WASHINGTON — After appearing to have weathered the worst of the Justice Department scandal, Atty. Gen. Alberto R. Gonzales found himself under fresh assault Thursday on the heels of this week's revelations about his conduct in the Bush administration.
Gonzales suffered withering attacks from two Republican senators and a former prosecutor as Senate Democrats added pressure of their own, calling for a no-confidence vote on the attorney general's performance.
A week ago, Gonzales' position seemed to be improving as he received support from Republicans on the House Judiciary Committee.
But damaging testimony about Gonzales this week from former Deputy Atty. Gen. James B. Comey undermined faith in his leadership.
"I don't have confidence in Gonzales," Sen. Norm Coleman of Minnesota told reporters on a conference call Thursday as he became the fifth Senate Republican to call for the attorney general's departure.
"I would hope that the attorney general understands that the department is suffering right now and he does the right thing, and that is: allows the president to provide new leadership," he said.
Coleman, who faces a tough reelection campaign next year, cited Comey's testimony as part of the reason for his call for Gonzales' departure.
Comey told a Senate panel Tuesday that Gonzales, when he was White House counsel, pushed a secret national security order over the objections of the Justice Department, which considered the program illegal.
Also Thursday, Democratic Sens. Dianne Feinstein of California and Charles E. Schumer of New York called for a full Senate vote on their largely symbolic resolution expressing a lack of confidence in Gonzales. The vote, they said, could come as early as next week.
The Democrats' announcement followed remarks by Sen. Arlen Specter of Pennsylvania, the senior Republican on the Senate Judiciary Committee, predicting Gonzales might resign after the panel finished its probe of the firing of the federal prosecutors.
Calling the Justice Department "close to being dysfunctional," Specter said that Gonzales seemed "unable to perform" his duties as the nation's chief law enforcement officer.
"I have a sense that, when we finish our investigation, we may have the conclusion of the tenure of the attorney general," Specter said at a committee meeting Thursday.
President Bush has said that he has full confidence in Gonzales, and the attorney general has said that he plans to stay in his post as long as he can be effective.
In a statement, Justice Department spokesman Dean Boyd said: "The attorney general remains focused on doing the job that the American people expect, like keeping the country safe from terrorism, our neighborhoods safe from violent crime and gangs, and our children safe from predators and pedophiles."
The firing of eight U.S. attorneys last year is a growing problem for the administration.
Speaking at Loyola Law School in Los Angeles on Thursday, John McKay, who was fired as U.S. attorney in Washington state, said that the events surrounding the firings of two of his colleagues could be "potential obstruction-of-justice cases."
He said he suspected that U.S. Atty. David C. Iglesias was removed from his post, in New Mexico, because Iglesias wouldn't go along with voter fraud prosecutions to help the GOP in 2006 elections in that state; and that U.S. Atty. Carol C. Lam was removed in San Diego to derail the expanding probe of then-Rep. Randy "Duke" Cunningham (R-Rancho Santa Fe).
In his remarks at a legal conference, McKay described how Lam had sent a notice that she was preparing subpoenas against two people in the Cunningham case, including Kyle Dustin "Dusty" Foggo, then a top-ranking official at the CIA. The next day, May 11, 2006, Gonzales' then-chief of staff, D. Kyle Sampson, sent an e-mail to a White House legal staffer mentioning "the real problem we have right now with Carol Lam."
"That is powerful circumstantial evidence of a crime.... I believe we will see a criminal investigation," McKay said.
McKay called it "incomprehensible" that Gonzales didn't know how so many of his presidential appointees were fired. "He's either not telling the truth and covering something up, or he's incompetent."
McKay said he didn't think Gonzales was incompetent.
"The disrespect to the rule of law here is so obvious. The disrespect for what the Department of Justice does is obvious.
"The idea that the process could be used or would be used for political purposes is unacceptable."
Hamburger reported from Washington and Mozingo from Los Angeles.