"I can tell you that the president has confidence in him," said Deputy White House press secretary Dana Perino. President Bush "believes the attorney general can overcome the challenges that are before him," she said.
On Thursday, former Gonzales aide Kyle Sampson told a Senate hearing that rather than merely signing off on the firings, as Gonzales has repeatedly stated, Gonzales was in the middle of things from the beginning.
"I don't think the attorney general's statement that he was not involved in any discussions of U.S. attorney removals was accurate," Sampson told a Judiciary Committee inquiry into whether the dismissals were politically motivated.
"I remember discussing with him this process of asking certain U.S. attorneys to resign," Sampson said.
Sampson also told the panel that the White House had a large role in the firings, with one-time presidential counsel Harriet Miers joining Gonzales in approving them. And under questioning from Sen. Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., Sampson said that looking back, he should not have advocated the firing of one prosecutor in particular, New Mexico's David Iglesias.
Congress began its spring break Friday, but there were intense activities taking place behind the scenes.
Michael Elston, chief of staff to Deputy Attorney General Paul McNulty, and three other Justice Department officials arrived on Capitol Hill Friday morning for what aides said would be a five-hour closed meeting with House and Senate Judiciary Committee officials.
McNulty in early February testified before Congress that seven of the U.S. attorneys were fired for performance reasons, and that one, Bud Cummins in Little Rock, Ark., was being moved out so that he could be replaced by a former aide to White House political adviser Karl Rove.
Gonzales was upset with McNulty's testimony afterwards and would have preferred that he said all eight were fired for performance reasons, according to Justice Department e-mails forwarded to the two committees. Bush has since criticized the department for not giving Congress an accurate account of the firings.