U.S. senators lashed at U.S. Attorney General Alberto Gonzales on Tuesday during a hearing over the controversial firings of nine federal prosecutors last year and the domestic surveillance program.
"The attorney general has lost the confidence of the Congress and the American people," said Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Patrick Leahy, a Democratic from Vermont.
Leahy said the Justice Department was shrouded in scandal, and that he did not trust Gonzales, the embattled attorney general who has been under pressure from lawmakers to resign.
"What keeps you in the job, Mr. Attorney General?" Democratic Senator Herbert Kohl asked.
"I have decided to stay and fix the problems," answered Gonzales, who has refused to resign over the firings, which many lawmakers suspected were politically-motivated.
Gonzales denied during the hearing that he and former White House chief of staff Andy Card tried in 2004 to pressure John Ashcroft, then attorney general, at his hospital bedside to recertify a controversial domestic eavesdropping program before it expired.
Gonzales served as the White House counsel at that time, and Ashcroft, who had transferred the powers of his office to Deputy Attorney General James Comey, was in an intensive care unit recovering from gall bladder surgery.
"We went there because we thought it was important for him to know where the congressional leadership was on this," Gonzales said.
"Clearly if he had been competent and understood the facts and had been inclined to do so, yes, we would have asked him," he said.
In testimony on May 15, Comey recounted how Gonzales and Card went to George Washington University Hospital on the evening of March 10, 2004, in an attempt to persuade a barely conscious Ashcroft to sign a document recertifying the spying program.
Ashcroft refused and deferred to Comey as the acting attorney general, according to Comey. Comey said that when Bush reauthorized the program anyway the next day, he, Ashcroft and FBI Director Robert Mueller were all prepared to resign.
"It looks to me ... as if the department is dysfunctional," Senator Arlen Specter, the committee's ranking Republican, said.
Specter suggested that Justice Department consider appointing a special prosecutor to investigate the firings.