Story Highlights• NEW: Alberto Gonzales apologizes for his handling of dismissal of eight attorneys
• All 93 U.S. attorneys invited on conference call; unclear how many joined
• Critics not swayed, continue calling for Gonzales' resignation
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WASHINGTON (CNN) -- Amid growing calls for his resignation, Attorney General Alberto Gonzales apologized to the nation's U.S. attorneys for his handling of the firings of eight people who used to hold the position, according to a Justice Department spokesman.
"The attorney general reiterated how important the U.S. attorneys are to him as his representatives in the communities they serve and as prosecutors charged with protecting their communities from violent criminals, drug dealers and predators," spokesman Brian Roehrkasse told CNN's Terry Frieden. Gonzales made his remarks in a conference call.
A Justice Department official said all 93 U.S. attorneys were invited to join the call, but it was not clear how many of them did.
"On the call, he apologized not for the dismissals, but rather for the handling of the situation, including that the suggestion the prosecutors had performed poorly was ultimately discussed publicly," the official said.
"He encouraged them, as members of his team, to be open with him and share any thoughts or concerns they have during this period," Roehrkasse said.
The move did not appear to mollify Gonzales' critics. "I think it's highly unlikely he survives," Sen. Chuck Schumer, D-New York, told NBC's "Meet the Press." "I wouldn't be surprised if, a week from now, he's no longer attorney general."
He added about Gonzales, "He's bungled it."
Schumer said his complaint is that the attorneys were fired not because of incompetence -- as originally alleged -- but because of political pressures, from which the officials should have been insulated. "Either they wouldn't prosecute a case that was politically advantageous to the White House, or they were prosecuting a case that was disadvantageous to the White House," Schumer said.
Schumer said the fired attorneys had received "outstanding ratings" from their superiors.
Attorneys speak out
One of the fired U.S. attorneys, Bud Cummins, told "Fox News Sunday" that Gonzales should have apologized to those whose reputations were sullied when they were dismissed.
"As far as the attorney general's credibility, it's obviously been injured, and I guess it just remains to be seen about how much of this nonsense that went on he was actually aware of while it was going on," said Cummins, who headed the Eastern District of Arkansas.
"I think the credibility is significantly strained at this point," said David Iglesias, who ran federal cases in New Mexico until he too was let go.
"This is a political hit; and I just wish the Justice Department would have been honest when it testified in January that these were, in fact, not performance-related but, in fact, political."
Asked Sunday if he still has confidence in Gonzales, Sen. Arlen Specter, R-Pennsylvania, told Fox, "I'm reserving judgment on that ... until we finish the inquiry."
Last week, word broke that some in the administration had suggested early in Bush's second term that all the federal prosecutors be sacked. The White House said the idea for such a move -- which is legal -- came from Harriet Miers, who wanted "new blood" in those offices. Miers became White House counsel after Gonzales moved to the attorney general's office.
The White House has since backed away from statements about who in the administration had suggested firing all the U.S. attorneys around the country.
But e-mails surfaced Thursday indicating Bush's top political adviser, Karl Rove, and then-White House Counsel Gonzales had been involved in discussions about the matter before Gonzales became attorney general.
Gonzales' office issued a statement saying he "has no recollection of any plan or discussion to replace U.S. attorneys while he was still White House counsel."
White House spokesman Tony Snow said Friday the White House cannot stand by its previous assertions that Miers first suggested firing all federal prosecutors.
"At this juncture, people have hazy memories," he said. "The thing we can say with assurance is Karl recalling she raised it."
Senate Democrats are leading an investigation into what led to the dismissal of eight of the U.S. attorneys.
One issue is whether some of the fired attorneys had been pressured by Republicans to launch corruption investigations of Democrats. The Senate Judiciary Committee, of which Specter is the ranking member, is considering whether they were fired for resisting that pressure.
Justice officials described the firings as performance-related, which sparked an outcry from the fired lawyers, some of whom alleged they had been subject to political pressure on federal cases.
Gonzales has said he would never have supported firing any prosecutors for political reasons.
The Justice Department later admitted Cummins was fired to make room for a former Rove aide returning from military service. But Rove said Thursday the administration had "reasonable and appropriate disagreements" with the remaining seven that justified their removals.
Several Democrats have called for Gonzales' ouster, as has Sen. John Sununu, R-New Hampshire. Sen. Gordon Smith, a Republican from Oregon, told CNN, "For the institution of Congress it would be helpful to have someone who comes before Congress ... to have more credibility."
The controversy has already cost Kyle Sampson, Gonzales' chief of staff, his job.
Gonzales said Tuesday Sampson had managed the process and kept others in the dark, leading Justice Department officials to provide "incomplete" information about the dismissals to Congress.
Sampson's attorney said Friday his client did not intentionally withhold information from any official.
U.S. Attorney General Alberto Gonzales apologizes to U.S. attorneys for his handling of eight dismissals.
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