Tue, May 22, 2007 - Page 7 News List

US senate poised for historic vote against Gonzales

NO-CONFIDENCE A vote against Bush's man could deal another blow to the White House, which is still recoiling from the ouster of the World Bank's president

AFP , WASHINGTON

The US Senate was preparing to take the almost unprecedented move of a no-confidence vote on US Attorney General Alberto Gonzales, ramping up pressure on US President George W. Bush to sack his unpopular longtime aide.

After weeks of allegations of politicizing the justice system and, in his earlier position as White House counsel, trying to strong-arm his predecessor at the Department of Justice, Gonzales could face the extremely rare vote in the coming week.

bipartisan support

It would be only symbolic, but with several Republicans likely to support the measure, one key lawmaker spoke on Sunday of "the likelihood of a very substantial vote of no-confidence" against Gonzales.

"You already have six Republicans calling for his resignation," Representative Arlen Specter said on CBS on Sunday, adding that the desire to avoid a political spectacle could convince Gonzales to resign.

"I have a sense ... that before the vote is taken, that Attorney General Gonzales may step down," said Specter, the top Republican on the Senate Judiciary Committee.

embattled

A vote against one of the president's closest confidants -- Gonzales advised Bush when he was Texas governor in the 1990s -- could deliver yet another heavy blow to the White House.

It would come in the wake of the Bush-chosen World Bank president Paul Wolfowitz, who helped plan the war in Iraq earlier as deputy secretary of defense, being ousted by bank staff.

Representative Chuck Schumer, a key Gonzales opponent, rejected criticism that the no-confidence vote amounted to a political stunt and said it reflected the will of the US public.

"The only person who thinks the attorney general should remain the attorney general is the president," he told Fox News on Sunday.

Gonzales's troubles began in February because of his firings last year of eight federal prosecutors, allegedly for partisan political reasons and revelations that as many as 30 had been considered for dismissal.

The sackings, while legal, had the appearance of a political purge and e-mail messages hinted they had been orchestrated by the White House.

Gonzales then outraged Congress when, questioned in a hearing on the firings, he repeatedly responded that he "can't recall."

Representative Dianne Feinstein criticized Gonzales' "weak" overall performance as the top US law enforcement officer.

long list

"Whether it was the torture memo, whether it's Guantanamo, whether it's Geneva Convention, whether it's US attorneys, whether it's `I don't know, I can't recall' -- over a department as major as this, I don't think the American people are well served," she said.

New testimony in the past week revealed that in March 2004 Gonzales, as White House counsel, tried to compel then-attorney general John Ashcroft -- who was hospitalized and had ceded authority temporarily to his own deputy -- to authorize a covert program to eavesdrop on US citizens without a judicial warrant.

The operation, disclosed in 2005, appears to have been the first anti-terrorist measure aimed directly at US citizens and is therefore the among the most controversial put in place during the Bush administration.

Ashcroft's deputy James Comey testified that, after two White House officials showed up at Ashcroft's hospital bedside, he refused to sign the authorization.

Comey also said that he himself, Ashcroft and FBI Director Robert Mueller had threatened to resign unless substantive changes were made in the program -- changes which were later put in place by the Bush administration.

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