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US Senate Democrats Want No Confidence Vote on Attorney General


Democrats in the U.S. Senate are taking the extraordinary step of seeking a vote of no-confidence in Attorney General Alberto Gonzales. Gonzales is under fire for last year's dismissal of several federal prosecutors, which Democrats say was done for political reasons. VOA National correspondent Jim Malone has the latest from Washington.

Gonzales is under renewed pressure from Democrats and even some Republicans to resign.

Critics point to congressional testimony earlier this week from former Deputy Attorney General James Comey. Comey testified about being present in a hospital room in 2004 with then-Attorney General John Ashcroft, who was recovering from an illness.

Comey says then-White House Counsel Alberto Gonzales and then-White House Chief of Staff Andrew Card tried to get a barely conscious Ashcroft to approve a secret domestic eavesdropping program as part of the administration's anti-terror efforts. Ashcroft refused, citing the objections of Comey and others at the Justice Department.

Comey told senators it was the most difficult day of his professional career.

"I was very upset," he said. "I was angry. I thought I had just witnessed an effort to take advantage of a very sick man."

Democratic Senators Chuck Schumer of New York and Dianne Feinstein of California are pushing for a vote of no-confidence on Gonzales. Schumer says Gonzales is too weakened to lead the Justice Department.

"The most dramatic and searing revelation occurred when [former] deputy attorney general Comey testified, no question," he said. "But every day another straw is added to the camel's back."

The no-confidence vote could come as early as next week.

Several Republicans have joined with Democrats in putting new pressure on Gonzales to step down, including Senator Arlen Specter of Pennsylvania.

"I believe that the Department of Justice is close to being dysfunctional now with an attorney general who is unable to perform the duties of that position," he said.

Comey told Congress that he and Ashcroft were prepared to resign in 2004 because of their objections to the domestic eavesdropping program. President Bush ordered changes in the program to satisfy their concerns, and the program went ahead. Comey left the Justice Department last August.

Reporters asked President Bush at a news conference on Thursday if he had ordered Gonzales and Card to go to Ashcroft's hospital room and obtain legal authorization for the wiretapping program.

"There is a lot of speculation about what happened and what did not happen," said Mr. Bush. "I am not going to talk about it. It is a very sensitive program. I will tell you that the program is necessary to protect the American people, and it is still necessary because there is still an enemy that wants to do us harm."

Gonzales has been under scrutiny for months over the firing of eight U.S. attorneys last year. The Washington Post reported Thursday that the administration may have considered firing as many as 26 of the 93 U.S. attorneys following President Bush's re-election in 2004.

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