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President Bush with NATO Secretary General Jaap de Hoop Scheffer after a news conference at his ranch outside Crawford, Texas, on Monday.
AP photo by Rod Aydelotte
President Bush with NATO Secretary General Jaap de Hoop Scheffer after a news conference at his ranch outside Crawford, Texas, on Monday.

Bush says planned
vote is theatrics

By Ben Feller
Associated Press Writer

CRAWFORD, Texas — President Bush insisted on Monday that embattled Attorney General Alberto Gonzales still has his support and denounced Democratic plans for a no-confidence vote as “pure political theater.”

“He has done nothing wrong,” Bush said in an impassioned defense of his longtime friend and adviser during a news conference at his Texas ranch.

Despite Bush’s comments, support for Gonzales is eroding, even in the president’s own party.

The Senate is prepared to hold a no-confidence vote, possibly by week’s end, and five Republican senators have joined many Democrats in calling for Gonzales’ resignation.

The attorney general is under investigation by Congress in last year’s firing of eight federal prosecutors.

The president told the Democrats to get back to more pressing matters.

“I stand by Al Gonzales, and I would hope that people would be more sober in how they address these important issues,” Bush said.

“And they ought to get the job done of passing legislation, as opposed to figuring out how to be actors on the political theater stage.”

Still, Bush did not directly answer a question about whether he intended to keep Gonzales in office through the end of his presidency regardless of what the Senate does.

Gonzales does not necessarily need Congress’ support to continue serving. But Bush and Gonzales are under increasing pressure as more lawmakers demand the attorney general’s departure.

Democrats pressed ahead with plans to put the Senate on record in expressing a lack of confidence in him.

“The president should understand that while he has con-
fidence in Attorney General Gonzales, very few others do,” said Sen. Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., in response to Bush’s comments.

“Congress has a right — and even an obligation to express its views when things are this serious.”

Gonzales, who is headed to Europe this week, scrapped a meeting with his Swiss counterpart and shelved tentative plans for a tour and a meeting in Hungary.

But the overall trip is still on, and he is to leave Tuesday.

Regardless of Gonzales’ fate, Democrats were unlikely to drop their probe of the firings and White House involvement.

House Judiciary Committee Chairman John Conyers of Michigan and subcommittee chairwoman Linda Sanchez of California renewed their request to White House Counsel Fred Fielding for information on the firings, threatening subpoenas if the administration does not comply.

“It is clear that the White House played an important role in the events concerning the U.S. attorney controversy,” Conyers and Sanchez wrote to Fielding on Monday. If he does not provide information, they wrote, “we will have no alternative but to begin to resort to compulsory process.”

Gonzales’ White House liaison, Monica Goodling, is to testify Wednesday on Capitol Hill about her role in the firings of the U.S. attorneys.

Gonzales is at the center of congressional inquiries into the 2006 firings by the Justice Department. He has acknowledged the ousters were mishandled but has denied politically motivated interference and has resisted calls for his resignation.

Further eroding his support was the revelation that in 2004 — as White House counsel — Gonzales went to the hospital bedside of then-Attorney General John Ashcroft to pressure him to certify the legality of Bush’s controversial warrantless eavesdropping program while Ashcroft lay in intensive care.

Ashcroft had reservations about the program’s legality and refused, according to Senate testimony by former Deputy Attorney General James Comey.

Bush was asked about Gonzales during a news conference on his ranch with NATO Secretary-General Jaap de Hoop Scheffer.

“I frankly view what’s taking place in Washington today as pure political theater,” Bush said, sounding exasperated with the furor swirling around his longtime friend.

As for the attorney general’s stops in Switzerland and Budapest, Hungary, Justice Department spokesman Brian Roehrkasse said they had never been set in stone. He said Gonzales would leave Tuesday for meetings in Munich that are a leadup to next month’s gathering in Germany of leaders of eight major industrial democracies.

Roehrkasse said Gonzales had hoped to travel to the International Law Enforcement Academy in Budapest for a tour and a meeting that ultimately could not be scheduled. Similarly, Roehrkasse said Gonzales was too short on time to make it to Switzerland, and that no meeting there was ever confirmed.

Sascha Hardegger, a spokesman for the Swiss Justice Ministry, said Washington called off the meeting.

————

Associated Press Writer Laurie Kellman contributed to this report from Washington.

Copyright 2005 Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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