US Attorney General Alberto Gonzales faced a make-or-break appearance yesterday on Capitol Hill amid calls for his resignation over the bungled firings of eight US attorneys and efforts by Democrats to show that the dismissals were driven by party politics.
The Senate Judiciary Committee scheduled a daylong hearing for Gonzales' first appearance under oath since the firings set off an uproar in February that has escalated with the attorney general, his current and former aides and White House officials all offering conflicting accounts.
Gonzales himself has provided differing versions of the events, first saying he had almost no involvement in the firings and then later acknowledging that his role was larger, but only after e-mails about meetings he attended were released by the US Department of Justice to House and Senate committees.
US President George W. Bush has stuck by Gonzales, a longtime aide going back to Bush's days as governor of Texas, despite calls for him to resign.
Gonzales has resisted, saying in prepared testimony he has "nothing to hide" but apologizing "for my missteps that have helped to fuel the controversy."
The Virginia Tech shooting that delayed the hearing for two days could temper the tone of the proceedings, lawmakers said. But both Democrats and Republicans were eager to get it past them.
"I think that it's appropriate to move forward," said Democratic Senator Chuck Schumer, who is leading the investigation on the Senate side.
"The sooner it's over, the better," said Republican Senator Orrin Hatch, whose support of Gonzales is one key to the attorney general's fate.
Republicans have urged Gonzales to be more assertive and answer the questions more specifically than he did in his prepared testimony, which was released by the justice department on Sunday in anticipation that the hearing would be held on Tuesday.
"I hope he doesn't apologize," said Republican Representative Chris Cannon, who spoke with Gonzales a week ago. "He is in a really miserable position where people are focused and saying nasty things. He thinks that he acted appropriately. I told him he ought to be less gracious in his responses."
"If he just answers the questions, he'll be fine," Hatch said.
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