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Specter: 'No confidence' vote will make Gonzales quit

Story Highlights

• Senator predicts Attorney General would get "substantial" no-confidence vote
• Gonzales under fire for months over the 2006 firings of eight U.S. attorneys
• Six Republican senators have called for Gonzales to resign
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WASHINGTON (CNN) -- A leading Republican senator predicted Sunday that Attorney General Alberto Gonzales would quit before facing a "substantial" no-confidence vote, but the White House said such a vote would have no effect on the Justice Department chief.

Sen. Arlen Specter, the ranking Republican on the Senate Judiciary Committee, said Gonzales was likely to resign before the Senate delivers "a forceful, historical statement."

"I think that if and when he sees that coming, that he would prefer to avoid that kind of an historical black mark," the Pennsylvania senator told CBS' "Face the Nation."

Gonzales has been under fire for months over the 2006 firings of eight U.S. attorneys, a move for which the Justice Department has offered shifting explanations.

The flap has led to the resignation of two of the attorney general's top aides and allegations of political influence on pending cases.

Four Republican senators had already called for Gonzales to resign over that flap. Two more joined the chorus after last week's dramatic testimony by former Deputy Attorney General James Comey.

Comey said Gonzales -- then White House counsel -- tried to get around Justice Department objections to a controversial warrantless surveillance program by making a bedside visit to Attorney General John Ashcroft, who was recovering from gall-bladder surgery at the time.

Democratic senators Dianne Feinstein and Charles Schumer, both members of the Judiciary Committee, introduced a resolution of no confidence in Gonzales last week.

But Gonzales serves at the pleasure of President Bush, and White House spokesman Tony Fratto said Sunday that, even if it passes, the resolution would not affect the attorney general.

"As for no-confidence votes, maybe senators need a refresher course on American civics," Fratto said, adding, "You find no-confidence votes in parliamentary systems, not the American system of government."

But Schumer, a leading Gonzales critic, said senators have the right "to try to pressure the president to understand that Gonzales is no good."

"The bottom line is, the only person who thinks that the attorney general should remain attorney general is the president," Schumer, of New York, told "Fox News Sunday."

Schumer has sent letters to Bush, Vice President Dick Cheney and Cheney adviser David Addington, asking them to explain who dispatched Gonzales and then-White House Chief of Staff Andrew Card to Ashcroft's hospital room that night in March 2004.

Bush did not answer a reporter's question about that matter last week.

Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell said Gonzales' future "is for the president to decide."

"As long as he's satisfied the president, I think he's going to continue," Kentucky Republican McConnell told ABC's "This Week." He said the Senate would not vote on Gonzales "unless there are other resolutions."

He offered no details, but Republican leaders have previously suggested that they might offer a confidence vote on Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid to counter a confidence vote on Gonzales.

"In the Senate, nobody gets a clear shot," McConnell said.

Specter has not called for Gonzales' resignation, but he said the Justice Department has been unable to function while its leadership is embroiled in controversy. And Feinstein told reporters that a formal statement of no-confidence "should be taken very, very seriously."

"Everybody has seen a department which is in free fall, a credibility which declines daily," she said.

Judiciary Committee member Sen. Arlen Specter (left) and U.S. Attorney General Alberto Gonzales after Gonzales testified to the committee April 19, 2007.



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