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A Senate leader insisted Sunday that the White House needed to allay concerns over the firings of federal prosecutors, saying beleaguered Attorney General Alberto Gonzales appeared to remember little about the scandal.
“Someone had to come up with this scheme,” Senator Chuck Schumer told Fox news about last year’s sackings of eight prosecutors which were allegedly politically motivated.
“When Attorney General Gonzales says he doesn’t know what’s going on, and his chief of staff, Kyle Sampson, says he doesn’t know what’s going on, or at least he didn’t compile the list … the arrow seems to point at the White House more and more.”
Gonzales testifed last week before the Senate Judiciary Committee to defend his actions as the country’s top law enforcement official and fend off calls for his resignation.
In his highly anticipated testimony, Gonzales tried to explain that the decision to fire the prosecutors had not been tainted by an abuse of power, and that he had been scarcely involved in the process.
“I never sought to mislead or deceive the Congress or the American people,” he said.
But critics said he sought to defend himself by saying he could not remember the details of the dismissals.
Even Republican Senator Arlen Specter, the ranking Republican on the committee doubted the attorney general’s candor, telling Fox news that Gonzales’s testimony was “very, very damaging to his own credibility.”
“It has been damaging to the administration, because without answers as to what really happened, there is a lot of speculation,” said Specter.
“And the charges are being made that the Department of Justice was the political arm of the White House.”
Specter declined, however, to call on Gonzales to resign, saying his future was between him and the president, who also has the power to appoint and dismiss prosecutors.
Schumer had no such reservations.
“All of America saw why so many of us had felt for so long that he shouldn’t be attorney general,” Schumer told Fox news.
“He was not in command of the facts. He contradicted himself. And he doesn’t really appreciate the role of attorney general.”
House of Representatives Speaker Nancy Pelosi has also urged Gonzales to step down after President George W. Bush’s longtime aide was grilled by the Senate judiciary panel.
“The nation cannot have a chief law enforcement officer whose candor and judgment are in serious question,” the Democratic leader said in a statement.
Senator Tom Coburn, an influential Republican, has also joined the calls for Gonzales to step down, telling the attorney general at Thursday’s hearing that “the best way to put this behind us is your resignation.”
The White House, however, issued a statement after the hearing saying that Bush was “pleased” with his longtime aide’s performance before the committee.
Bush has “full confidence” in Gonzales, who “again showed that nothing improper occurred,” Bush spokeswoman Dana Perino said.
Copyright Â© 2007 Agence France Presse