Friday, May 18, 2007

Democrats seek "no confidence" vote on Gonzales

Democrats seek "no confidence" vote on Gonzales
By Thomas Ferraro

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - Democrats announced on Thursday they will seek a U.S. Senate vote of "no confidence" in Attorney General Alberto Gonzales, hopeful it will prompt President George W. Bush's embattled friend to resign.

The White House brushed off the Democrats' latest move tied to their widening investigation of Gonzales for the firing of federal prosecutors as "nothing more than a meaningless political act." A White House spokesman added that the attorney general still had "the full confidence of the president."

Democrats said they intend to hold a "no confidence" vote on Gonzales as early as next week and expect it to pass with the support of a number of Republicans.

A half dozen of the 49 Republicans in the 100-member, Democratic-led Senate have called on Gonzales to step down, with Sen. Norm Coleman of Minnesota becoming the latest to do so. "I believe Attorney General Gonzales is unable to provide the type of leadership needed," Coleman said on Thursday.

Bush has repeatedly rejected bipartisan calls to dismiss Gonzales, a longtime aide and fellow Texan who has been under fire for months for ousting eight federal prosecutors last year. Critics charge many were sacked for political reasons.

Gonzales appeared to have weathered the storm in recent weeks, insisting with White House support at two congressional hearings that the firings were justified though mishandled.

But he faced a new criticism this week after a former aide testified before the Senate Judiciary Committee.


Former Deputy Attorney General James Comey said while White House counsel in 2004, Gonzales paid a hospital visit to the seriously ill John Ashcroft, then attorney general, in a failed bid to pressure him to set aside concerns by his own Justice Department and reauthorize Bush's domestic spying program.

Comey said Bush ended a showdown between the White House and Justice Department by ordering changes to bring the program into compliance with the law.

Bush brushed off questions on Thursday about the matter, telling reporters, "There's a lot of speculation about what happened and what didn't happen."

"I'm not going to talk about it. It's a very sensitive program," Bush said, even as House Judiciary Committee Chairman John Conyers, a Michigan Democrat, wrote Gonzales demanding more information about the program.

Sen. Charles Schumer, a New York Democrat who has led the charge against Gonzales, said, "I think for the Senate, the last straw was Jim Comey's sad tale of what happened in the hospital that night."

Earlier on Thursday, Sen. Arlen Specter, the Judiciary Committee's top Republican, predicted that by the time the panel completes its investigations of Gonzales -- which could take months -- he will no longer be attorney general.

"I have a sense that when we finish our investigation we may have a conclusion of the tenure of the attorney general," Specter said.

"It will be clear to even the attorney general and the president that we are looking at a dysfunctional department" that needs new leadership, Specter added.

Sen. Christopher Dodd, a Connecticut Democrat, introduced a resolution calling on Bush to immediately offer replacements for Gonzales and World Bank President Paul Wolfowitz, who is under fire for arranging a promotion for a female companion.

"Be it the World Bank or the Department of Justice, the way to maintain the integrity of an institution is to have leaders of integrity at the top," Dodd said.

(Additional reporting by Caren Bohan)