WASHINGTON (Reuters) - U.S. President George W. Bush on Monday rejected calls to fire Attorney General Alberto Gonzales, saying Gonzales’ testimony at a stormy congressional hearing last week “increased my confidence” in him.
Bush said Gonzales showed critical lawmakers that the attorney general “broke no laws” in firing eight U.S. attorneys last year despite suspicions that the ousters may have been politically motivated.
Later, Gonzales told reporters at the Federal Trade Commission that he intends to remain the chief U.S. law enforcement officer “as long as I think that I can be effective and the president believes that I should continue.”
Gonzales, who has maintained the firings were justified but mishandled, added, “I have accepted responsibility for the mistakes that I have made.”
Sen. Charles Schumer, a New York Democrat helping lead an investigation into the dismissals of eight of the 93 U.S. attorneys, was outraged.
“I would imagine that the president didn’t watch any of Attorney General’s Gonzales’ testimony,” Schumer said.
He noted Gonzales answered “I don’t know” or “I don’t recall” scores of times before the Senate Judiciary Committee, prompting Democrats and many of Bush’s fellow Republicans to question the attorney general’s veracity.
“It seems sort of like Iraq — that only the president and his few advisers buried in the bunker think we don’t need a change of course,” Schumer said.
While many in Congress have voiced doubt Gonzales can survive, Bush hailed his longtime friend, who previously served as his White House counsel.
Speaking at the White House, Bush told reporters that Gonzales gave a “very candid assessment and answered every question he could possibly answer ... in a way that increased my confidence in his ability to do the job.”
What is getting lost in the debate, said Bush, is that the attorney general and the president have the right to fire U.S. attorneys if desired.
“Some senators didn’t like his explanation but he answered as honestly as he could,” Bush said. “This is an honest, honorable man, in whom I have confidence.”
Schumer said the Judiciary Committee staff are still investigating the matter.