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US Attorney General Faces Renewed Calls To Resign Over Prosecutor Controversy

Embattled U.S. Attorney General Alberto Gonzales Thursday faced renewed calls to resign over his handling of the firing of federal prosecutors. The nation's top law enforcement official spent a full day defending the decision to dismiss the eight prosecutors before skeptical lawmakers in a controversy that has created a political firestorm. More from VOA's Deborah Tate on Capitol Hill.

Attorney General Gonzales denied critics' allegations that the federal prosecutors were fired to influence the prosecution of corruption cases with the aim of helping Republicans.

While acknowledging that "reasonable people might disagree" with the decision to fire the prosecutors, Gonzales defended the move, saying nothing improper was done.

"My decision to ask for the resignations of these U.S. attorneys was justified and should stand," said Alberto Gonzales.

The attorney general acknowledged that some of his past statements about the prosecutor dismissals have been imprecise, but he said he never sought to mislead or deceive Congress or the American people.

But after a full day of often tense questioning, lawmakers from both sides of the political aisle remained skeptical, with some stepping up calls for his resignation.

Among them was Gonzales' fellow Republican conservative, Senator Tom Coburn of Oklahoma:

"I believe the best way to put this behind us is your resignation," said Tom Coburn.

Senator Chuck Schumer, a New York Democrat, echoed the call:

"I urge you to reexamine your performance, and for the good of the department, and the good of the country, step down," said Senator Schumer.

Gonzales disagreed that his resignation would put the controversy to rest. Earlier, he said he had done nothing to warrant his stepping down.

Senator Arlen Specter of Pennsylvania, the top Republican on the committee, said he would not ask for Gonzales' resignation, saying that was a matter for the attorney general or the president. But he told Gonzales he was not satisfied by his testimony:

"I urged you to put on the record the details as to all the U.S. attorneys asked to resign so that we could evaluate," said Arlen Specter. "You have not done that."

Other lawmakers said that while the dismissals may have been justified - noting that prosecutors serve at the pleasure of the president - the attorney general's handling of the matter undermined confidence in the Justice Department.

Senator Patrick Leahy of Vermont is chairman of the panel:

"I am afraid that from the testimony today and the evidence that we have uncovered during this investigation shows that politics have entered the Department of Justice to an unprecedented extent," said Senator Leahy. "If left unchecked, it [the department] would become a political arm of the White House.

Despite senators' skepticism about Gonzales' testimony, White House spokeswoman Dana Perino said President Bush was pleased with the way Gonzales handled the questioning. In a written statement, she said the president continues to have full confidence in his attorney general.