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 ENERGY: Trump administration gives renewables more time to take advantage of tax credits | House Republicans introduce bill to speed mining projects for critical minerals | Watchdog faults EPA communications in contamination of NC river Trump administration gives renewables more time to take advantage of tax credits GOP senators urge Trump not to restrict guest worker visas 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].”

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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 SessionsThe Department of Justice should step aside in the George Floyd case The Memo: Trump tweets cross into new territory Sessions goes after Tuberville's coaching record in challenging him to debate MORE (R-Ala.) called DoJ’s handling of the matter “an embarrassment.”

Other Republicans stood behind the attorney general. Sen. Lindsey GrahamLindsey Olin GrahamSchumer to GOP: Cancel 'conspiracy hearings' on origins of Russia probe Graham announces hearing on police use of force after George Floyd killing In a new cold war with China, America may need to befriend Russia MORE (R-S.C.) said Gonzales has done a good job of handling the controversy and addressing the problems that have surfaced.

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“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 HatchBottom line Bottom line Bottom line 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 ClintonTop Democratic pollster advised Biden campaign to pick Warren as VP How Obama just endorsed Trump Trump, Biden signal how ugly the campaign will be 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 ThuneFrustration builds in key committee ahead of Graham subpoena vote  The Hill's Morning Report - Presented by Facebook - US death toll nears 100,000 as country grapples with reopening GOP faces internal conflicts on fifth coronavirus bill 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.