Story Highlights• Alberto Gonzales has a credibility problem, some Republicans say
• Senators reluctant to say publicly that Gonzales should be fired
• Republicans not happy with Democrat Chuck Schumer's response
• Gonzales under fire for dismissals of at least seven U.S. attorneys
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WASHINGTON (CNN) -- Senate Republican leaders said in a meeting Tuesday that Attorney General Alberto Gonzales "bungled" the response to criticism of seven fired U.S. attorneys but that he should not be dismissed, according to two Republican sources at the meeting.
They said he did nothing wrong by replacing the attorneys, according to the sources.
One source said that while Gonzales is very close to President Bush, he has "made no friends with Republicans" on the Hill and has "no good will here."
But "our guys work on principle" and "they don't see this as enough to get him out," one of the sources said.
"What they've done and how they've handled this is stupid," the same source said. "But not, 'Oh God, we gotta get this guy out of here.'"
This assessment by the GOP leadership -- which is headed by Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, Whip Trent Lott, and Conference Chair Jon Kyl -- may differ from that of many rank-and-file Republicans in the Senate, particularly moderates.
CNN interviews with nearly a dozen Senate Republicans Tuesday paint a picture of stress and anxiety over the matter among senators, many of whom say Gonzales' credibility has been severely damaged.
"I think there are issues of confidence that have to be addressed," said Sen. Norm Coleman, a Republican from Minnesota who is up for re-election in 2008.
"It's deeply disturbing," said Sen. Olympia Snowe of Maine. "Time is of the essence. The sooner they come up and testify and get all the facts on the table, the better off the country will be."
"I think he lost a lot of credibility last week," said Sen. Lisa Murkowski of Alaska. "His credibility continues to erode and I think it makes it a very difficult situation to do his job."
Sen. Susan Collins, a moderate up for re-election in 2008, said she "didn't think he has served the president very well but it's up to the president whether or not he continues in the position."
Should he stay or should he go?
But Oregon Sen. Gordon Smith said many senators are reluctant to call for Gonzales' firing publicly but have started saying privately in the cloakroom that it's time for him to go. "Many senators, they feel personally aggrieved by this."
Other Republicans said they want to wait until all the facts get out before deciding if Gonzales should go.
"I'm not going to be stampeded into making a decision," said Sen. Lindsay Graham, a Republican from South Carolina who is also up for re-election in 2008 and who has complained the White House handled the matter "clumsily."
"I'll listen to what he has to say," Graham said.
He said the president may have helped Gonzales, at least for a while, when he called the attorney general Tuesday morning to express his confidence in him. "I think it stops the stampede mentality a little bit." (Watch GOP Sen. Alren Specter say he wants the facts )
Typically a White House supporter, Republican Sen. John Cornyn said the Bush administration needs to be more forthcoming. "I think the intrigue and conspiracy theories that are feeding this thing are making it worse than it would otherwise be," he said.
Cornyn and Graham echoed another complaint of many Senate Republicans: That Sen. Chuck Schumer from New York is the Democrats point man on the scandal.
"That's where this thing crosses a very bad line," Cornyn said. "I think it begins to discredit the whole investigation because the first thing Democrats want to do -- particularly Chuck Schumer, the chairman of the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee -- is get Karl Rove under oath in the committee room.
"I mean, he is just salivating over that possibility."
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