Leahy calls for dual support Attorney General candidate

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(Host) Senator Patrick Leahy says the resignation of Alberto Gonzales offers the White House an opportunity to restore the integrity of to the attorney general’s office.

Leahy is urging the Bush Administration to name a successor who will have the strong support of both Democrats and Republicans on the Senate Judiciary Committee.

VPR’s Bob Kinzel reports:

(Kinzel) For the past few months, Leahy has said that he felt Gonzales had the safest job in Washington because President Bush would be very reluctant to go through a confirmation process for a new attorney general with a Democratic majority in the U.S. Senate.

So Leahy, who chairs the Senate Judiciary committee, says he was very surprised to learn early Monday that Gonzales had decided to resign.

Leahy thinks the recent resignation of several key officials in the Justice Department was the final blow for a group of Republican senators on his committee:

(Leahy) "They’ve all resigned. There’s hardly anybody left there and the Department of Justice has been badly demoralized. And I think the President realized that he was getting as much criticism from Republicans in the Congress as he was from Democrats."

(Kinzel) Leahy says he’s urged White House officials to adopt a policy of cooperation and not confrontation with the Senate over the selection of a new Attorney General.

(Leahy) "The Constitution says that the Senate shall advise and consent on nominations. And I think they should at least seek our advice from both Republican and Democratic leadership before they seek our consent. There are people who could get the strong support in the Senate. Others would be polarizing."

(Kinzel) Leahy has asked the Inspector General’s office to investigate if Gonzales committed perjury in testimony before the Judiciary committee over the extension of a federal wiretapping program. Leahy says he’ll continue to pursue this investigation:

(Leahy) "And if they don’t tell the truth, they don’t escape the consequences simply by resigning from their job."

(Kinzel) Senator Bernie Sanders says he’s glad Gonzales has resigned and Sanders says the upcoming confirmation hearings will give the Senate an opportunity to have a very important discussion about civil liberties:

(Sanders) "I think you’re going to see the Senate being very forceful in saying,’yes we certainly do have a problem with regarding international terrorism. We’ve got to protect the American people.’ But you know what? We have separation of powers in this country. We have a constitution and we can be effective in fighting terrorism without denying the American people civil liberties, which has made us a free country for so many years."

(Kinzel) Those hearings could be held fairly soon because White House officials say it’s likely the President will name a new Attorney General in the near future.

For VPR News I’m Bob Kinzel in Montpelier.

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