The White House accused congressional Democrats on Friday of waging a crusade to bring down U.S. Attorney General Alberto Gonzales after lawmakers sought a perjury probe against him.
The criticism came a day after testimony by FBI Director Robert Mueller raised questions about Gonzales’ credibility under questioning by Democratic lawmakers.
Mueller told a congressional hearing he had serious reservations about a warrantless domestic spying program that Gonzales testified drew little disagreement within the administration.
Ratcheting up the bitter rhetoric between the administration and the Democratic-controlled Congress, White House spokeswoman Dana Perino said Senate Democrats were determined to get Gonzales.
“They have deliberately had this crusade against him to try to destroy the attorney general,” Perino told reporters.
Democratic Sen. Charles Schumer of New York brushed off charges his party was trying to destroy Gonzales. “For sure, he has already destroyed himself,” Schumer said in a statement.
Gonzales has been under attack for months over what Democrats say was the politically motivated firings of U.S. attorneys last year and over his testimony to Congress about the warrantless spying program.
The cases have become a headache for President George W. Bush’s administration, with Congress demanding internal documents and summoning aides to give testimony.
Gonzales has testified “there has not been any serious disagreement” within the administration about its surveillance program, which critics denounced as illegal.
But former Deputy Attorney General James Comey told Congress in May that concerns about the program were voiced at a 2004 meeting and a number officials had threatened to resign. On Tuesday, Gonzales said the wiretapping program was not the topic of that meeting in the hospital room of critically ill Attorney General John Ashcroft.
“The disagreement that occurred … was about other intelligence activities,” Gonzales insisted under questioning. “It was not about the terrorist surveillance program.”
Mueller’s testimony backed up Comey’s version.
Bush spokesman Tony Snow said he believed both Gonzales’ testimony and Mueller’s comments were true.
He said there had been a controversy over intelligence activities but not specifically over the wiretapping.
“I have defined very narrowly what the Terrorist Surveillance Program is. And that has never — the legal basis and the authority of that were never a matter of controversy,” Snow said.
Senate Democrats on Thursday urged that Gonzales be investigated for possible perjury. Several Democrats and Republicans have called on Gonzales to step down.
The senators on Thursday issued a subpoena to senior Bush adviser Karl Rove in their probe of the firing of nine federal prosecutors. The White House, which has said the firings were justified, contends Bush’s executive privilege shields his aides from having to testify.
(Additional reporting by Thomas Ferraro)