GOP support for Gonzales wanes

Some congressional Republicans are growing increasingly skeptical about the Justice Department’s handling of the U.S. attorney controversy, with some of them declining to defend Alberto Gonzales as many Democrats are calling for the embattled attorney general to resign.

“I have supported Mr. Gonzales,” said Sen. Lisa MurkowskiLisa Ann MurkowskiOvernight Health Care — Presented by Partnership for America's Health Care Future — Walmart to stop selling e-cigarettes | Senators press FDA to pull most e-cigarettes immediately | House panel tees up e-cig hearing for next week Bipartisan group of senators urges FDA to pull most e-cigarettes immediately Sinema touts bipartisan record as Arizona Democrats plan censure vote MORE (R-Alaska) Wednesday. “But I think what we are seeing, particularly with regard to the [revelations of this week] … is kind of a loss of confidence in what is coming out of his department.”

Sen. John Sununu (R-N.H.) said he “expressed real concerns over leadership at the Justice Department a year and a half ago [during the reauthorization of the Patriot Act].”

Sununu pointed out that President Bush would have to make any decision with regard to Gonzales’s future. But he voiced some frustration with how the Patriot Act reauthorization was handled, saying the Department of Justice (DoJ) then had “missed an opportunity” to address the concerns of lawmakers and avoid confrontations.

Sununu, who will likely face a challenging reelection race next year, also pointed out that a recent report on the use of national security letters showed that many of the concerns that he and others had voiced were “very well founded.”

Asked if he had lost confidence in Gonzales, Sununu said his “confidence level was weak to begin with.”

Earlier this week, Sen. Jeff SessionsJefferson (Jeff) Beauregard SessionsTrump reignites court fight with Ninth Circuit pick Democrats press Nadler to hold Lewandowski in contempt Pelosi: Lewandowski should have been held in contempt 'right then and there' MORE (R-Ala.) called DoJ’s handling of the matter “an embarrassment.”

Other Republicans stood behind the attorney general. Sen. Lindsey GrahamLindsey Olin GrahamPost peace talks, Afghan elections are the best way forward Trump walks tightrope on gun control Pompeo doubles down on blaming Iran for oil attacks: 'This was a state-on-state act of war' MORE (R-S.C.) said Gonzales has done a good job of handling the controversy and addressing the problems that have surfaced.

“If he has the support of the president, [then] he has my support,” Graham said, adding Gonzales “did a good job yesterday to take responsibility.”

Bush, who was visiting Mexico, told reporters Wednesday that he still has confidence in Gonzales but that he was not pleased with how the firing of the U.S. attorneys had been handled.

“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 in both political parties why the Justice Department made the decisions it made, making very clear about the facts,” Bush said. “The fact that both Republicans and Democrats feel like that there was not straightforward communication troubles me, and it troubles the attorney general, so he took action. And he needs to continue to take action.”

Sen. Orrin HatchOrrin Grant HatchTrump to award racing legend Roger Penske with Presidential Medal of Freedom Trump awards Presidential Medal of Freedom to economist, former Reagan adviser Arthur Laffer Second ex-Senate staffer charged in aiding doxxing of GOP senators MORE (R-Utah) said the controversy surrounding the firing of the U.S. attorneys has become a “political exercise,” noting that President Bill ClintonWilliam (Bill) Jefferson ClintonTrump sues to block NY prosecutors' subpoena for his tax returns Most voters say there is too much turnover in Trump administration RNC spokeswoman on 2020 GOP primary cancellations: 'This is not abnormal' MORE fired all 93 U.S. attorneys when he took office.

Hatch said Gonzales is “doing a great job,” but added that DoJ could have been more open with regard to its reasons for firing the eight U.S. attorneys.

Many Republicans have adopted a wait-and-see pattern with regard to Gonzales, but are careful not to back him squarely.

Sen. John ThuneJohn Randolph ThuneThe Hill's Morning Report - Pompeo condemns Iran for 'act of war' while Trump moves with caution Hillicon Valley: Zuckerberg to meet with lawmakers | Big tech defends efforts against online extremism | Trump attends secretive Silicon Valley fundraiser | Omar urges Twitter to take action against Trump tweet NRA says Trump administration memo a 'non-starter' MORE (R-S.D.) said it is not time for the attorney general to resign, though he also noted that there is cause for concern.

“There have been some pretty serious questions raised about his performance, and those questions have to be answered,” Thune said.

Asked about Gonzales’s chances of remaining on the job, Thune said he had a better chance of winning his NCAA basketball pool than to setting any odds for what the future would hold for the attorney general.