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Bush Gives Embattled Attorney General Vote of Confidence


President Bush gave embattled Attorney General Alberto Gonzales a vote of confidence Monday, despite concerns about his effectiveness among both Democrats and Republicans in Congress. VOA National correspondent Jim Malone has more from Washington.

Responding to questions from reporters at the White House, President Bush said the attorney general's controversial appearance before the Senate Judiciary Committee last week had increased his confidence in Gonzales' ability to lead the Justice Department.

Gonzales is under fire for his role in last year's firing of eight U.S. attorneys. But on Monday Mr. Bush made it clear he is sticking by his longtime associate from Texas.

"It was clear that the attorney general broke no law, did no wrongdoing," said President Bush. "Some senators did not like his explanation, but he answered as honestly as he could. He is an honest, honorable man, in whom I have confidence."

Later, Gonzales told a Washington news conference that he intends to stay on the job, despite calls for his resignation from several Democrats and even a few Republicans.

"I will stay as long as I feel I can be effective, and I believe I can be effective, obviously," said Alberto Gonzales. "We will be working with Congress to reassure them that we have identified the mistakes that have been made here and that we are taking steps to address them. But I cannot just be focused on the U.S. attorneys situation. I have also got to be focused on what is really important for the American people."

Gonzales faced skeptical questions at last week's hearing about his role in replacing the federal prosecutors. The attorney general appeared to hurt his standing with some senators when he said could not recall details about the firings of the U.S. attorneys.

Many Democrats believe the prosecutors were fired for political reasons.

Patrick Leahy of Vermont chairs the Senate Judiciary Committee. He spoke on the CBS program Face the Nation.

"Never in the history of the Department of Justice has there been a case where there has been so much interference from the White House in our criminal justice system. That is what is wrong," said Patrick Leahy.

But Gonzales continued to face problems with Republicans as well. Arlen Specter of Pennsylvania is the top Republican on the Senate Judiciary Committee. Specter told Fox News Sunday that Gonzales had undermined his own credibility during last week's hearing.

"The attorney general's testimony was very, very damaging to his own credibility," said Arlen Specter. "It has been damaging to the administration, because without answers as to what really happened, there is a lot of speculation."

U.S. attorneys serve at the pleasure of the president. But it is unusual for a large number of the federal prosecutors to be replaced at once in the middle of a presidential term.

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