Attorney General Alberto Gonzales late Friday declined to provide his congressional critics with information on whether he misled Congress in sworn testimony related to his department's purge of federal prosecutors.
Gonzales' refusal increases the likelihood that lawmakers of both parties will seek ways to pry him from office.
In a two-page letter to Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Patrick Leahy, Gonzales reiterated his position that alleged violations of the USA Patriot Act were mistakes rather civil liberties abuses. He said he was not aware of any political briefings at the Justice Department akin to those given by White House political aides at other federal agencies.
And he offered a classified briefing on the reason for now-famous hospital visit to Attorney John Ashcroft in 2004.
"I hope that the committee will find this information helpful," Gonzales finished.
"It is a deeply regrettable that it takes so much work and effort for this attorney general to try to justify answers that appear to remain far short of the full truth the American people should expect from the nation's top law enforcement officer," Leahy, D-Vt., said in a statement.
"This is a non-clarification clarification," said Sen. Charles Schumer, D-N.Y., who has called for a special prosecutor.
It's routine for congressional witnesses to send follow-up letters to the committee to clarify or correct their statements.
Gonzales' case is anything but routine. Lawmakers _ and the inspector general of the Justice Department _ want to know why he testified that he has not talked with other witnesses about the firings, when his former White House liaison, Monica Goodling, testified that he spoke to her about them. Gonzales did not address that discrepancy in his letter Friday.
Leahy has said he would refer the Justice Department's inspector general to Gonzales' inconsistencies if the attorney general did not provide enough answers in his letter Friday _ but the chairman stopped short of doing so in his statement.
Gonzales' critics say his statements probably don't amount to perjury or making false statements to Congress _ both crimes. But several lawmakers on the committee think he may be guilty of misconduct.
Whatever the outcome, Gonzales' standing among some members of Congress is beyond saving.
On Thursday, Sen. Arlen Specter, R-Pa., shifted from deferring to the president on Gonzales' fate to calling outright for Congress to "find a way to end the tenure of Attorney General Gonzales."