WASHINGTON -- Congressional Democrats and the Bush administration hit an impasse yesterday in the probe into the firing of eight U.S. attorneys, with White House officials delaying decisions to turn over documents or allow officials to testify and the House Judiciary Committee threatening subpoenas to force them to comply.
As speculation mounted that Attorney General Alberto R. Gonzales' job is in jeopardy, another Republican suggested that it would be best if he stepped down. "It is ultimately the president's decision, but perhaps it would benefit this administration if the attorney general was replaced with someone with a more professional focus rather than personal loyalty," said Rep. Dana Rohrabacher, a California Republican. He also said that there has been "a pattern of arrogance in this administration."
White House and Department of Justice officials said no announcement was imminent on Gonzales' status.
Also yesterday, a lawyer for D. Kyle Sampson, Gonzales' former chief of staff who has been at the center of the controversy, issued a statement seeking to dispel the notion that Sampson had withheld from superiors information about plans to fire U.S. attorneys.
"The fact that the White House and Justice Department had been discussing the possible replacement of several U.S. attorneys since approximately 2005 was well known to a number of other senior officials at the department, including others who were involved in preparing the department's testimony to Congress," Bradford Berenson said.
Berenson also took issue with the explanation that Gonzales had offered Tuesday for Sampson's resignation. Gonzales told reporters that "the mistake" Sampson had made was "that information that he had was not shared with individuals within the department" who were going to testify before Congress.
Some members of Congress have criticized the Justice Department over what they said was misleading or incomplete testimony about the fired prosecutors.
"Kyle did not resign because he had misled anyone at the Justice Department or withheld information," Berenson said. "He resigned because, as chief of staff, he felt he had let the attorney general down in failing to appreciate the need for ... a more effective political response to the unfounded accusations of impropriety."
On Capitol Hill, Democrats in Congress said they were losing patience, especially as the release of a batch of documents from the Department of Justice, expected yesterday, was postponed until Monday. "The White House is playing a dangerous game of chicken," said Rep. Linda Sanchez, a California Democrat who chairs the House subcommittee leading the probe.
House Judiciary Committee Chairman Rep. John Conyers, a Democrat of Michigan, said he would schedule votes on subpoenas Thursday for two key players in the scandal, political adviser Karl Rove and former White House counsel Harriet E. Miers.
It appears from documents released this week and other White House statements that Rove and Miers were discussing the termination of all or some of the 93 federal prosecutors as early as two years ago.
Sen. Charles Schumer, a New York Democrat who is leading the Senate's probe, said: "We hope that this delay is not a signal they will not cooperate. The story keeps changing, which neither does them or the public any good."
At the White House, officials said they were not in a position to respond to the request for documents and witnesses until next week.
"Given the importance of the issues under consideration and the presidential principles involved, we need more time to resolve them," said White House spokeswoman Dana Perino.
The White House also backed away from its earlier contentions that Miers first floated the idea of firing U.S. attorneys. Press secretary Tony Snow said that "people have hazy memories."
He added, "We know that Karl recollects Harriet having raised it and his recollection is that he dismissed it as not a good idea."
Snow was asked if President Bush might have suggested the firings. "Anything's possible," he said, "but I don't think so." He added that Bush "certainly has no recollection" of having done so.
Richard A. Serrano and Richard B. Schmitt write for the Los Angeles Times.