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US attorney furor: no end in sight

Attorney General Alberto Gonzales testifies before Congress Tuesday in a crucial moment for the Bush administration.

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Whether Attorney General Alberto Gonzales remains in his job or not, the furor over fired US prosecutors seems set to continue for weeks to come.

That's because key members of Congress say that they'll press for documents related to the case, and for further information about possible White House involvement, regardless of who heads the Department of Justice.

The matter of the prosecutors has thus expanded from a narrow inquiry into a multiheaded investigation that could result in direct legal conflict between the legislative and executive branches of the US government.

"This is just not going to go away," says Norman Ornstein, a political scientist and resident scholar at the American Enterprise Institute.

Mr. Gonzales's April 17 testimony before the Senate Judiciary Committee still remains a crucial moment, both for himself and the administration.

Thus the Justice Department took the unusual step of releasing Gonzales's prepared testimony two days prior to his actual appearance. That helped ensure at least one day of news coverage that centered on the main point he apparently wishes to make: that he has "nothing to hide" about the dismissals of the eight US attorneys, but also has a hazy memory about his involvement in the firing process.

Judiciary panel members said that the testimony was not specific enough, and that Gonzales would have to answer questions about why particular individuals were asked to resign if he wanted to regain their trust.

"He's got a steep hill to climb," said Sen. Arlen Specter of Pennsylvania, the committee's top Republican. "He's going to be successful only if he deals with the facts."

In one sense, it's surprising that Gonzales remains on the job, given that pundits for weeks have been predicting his imminent demise. But the attorney general appears to have maintained the support of President Bush, although even that may have limits. Both Mr. Bush and Vice President Dick Cheney have stated publicly that Gonzales has some repair work to do on his relations with Capitol Hill.

To this point, it appears that the person who decides whether he keeps his job may be Gonzales himself.

"The president seems inclined to not fire him, but to allow him to resign, if it comes to that," says Carl Tobias, a law professor at the University of Richmond.

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