STEVE INSKEEP, host:
Even as the White House fights to maintain support for the war, other parts of the administration are under pressure. That is especially true of Attorney General Alberto Gonzales. He faces more questions before a Senate committee today. Lawmakers have questioned the firing of U.S. attorneys and the surveillance of Americans. So far, Gonzales has rejected demands that he quit, but his critics are not leaving, either.
Here's NPR's Ari Shapiro.
Unidentified Female: (unintelligible)
ARI SHAPIRO: For weeks that have turned into months, these protesters from a group Code Pink have shown up on Mondays and Fridays here in front of the Justice Department to protest and call on Attorney General Alberto Gonzales to resign.
(Soundbite of song, "Kiss Him Goodbye")
Ms. LIZ HOURICAN (Protestor, Code Pink): (Singing) Na, na, na, na, Alberto, resign.
SHAPIRO: Liz Hourican has been coming here for three months.
You clearly want him to resign. Realistically speaking, do you think he'll resign?
Ms. HOURICAN: Realistically, I don't imagine he will resign.
SHAPIRO: This is an undeniably weird situation. Back in April, Gonzales had a hearing before the Senate Judiciary Committee. And most people said his job depended on his performance. But everyone except the president panned his performance, and Gonzales kept his job.
So here we are, three months later, going into another hearing where Gonzales is expected to perform, more or less, the same way he did the last time. Only today, nobody believes his job is at stake.
Republican lobbyist Ed Rogers is not particularly impressed with the attorney general, but he doesn't think there's any point in Congress holding this hearing, either.
Mr. ED ROGERS (Republican Lobbyist): Nobody thinks this is consequential. Nobody thinks the attorney general's job is on the line. So it's just kind of going to be more of the same, and the Democrats and their sympathizers will have more to snicker about, but nothing will come of it.
SHAPIRO: So why have the hearing at all? Vermont Democrat Patrick Leahy is chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee.
Senator PATRICK LEAHY (Democrat, Vermont; Chairman, Senate Judiciary Committee): I think that I would not be doing my duty if I didn't get to the bottom of it and hopefully point out enough so that the next attorney general, whoever he or she might be, will never make these mistakes again.
SHAPIRO: Leahy criticized Gonzales after the last hearing for repeatedly answering questions with I don't know, and, I don't remember.
Sen. LEAHY: His credibility is almost nil here at the Capitol. So what I've done, I sent him a series of questions in advance. He's had plenty of time to look them over. There'll be no excuse to say I don't know, I don't remember.
SHAPIRO: But isn't this sort of like that old quote that the definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over and expecting a different result?
Sen. LEAHY: Well, I don't know whether I caught that, but this is a case of trying to get the answers. And I hope that he'd take the opportunity to begin to repair the damage by answering questions of both Republicans and Democrats.
SHAPIRO: This hearing brings a whole new set of questions from the last one. The contradictions are enough to make your eyes cross. First Gonzales told senators…
Attorney General ALBERTO GONZALES (U.S. Department of Justice): I haven't talked to witnesses…
SHAPIRO: …about the U.S. attorney firings.
But then his counsel, Monica Goodling, said…
Ms. MONICA GOODLING (Former Senior Counsel, U.S. Department of Justice): He laid out for me his general recollection…
SHAPIRO: …about the U.S. attorney firings.
Senators will ask about that. And then there's the domestic spying issue. Gonzales once said he didn't know of any major dispute within the Justice Department over the domestic spying program. But then former Deputy Attorney General James Comey said there was a big dispute over it, so big that a bunch of the Justice Department's leaders considered resigning. It was a confrontation at Attorney General John Ashcroft's hospital bed, and according to Comey, Gonzales was the man at the White House who did the confronting.
Harvard law professor David Barron says even if Gonzales can't sort out these contradictions, there's still value in holding the hearing.
Professor DAVID BARRON (Law, Harvard University): If you have very serious questions about the rule of law and the confidence in the department, and the president simply disregards them, for no one to continue pushing and to make that clear that a certain standard is expected of the department would, I think, be a very serious loss for the country.
SHAPIRO: The Justice Department yesterday released a 25-page written opening statement for Gonzales. It does not address the questions Senator Leahy sent last week. But Gonzales does say he plans to remain attorney general, to, in his words, reinforce public confidence in the department.
Ari Shapiro, NPR News, Washington.
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