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Top Republican thinks Gonzales will resign

Story Highlights

• Sen. Specter says Justice Department is "dysfunctional" under Gonzales
• Chairman Sen. Leahy says he has "absolutely no confidence" in Gonzales
• Schumer, Feinstein call for vote of no confidence for Gonzales
• Justice Department acknowledges early lists called for firing 26 prosecutors
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WASHINGTON (CNN) -- The top Republican on the Senate Judiciary Committee said Thursday that he expects the investigation into the firings of federal prosecutors will lead to Attorney General Alberto Gonzales' resignation.

"I have a sense when we finish our investigation, we may have a conclusion to the tenure of the attorney general," said Pennsylvania Sen. Arlen Specter.

While Specter did not join the growing number of lawmakers from both parties calling for Gonzales to resign or be fired, he did call the Department of Justice "close to being dysfunctional, with an attorney general who is unable to perform the duties of that position, a deputy attorney general who is on his way out and what I sense to be considerable demoralization within the department."

Committee chairman Sen. Patrick Leahy said he had "absolutely no confidence in the attorney general or his leadership."

"I have confidence in the professionals at the Department of Justice. I have none in the leadership," said Leahy, Democrat of Vermont.

Also on Thursday, Democratic senators Charles Schumer of New York and Diane Feinstein of California said they would call for a vote of no-confidence for Gonzales. (Watch Schumer tell CNN why he thinks Gonzales must go Video)

"Every day, something happens to make the attorney general's position more untenable," Schumer said.

A vote in the Senate would have no practical effect on Gonzales' future because he is appointed by the president.

Hagel: AG can't do job anymore

In a written statement Wednesday, Republican Sen. Chuck Hagel of Nebraska said the "honesty and capability" of the attorney general must be unquestioned, and that Gonzales "can no longer meet this standard." (Full story)

Minnesota's Norm Coleman became the sixth Republican to call for Gonzales to go. His spokesman, Leroy Coleman, told CNN the senator was angered by revelations that the former U.S. attorney in Minneapolis had been on a Justice Department list for dismissal as part of a shakeup that has stirred up a firestorm on Capitol Hill.

Three other GOP senators have called for Gonzales to resign: Tom Coburn of Oklahoma, John McCain of Arizona and John Sununu of New Hampshire. McCain is running for president; Hagel is considering a run.

Another Republican, Kansas Sen. Pat Roberts, suggested to The Associated Press on Wednesday that Gonzales should consider stepping down: "When you have to spend more time up here on Capitol Hill instead of running the Justice Department, maybe you ought to think about it."

The latest calls for Gonzales to step down come amid reports that as many as 26 U.S. attorneys were on lists for potential dismissal during the past two years.

And they follow testimony on Tuesday by former Deputy Attorney General James Comey that Gonzales tried to get his ailing predecessor, John Ashcroft, to sign off on the surveillance program from his hospital bed after Comey raised questions about the program. (Full story)

A Justice Department spokesman said that the lists of potential firings were only "thoughts for discussion" by now-departed Gonzales chief of staff Kyle Sampson.

"These lists, some drafted long before the December resignations, reflect Kyle Sampson's thoughts for discussion during the consultation process," Justice Department spokesman Brian Roehrkasse said.

"Many names on these lists, which have been shared with Congress, clearly did not represent the final actions or views of the department's leadership or the attorney general," he said.

Justice Department on defensive

The Justice Department defended Gonzales in a written statement Thursday, saying it has "achieved significant progress through his leadership in key priority areas."

"As the Justice Department works to ensure Congress has all the information it needs, the attorney general remains focused on doing the job that the American people expect, like keeping the country safe from terrorism, our neighborhoods safe from violent crime and gangs, and our children safe from predators and pedophiles," it said.

The expanded number of prosecutors whose names appeared on internal lists was first reported by the Washington Post on Thursday. The names represented nearly a fourth of the 93 U.S. attorneys nationwide.

Though U.S. attorneys are political appointees who serve at the pleasure of the president, the Justice Department's initial characterization of their firings as "performance-related" prompted an outcry from the fired lawyers and raised allegations of political pressure on pending investigations.

Gonzales has admitted the dismissals were handled badly, but has denied wrongdoing and resisted calls for his resignation from members of Congress.

In Comey's dramatic testimony on Tuesday, he said he had considered resigning after disagreements about the surveillance program. (Watch how Comey's testimony sounds like palace intrigue Video)

Calling it "the most difficult time in my period of life," Comey discussed publicly for the first time a hospital visit then-White House chief of staff Andrew Card and then-White House counsel Gonzales made to Ashcroft on March 10, 2004. (Watch Comey describe Ashcroft's response during the hospital visit Video)

Ashcroft had become sick the week before, and Comey had been designated the acting attorney general.

Comey refused to say publicly that the White House officials came to the hospital to discuss the NSA program.

However, government officials previously confirmed to CNN that Comey had "vigorously opposed" aspects of the surveillance program and refused to sign off on its continued use, prompting Card and Gonzales to make the hospital visit.

Politics at the hospital

Comey recounted Ashcroft's wife calling a Justice Department official that night informing her Card and Gonzales were on their way to see Ashcroft.

He immediately headed to the hospital and soon after he got there, the White House officials entered.

He said Ashcroft, who had been weak from gall bladder surgery, "very strongly expressed himself" regarding his objections to a classified program, but added that Ashcroft's views didn't matter because he was, temporarily, not the attorney general.

Comey said Card and Gonzales then left the hospital room without acknowledging him.

"I was very upset. I was angry. I thought I had just witnessed an effort to take advantage of a very sick man who did not have the powers of the attorney general because they had been transferred to me."

"I thought he had conducted himself -- and I said to the attorney general -- in a way that demonstrated a strength that I had never seen before, but still I thought it was improper," Comey told the committee.



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