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The Bush White House called embattled Attorney General Alberto Gonzales "our No. 1 crime fighter" Friday, a day after Gonzales' often halting explanations for the firings of eight federal prosecutors brought additional demands for his resignation. "He has done a fantastic job in the Department of Justice," deputy press secretary Dana Perino told reporters traveling aboard Air Force One as President Bush headed for a speech in Michigan.

Gonzales had gone to Capitol Hill Thursday with just one mission: to placate Republican and Democratic senators dissatisfied with his account of how eight federal prosecutors were fired.

Apparently, he failed. For the first time, Republicans on the Judiciary Committee broke ranks and said it might be best if Gonzales stepped down.

"It is generous to say the attorney general's communications about this matter have been inconsistent," Sen. Tom Coburn, R-Okla., told Gonzales in a packed hearing room Thursday. "The consequence should be the resignation of the attorney general."

Sen. Jeff Sessions, R-Ala., said in an interview after the hearing, "There are some problems that he just hasn't handled well, and it might just be best if he came to a conclusion that the department is better served if he's not there."

Some of the committee's biggest questions went unanswered: How exactly did the Justice Department settle on the eight prosecutors who were fired? Does Gonzales have command of his agency?

"You have been a forceful witness, and you have had a lot of staying power," Sen. Arlen Specter, the ranking Republican on the committee, said near the end of Gonzales' seven hours of testimony.

"But we haven't gotten, really, answers," added Specter, R-Pa. "I urged you to put on the record the details as to all the U.S. attorneys you asked to resign so that we could evaluate. And you have not done that."

Specter threw Gonzales a thin lifeline, declining to call for his resignation but making it clear that he thinks there's little argument for Gonzales keeping his post.

"His ability to manage the department has been severely undercut by the way he has handled these resignations and by the way he has handled his news conferences, his press statements and his testimony before the committee," Specter said.


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