Desperate for support among fellow Republicans, Attorney General Alberto Gonzales faced grim prospects Friday after a bruising Senate hearing that produced one outright call for resignation and a fistful of invitations and hints to quit.
One GOP member of the Senate Judiciary Committee, John Cornyn of Texas, predicted Gonzales would weather the furor and said he should. “Frankly, I don’t think the Democrats are going to be satisfied with the resignation by Al Gonzales,” he said.
Gonzales gave no indication Friday that he was leaving.
“Please know that as you continue your work, I am by your side,” the attorney general told an audience of crime victims’ rights supporters. He spoke in a gravelly voice the day after his long day of testimony.
Gonzales also called several GOP senators, including Cornyn and Arlen Specter of Pennsylvania, the top Republican on the Judiciary Committee, an aide said.
Specter said Gonzales sounded “in good spirits.”
“The attorney general did call me today and he said he was just checking with senators to see how the hearing went,” Specter said Friday. “I told him, ‘Everything I had to say about the hearing I’ve already said.’”
The Pennsylvania Republican also said he sent a letter to Bush about Gonzales, who Specter had said a day earlier had emerged from the hearing with his credibility tarnished. Specter would not reveal the contents of the letter.
White House spokeswoman Dana Perino said President Bush had spoken with Gonzales after Thursday’s hearing, and she added, “The attorney general continues to have the president’s full confidence.”
There was little other evidence of support for Gonzales, who has been struggling to explain last winter’s firings of eight federal prosecutors.
Sen. Sam Brownback, a Kansas Republican who sits on the committee, issued a statement that notably did not urge Gonzales to remain in his post.
“Although his answers suggested that there were serious managerial issues at the Department of Justice, I did not see a factual basis to call for his resignation. As for whether the attorney general should resign, that is a question I leave to him and to the president,” he said.
There were fresh calls from Democrats for Gonzales to step down. “The president should restore credibility to the office of the attorney general. Alberto Gonzales must resign,” said House Speaker Nancy Pelosi of California.
Gonzales and other administration officials had hoped his appearance Thursday would produce a groundswell of support among Republicans, but there was little if any evidence of that.
Senate Republican Leader Mitch McConnell was traveling, and a spokesman referred reporters to noncommittal comments the Kentucky lawmaker had made on April 1.
“I think most Republican senators are willing to give the attorney general a chance to come up before the Judiciary Committee and give his side of this story, and are likely to withhold judgment about whether he can be effective in the Senate in dealing with us, until after we hear from him before the Judiciary Committee,” McConnell had said at the time.
Sen. Mel Martinez of Florida, who doubles as the general chairman of the Republican Party, had no immediate reaction to Gonzales’ appearance.
In several hours before the Judiciary Committee on Thursday, Gonzales said he had done nothing improper in firing the eight prosecutors, but conceded the case had been badly handled. At the same time, he said 71 times that he either could not recall or did not remember conversations or events surrounding the dismissals.
Alone among the nine Republicans on the committee, Sen. Tom Coburn of Oklahoma called for Gonzales to resign.
Several other Republicans made plain their unhappiness.
Specter told Gonzales his description of events was “significantly if not totally at variance with the facts.”
“Why is your story changing?” Charles Grassley of Iowa asked at one point, citing differences between an earlier explanation and the hearing testimony.
Lindsey Graham of South Carolina, after hearing the attorney general’s account of the case, said, “Most of this is a stretch,” and added it seemed to him that some of those dismissed “just had personality conflicts with people in your office or the White House and (officials) just made up reasons to fire them.”
Sen. Jeff Sessions of Alabama expressed concern with Gonzales’ memory at the hearing. In an interview later, he went further. “I think it’s going to be difficult for him to be an effective leader,” he said.
“At this point, I think (Gonzales) should be given a chance to think it through and talk to the president about what his future should be.”
At the White House on Friday, Perino lavished praise on Gonzales. “He has done a fantastic job at the Department of Justice. He is our No. 1 crime fighter. He has done so much to help keep this country safe from terrorists.”
Associated Press writers Lara Jakes Jordan and Laurie Kellman contributed to this report.
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