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Bush Defends Firing of US Prosecutors


President Bush has spoken out on an issue that has made headlines in Washington and created tensions between Congress and the White House. The controversy surrounds a decision by the Justice Department to fire eight federal prosecutors. VOA's Paula Wolfson reports the president discussed the issue in Merida, Mexico, as he wrapped up a week-long tour of Latin America.

President Bush says firing the eight prosecutors was the right decision, but acknowledges the process was not handled well.

"Mistakes were made," he said. "And I am not happy about them."

He says Justice Department officials did not explain their actions fully to members of Congress.

Mr. Bush said, "And the fact that both Republicans and Democrats feel like there was not straightforward communication, troubles me and it troubles the attorney general."

The president was asked about the controversy during a joint news conference with Mexican President Felipe Calderon. Mr. Bush seemed annoyed that the issue had followed him to Mexico, where he was trying to keep the focus on mending frayed ties with America's southern neighbor.

But he left no doubt that the firings will stand, and that he continues to support Attorney General Alberto Gonzales.

"I do have confidence in Attorney General Al Gonzales," he said. "I talked to him this morning. And we talked about his need to go up to Capitol Hill and make it very clear to members of both political parties why the Justice Department made the decisions it made."

The president said the firings were not politically motivated. But he acknowledged there were complaints about the sacked U.S. attorneys from Republican members of Congress, which he passed on to the attorney general.

"But I never brought up a specific case, nor gave him specific instructions," said Mr. Bush.

These prosecutors represent the U.S. government in cases involving violations of federal law. They are appointed by the president, and can be removed by the administration in power. But they are supposed to be above politics, acting as lawyers for the people of the United States.

Some of the sacked prosecutors have said they felt pressure from Republicans to speed up investigations of Democrats prior to last year's congressional midterm elections. The Justice Department maintains they were fired because their overall performance was not up to par.