The White House had hoped that if it dug in long enough the public controversy over Attorney General Alberto Gonzales' tenure at the Justice Department would blow over. It hasn't, and it's not going to.
Instead of waning, the calls for his resignation are intensifying. Five Republican senators have urged him to go, and Senate GOP leader Mitch McConnell was conspicuously noncommittal about whether the attorney general should stay or go.
Senate Democrats are seeking a no-confidence vote on Gonzales later this week. President Bush dismissed it as "political theater," which it is, but it speaks volumes about the attorney general's support that Republicans aren't rushing to block it.
The controversy will certainly affect how ably Gonzales can do his job. He no longer has the stature to effectively present and argue for administration initiatives on Capitol Hill. Already he has had to scale back the number of stops on a European swing because of political difficulties at home.
His former White House liaison, Monica Goodling, is to testify before Congress this week under a grant of immunity. Goodling, who had no particular professional credentials for her job, passed judgment on department promotions and hires based on loyalty to the president and Republican Party activism.
Gonzales came to this job with considerable baggage from his time as White House counsel, where he drafted memos that seemed to condone torture and called outdated the Geneva Convention that protects prisoners of war.
Congress was particularly outraged by the firings of U.S. attorneys that e-mails showed were part of a systematic effort to use the U.S. attorney offices to advance Republican electoral prospects.
And just as that story seemed to be quieting down came the disclosure that, as White House counsel, Gonzales tried to get then-Attorney General John Ashcroft, sick and medicated in the hospital, to sign off on a surveillance program that the department had previously ruled illegal.
Gonzales' backers insist that none of this is illegal. And perhaps it is not, but it shows a too-eager willingness to cut corners to advance his patron's political interests. The attorney general's job is supposed to be a slightly higher calling.
It's admirable that Bush is willing to defend his longtime friend and counselor, but Gonzales should not put the president in the position of having to do so. It is no service to Bush for Gonzales to stay on.