US Attorney General Alberto Gonzales encountered hostility and distrust on Tuesday from leaders of the Senate Judiciary Committee, who were disdainful of his pledge to stay on and fix the problems at the Justice Department.
The panel's chairman, Senator Patrick Leahy, a Vermont democrat, and its ranking Republican, Senator Arlen Specter of Pennsylvania, assailed Gonzales on a host of issues involving the Justice Department, including the firings of nine prosecutors last year and the White House's assertion of executive privilege to keep key aides from testifying about those events.
Perhaps, Specter suggested, it was time for the appointment of a special prosecutor to look into the firings of the prosecutors.
"There is evidence of low morale, very low morale, lack of credibility," Specter said, scoffing at Gonzales' promise to repair his agency. "Candidly, your personal credibility."
"What is this White House so desperate to hide?" Leahy asked early on, alluding to the administration's invocation of executive privilege. "This White House claims to be above the law."
Gonzales began by expressing his pride in the 100,000 Justice Department employees.
"I have worked with these fine men and women to keep our country safe from terrorists, our neighborhoods safe from violent crime, and our children safe from predators," he said.
Gonzales pledged to continue that work.
But Leahy and Specter reiterated the questions they have put to Gonzales before, about the dismissals of the nine US attorneys and about a late-night hospital visit by Gonzales to the hospital bed of the ailing Attorney General John Ashcroft in 2004, when Gonzales was White House counsel.
Gonzales denied that he and the former White House chief of staff, Andrew Card, had gone to pressure him to recertify President George W. Bush's domestic-surveillance program.
Gonzales said the visit needed to be "put into context," that it was for the purpose of updating Ashcroft on congressional feelings about the surveillance program, and that "Andy Card and I didn't press him -- we said, `Thank you,' and we left."
Gonzales' account contrasted starkly with that of James Comey, Ashcroft's former deputy, who testified in May that he had been "very angry" because "I thought I had just witnessed an effort to take advantage of a very sick man."
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