The political battle in Washington over actions taken by the Bush administration's Justice Department is intensifying. VOA White House Correspondent Paula Wolfson reports several key Senators - including some leading Republicans - are questioning the credibility of Attorney General Alberto Gonzales.
The controversy surrounds the Justice Department's decision to fire eight federal prosecutors, who were appointed by the president. Six are known to be members of his Republican Party, while it is believed the other two are political independents.
Usually, the hiring and firing of federal attorneys takes place with little public notice. Not this time.
The White House maintains the eight were sacked for poor performance. But the fired attorneys say they were told to leave for purely political reasons, in some cases because they did not follow requests from Republican officeholders to launch aggressive investigations against Democratic Party opponents.
That accusation has ignited a political firestorm in Washington, with Democrats accusing the White House of using the federal attorneys as part of a campaign of intimidation that could undermine the credibility of the federal justice system.
Attorney General Alberto Gonzales has insisted he played no role in the firings. But new evidence emerged Friday indicating he took part in at least one meeting where they were discussed.
The revelation outraged Senator Diane Feinstein - a California Democrat.
"Attorney General Gonzales has had the view that he serves two masters: that he serves the president and that he serves as the chief law enforcement officer," she said. "He serves one master, and that is the people of this country."
The normally low-key lawmaker told the Fox News Sunday television program that the attorney general must go.
"I believe he should step down," she said. "And I do not like saying this. This is not my natural personality at all. But I think the nation is not well-served by this."
On NBC's Meet the Press program, the top Republican on the Senate Judiciary Committee - Arlen Specter of Pennsylvania - said Gonzales has a lot of explaining to do when he testifies before the committee next month.
"We have to have an attorney general who is candid, truthful," he said. "And if we find he has not been candid and fruitful that is a very compelling reason for him not to stay on."
On ABC's This Week, Republican Senator Chuck Hagel of Nebraska voiced similar concerns. He said the attorney general has a deep credibility problem, and may no longer be able to serve effectively.
"We govern with one currency, and that is trust," he said. "And that trust is all important. And when you lose or debase that currency, then you cannot govern."
President Bush reaffirmed on Saturday that he stands by his attorney general, and that the White House is doing all it can to provide Congress with the information it needs to investigate the firing of the eight federal attorneys.
Democrats say they hope the president will relent and will allow his top White House political and legal advisors to testify in public on the matter. They charge that the attorneys ultimately represent the people of the United States in the court system, and efforts to apply political pressure on prosecutions can not be tolerated.