns during closing remarks by Senators at a Senate Judiciary Committee hearing on Capitol Hill in Washington, April 19, 2007. congressional Republican leader on Friday joined bipartisan calls for Gonzales to resign but the White House reaffirmed its confidence in President George W. Bush's long-time friend. REUTERS/Jason Reed

Rep. Adam Putnam of Florida, chairman of the Republican conference in the House of Representatives, said it was important for the head of the U.S. Justice Department to have “unwavering” credibility.

“For the good of the nation, I think it is time for fresh leadership at the Department of Justice,” Putnam said in a brief telephone interview. He said a lack of credibility by the Justice Department chief puts in jeopardy the president’s legislative agenda.

Putnam is joining a growing list of U.S. lawmakers expressing a lack of confidence in Gonzales a day after he testified to the Senate Judiciary Committee on the firing of eight U.S. prosecutors last year. The dismissals raised concerns among Democrats that they were politically motivated.

The White House of Friday reiterated Bush’s support for Gonzales.

Spokeswoman Dana Perino said Bush talked with Gonzales after Thursday’s hearing and believes he answered lawmakers’ questions “honestly and forthrightly.”

Perino added: “Hopefully people will be able to take a step back, realize that there is no credible evidence of wrongdoing, that the attorney general has apologized for how it was handled, that he has a job to do and he’s been doing it very well and the president has full confidence in him.”

Bush and Gonzales have been friends since their days together in Texas where Gonzales served as counsel to then-Texas Gov. Bush. Gonzales was Bush’s White House counsel before becoming attorney general in 2005.

At Thursday’s Senate hearing, Sen. Tom Coburn, an Oklahoma Republican, told Gonzales he should resign, while Sen. Arlen Specter, a Pennsylvania Republican, said the nation’s top law enforcement official had lost his credibility.

Democrats have vowed to keep pushing their investigation into the firing, regardless if Gonzales resigns.

But Sen. John Cornyn, a Texas Republican who sits on the Judiciary Committee, told CNN that Gonzales should stay.

“I think he should because, frankly, I don’t think the Democrats are going to be satisfied with resignation by Al Gonzales,” Cornyn said.

additional reporting by Thomas Ferraro