WASHINGTON — A top Democrat predicted Sunday that Attorney General Alberto Gonzales would be forced from his job within a week for the Justice Department's mishandling of the firing of eight U.S. attorneys.
Sen. Charles Schumer, D-N.Y., also proposed a short list of three Republican replacements that he said could win Senate confirmation.
"The White House has a real chance to clear the air, to restore faith that the rule of law will come first and politics second in the Justice Department, not the other way around," Schumer, who's leading the Senate's inquiry into the firings, said on NBC's "Meet the Press."
Schumer's statement was just one of several by both Democrats and Republicans on Sunday that indicated that the controversy over the dismissals of the U.S. attorneys is not likely to die down anytime soon.
Another top Senate Democrat said he'll insist that key White House officials testify under oath when they're called before Congress to discuss the firings. Sen. Patrick Leahy, D-Vt., chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee, said on ABC's "This Week" that he's "sick and tired" of the administration's changing explanation for the dismissals.
The top Republican on the Senate Judiciary Committee said Congress should consider writing legislation that would require the Justice Department to show cause if it wants to remove a U.S. attorney.
"Congress has the constitutional authority to set some parameters and guidelines," Sen. Arlen Specter, R-Pa., said on "Fox News Sunday." "We don't really want to interfere with the president's basic right to set policy. If he wants immigration cases emphasized, his U.S. attorneys ought to do that. Whatever classifications he wants ought to be followed. But we're learning from this experience. If we find there's a way to better regulate this kind of a situation, Congress ought to act."
Congress has opened an investigation into why the U.S. attorneys were fired last year amid speculation that the dismissals may have been intended to squash politically sensitive investigations. The Bush administration initially said the dismissals were over performance issues, but most of the prosecutors had received good job evaluations.
E-mails between White House and Justice Department officials released last week indicated that politics also played a role. Loyalty to Bush and Gonzales were among the criteria for a good evaluation, the e-mails showed. Some of the fired prosecutors had undertaken high-profile investigations of Republicans as well, though the released e-mails did not explicitly mention those probes.
The Justice Department is expected to release more e-mails on Monday, and the White House is expected to tell Congress on Tuesday whether it will invoke executive privilege to prevent Bush political adviser Karl Rove and former White House counsel Harriet Miers from testifying.
The House and Senate also are scheduled this week to vote to repeal the law quietly passed last year that stripped the Senate's power to reject interim U.S. attorneys the administration might pick to replace ousted prosecutors.
Lawmakers from both parties said that if Gonzales is to remain on the job he must demonstrate soon that he is moving to fix concerns that his department has been politicized.
"By giving inaccurate information, by not giving complete information ... it's caused a real firestorm and he'd better get the facts out," said Sen. John Cornyn, R-Tex., a top administration supporter, on "This Week."
On Fox, former Arkansas U.S. Attorney H.E. "Bud" Cummins said if Gonzales was out of the loop he shouldn't necessarily have to resign but if he knew how much input the White House had into the firings, "then maybe he does need to resign."
The three lawyers Schumer suggested Democrats might support to replace Gonzales are:
_Michael B. Mukasey, who returned last year to the private sector after serving as chief U.S. district court judge of the southern district of New York. Mukasey, a Reagan administration nominee, presided over the terrorism trial of Sheik Omar Abdel Rahman and 11 co-defendants.
_Larry Thompson, who left the Justice Department in 2003 after serving as deputy attorney general under John Ashcroft. Thompson focused on terrorism and corporate crime, including a role in going after Enron Corp.
_James Comey, who left the Justice Department in 2005 after serving as Thompson's replacement. Comey is trusted by some Democrats because of his perceived discomfort with some of the administration's terrorism surveillance policies and because he named U.S. Attorney Patrick Fitzgerald as special prosecutor in the CIA leak case that ended with the conviction of Vice President Dick Cheney's former chief of staff, I. Lewis "Scooter" Libby.