Gonzales Attracts More Critics Inside GOP

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This could be a crucial week for Attorney General Alberto Gonzales. He's under fresh criticism from Republicans to explain conflicting stories about why he decided to fire eight U.S. attorneys. And his former chief of staff, who is at the center of this scandal, is scheduled to testify under oath on Thursday.

The Sunday talk shows were not kind to Gonzales.

"The attorney general has been wounded because of his performance, not because of politics," said Sen. Lindsey Graham, a Republican from South Carolina.

"You cannot have the nation's chief law enforcement officer with a cloud hanging over his credibility," said Sen. Chuck Hagel, a Republican from Nebraska.

"We have to have an attorney general who is candid, truthful," said Sen. Arlen Specter, a Republican from Pennsylvania. "And if we find he has not been candid and truthful, that's a very compelling reason for him not to stay on."

But the president, the most powerful Republican of all, said in his Saturday radio address that he strongly supported Gonzales' decision to fire the attorneys.

Critics have linked at least some of the firings to corruption investigations and other political hot buttons.

That criticism has spread in part because of contradictory explanations coming from Justice Department officials, including statements from the attorney general himself.

As Graham put it: "He has said some things that just don't add up."

For example, Gonzales told reporters a couple of weeks ago: "I never saw documents. We never had a discussion about where things stood."

Then, on Friday, the Justice Department released a calendar entry showing that on Nov. 27, Gonzales met with other top Justice Department officials to discuss the firings.

A Justice Department spokesperson saw no contradiction there.

"He tasked his chief of staff to carry this plan forward," Tasia Scolinos told reporters. "He did not participate in the selection of the U.S. attorneys to be fired. He did sign off on the final list."

That chief of staff was Kyle Sampson, who resigned over this scandal. Some Democrats have described him as the "fall guy." He's scheduled to testify on Capitol Hill this Thursday. Senators are bound to ask how much Gonzales knew about the firings. His answers could have a profound impact on the attorney general's fate.

Although Sampson will swear to tell the truth before he testifies, it's still unclear whether White House officials will do the same. They've offered to give to private interviews with no transcripts, and without swearing to tell the truth. Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Patrick Leahy has said that's unacceptable.

"That's a non-starter," he said on CBS' Face the Nation. "I want them in the open, under oath, publicly, where both Republican senators and Democratic senators can ask questions."

Specter, the committee's ranking Republican, said he would also like the hearings to be public, and he agrees with Leahy about the transcripts.

"If you don't have the transcript, senators are going to walk out and in good faith have different versions as to what occurred," he said.

Specter said he recently spoke with the top White House lawyer, Fred Fielding, and based on that conversation he believes an agreement can be reached.

And while all of this unfolds, the attorney general is on a national tour to meet with U.S. Attorneys and promote a program targeting sexual predators on the Internet. Monday he's in Denver, Colo.

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