April 22, 2007 / 5:20 PM / 12 years ago

Debate rages over fate of Bush's friend Gonzales

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - Attorney General Alberto Gonzales has hurt President George W. Bush and himself, and they must decide if he should go, a senior Republican U.S. lawmaker said on Sunday.

A file photo of Attorney General Alberto Gonzales listening to a question during a Senate Judiciary Committee hearing on Capitol Hill in Washington, April 19, 2007. Gonzales has hurt President George W. Bush and himself, and they must decide if he should go, a senior Republican U.S. lawmaker said on Sunday. REUTERS/Jason Reed

Others, though, including former House of Representatives Speaker Newt Gingrich, renewed their calls for Bush to dump Gonzales, who has ignited a political firestorm with the firing of eight federal prosecutors.

“(Former) President (Dwight) Eisenhower had a very firm rule, that presidents measured their subordinates by service to the nation, not by personal loyalty,” Gingrich, a Georgia Republican who has been mentioned as a possible presidential candidate, told ABC’s “This Week.”

Bush reaffirmed support in Gonzales after the attorney general was grilled at a Senate Judiciary Committee hearing last week about his dismissal in 2006 of eight of the nation’s 93 U.S. attorneys, seven of them on December 7.

The White House agreed with Gonzales “nothing improper occurred,” and noted U.S. attorneys serve at the pleasure of a president.

But the fact that Gonzales said he was unable to recall so many key facts about the ousters at the hearing further fanned speculation that they may have been politically motivated.

“It has been damaging to the administration,” said Sen. Arlen Specter of Pennsylvania, ranking Republican on the Judiciary Committee.

But Specter said he believes the decision about whether Gonzales should be replaced must be made by the president and attorney general.

“I do not think that it is appropriate for me to call for his resignation,” Specter told “Fox News Sunday.” But he added, “I don’t challenge anybody else who wants to do it.”

Appearing on the same show, Sen. Charles Schumer a New York Democrat, ripped into Gonzales’ performance before the committee and said, “Attorney General Gonzales, despite the fact that he’s the president’s friend, shouldn’t stay A.G.”

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.

Judiciary Committee Chairman Patrick Leahy, a Vermont Democrat, said Gonzales can no longer be effective, saying he has the lost confidence of many in Congress and the American people.

Leahy said if Gonzales is replaced, it should be by someone who can be independent of the White House, which he accused of pulling the strings at the Justice Department.

“If it’s going to be another person who is going to be really run by the White House ... then it does no good,” Leahy told CBS’s “Face the Nation.”

Sen. Sam Brownback, a Kansas Republican, said, “I think he can survive,” but agreed it’s up to Bush and Gonzales.

Brownback told CNN’s “Late Edition” Gonzales has difficulties because of the controversy, but “I think it is time for us to move on.”

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