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Gonzales asks House panel to move past firings

Attorney General Alberto Gonzales is challenging a House panel to move past the furor over the firings of U.S. attorneys and allow the Justice Department to focus on its mission: fighting crime. [!]
/ Source: The Associated Press

Attorney General Alberto Gonzales is challenging a House panel to move past the furor over the firings of U.S. attorneys and allow the Justice Department to focus on its mission: fighting crime.

In testimony prepared for his appearance on Capitol Hill Thursday, Gonzales also acknowledged that he should have been more personally involved in the process. He apologized for the way Justice handled the firings.

"I should have done more personally to ensure that the review process was more rigorous and that each U.S. attorney was informed of this decision in a more personal and respectful way," Gonzales said in remarks prepared for the House Judiciary Committee, which were obtained late Tuesday by The Associated Press.

"This process could have been handled much better and for that I want to apologize publicly," Gonzales said.

Still, the attorney general insisted anew that those fired were not dismissed for improper reasons. He challenged the Democrat-led panel to move on.

"Recent events must not deter us from our mission," Gonzales said. "I ask the committee to join me in that commitment and that rededication."

It will likely be a tough sell.

Additional hearings in the works
House and Senate investigators were forging ahead with witness interviews and requests for documents about the firings of eight U.S. attorneys over the winter. Some Democrats contend the firings were White House-influenced efforts to interfere with corruption investigations in ways that might have helped Republicans.

Gonzales denied that charge.

The uproar has jeopardized Gonzales' job, in part because he issued conflicting statements about his role. In Senate testimony last month, Gonzales frustrated senators when he blamed a faulty memory dozens of times in response to questions.

This time, before the House panel, Gonzales pledged to be more responsive. And with President Bush's support in hand, he showed no sign of heeding calls from some members of both parties for his resignation.

"I intend to stay here as long as it takes to answer all of the questions the committee may have about my involvement in this matter," Gonzales said in his remarks. "I want this committee to be satisfied, to be fully reassured, that nothing improper was done."

Calls for Gonzales' resignation have quieted since last month, though the issue has dogged him during appearances around the country in recent weeks.