WASHINGTON -- Attorney General Alberto R. Gonzales faced more stinging criticism yesterday as a senior Republican lawmaker said President Bush's longtime aide had hurt the administration, the Justice Department and his own standing in his latest effort to explain the firings of eight U.S. attorneys.
Referring to Gonzales' high-profile appearance before the Senate Judiciary Committee late last week, Sen. Arlen Specter, a Pennsylvania Republican, said, "The attorney general's testimony was very, very damaging to his own credibility. It has been damaging to the administration, because without answers as to what really happened, there is a lot of speculation."
Specter added that "charges are being made that the Department of Justice was the political arm of the White House" in carrying out the firings.
Gonzales, he said, failed to put to rest such assertions in testimony during which he frequently claimed he could not remember details of the process about the dismissals of the federal prosecutors last year.
But Specter, the ranking GOP member of the Judiciary panel, stopped short of calling for Gonzales to resign. He said it was up to Gonzales and President Bush to decide whether that was the proper course.
As Specter made his remarks on Fox News Sunday, former House speaker Newt Gingrich, a Georgia Republican, chastised Bush on ABC's This Week for letting "personal loyalty transcend service to the nation" by not forcing Gonzales to step down.
Gingrich reiterated his call, made this month, for Gonzales to lose his job.
Gonzales has worked closely with Bush in various capacities since the president began his political career as governor of Texas in 1995. Bush has stood by Gonzales and the attorney general has given no indication he intends to quit.
Democrats, while attacking Gonzales, continued their push to have high-ranking White House officials - including Bush's chief political adviser, Karl Rove, and his former counsel, Harriet Miers, testify before Congress on the dismissals.
Sen. Charles E. Schumer of New York said on Fox News Sunday, "I think there's an imperative for the White House to help us interview people like Rove and Miers, because recent testimony, including Gonzales', more and more indicates that they may be - may be - at the nexus of this."
Schumer, a Judiciary Committee member, said of Gonzales' Thursday appearance before the panel: "All of America saw why so many of us had felt for so long that he shouldn't be attorney general. He was not in command of the facts. He contradicted himself. And he doesn't really appreciate the role of attorney general."
Gonzales and other administration officials have said the eight U.S. attorneys - out of 93 stationed across the country - were replaced because their performance was inadequate. All, however, had received positive job reviews.
Gonzales has conceded the terminations were handled poorly. Democrats have questioned whether they were dismissed because they were considered insufficiently loyal to the White House.
At least one commentator came to Gonzales' defense yesterday.
David Rivkin, White House counsel under President George H.W. Bush, said it was unfair to say Gonzales had not performed well during his testimony. He accused Democrats of being on a partisan witch hunt and said Republicans critical of Gonzales were angry at him over other issues.
"He is the key architect of [key legal decisions] this administration has made regarding enemy combatants, Patriot Act ... wiretapping [by the National Security Agency]," said Rivkin, naming a series of issues that have been criticized on constitutional grounds. "In a way, he's caught in a perfect storm."
Nicole Gaouette writes for the Los Angeles Times.