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It's not just about fired US attorneys anymore

Congress is asking pointed questions about the role of partisanship in prosecutions, hirings at Justice Department.

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Pundits for weeks have been predicting his resignation is imminent, and lawmakers from both parties have called on him to quit. But so far Attorney General Alberto Gonzales has defied critics – and shows no signs of packing his bags.

The clamor over the firings of eight US attorneys may yet force Mr. Gonzales out. Members of Congress will have another chance to publicly press for his ouster at his scheduled appearance Thursday before the House Judiciary Committee.

But even if Gonzales leaves, uproar about management at the Department of Justice is unlikely to subside. A steady stream of revelations – from allegations about partisan hiring in the Civil Rights Division to possible White House involvement in the US attorney dismissals – has seen to that.

"Congress now is sufficiently concerned that, even were he to resign, I don't think it would change things very much," says Carl Tobias, a law professor at the University of Richmond in Virginia.

In one sense, Gonzales's continued survival is a lesson in political power. It has been weeks since experts began to expound about how he couldn't possibly last more than a few days in office. Influential senators, including some Republicans, have made it clear that Gonzales's continued presence will affect their attitude toward Justice Department initiatives.

Yet he continues in office, with President Bush's apparent unwavering backing. Mr. Bush may well genuinely believe that his attorney general is a good man who is being smeared. After all, charges of politicization at the Justice Department are nothing new in Washington.

"In every administration there are [such] allegations very consistently," said Benjamin Wittes, a governance expert and guest scholar at the Brookings Institution, at a recent seminar here on the subject.

But other calculations may be at work as well. As long as Gonzales stays in office, he remains a focus for criticism that might otherwise be directed elsewhere. There is evidence that White House political adviser Karl Rove and former White House counsel Harriet Miers had input into the list of attorneys to be fired, for example.

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