MERIDA, Mexico — President Bush publicly chastised Attorney General Alberto Gonzales on Wednesday, declaring he was "not happy" about the controversy surrounding the unceremonious firings of eight U.S. attorneys.
Speaking at a joint news conference in Mexico, on the last day of his five-nation tour of Latin America, Bush told reporters that he spoke Wednesday morning with Gonzales, the nation's first Latino attorney general, and expressed his displeasure.
"He's right. Mistakes were made and frankly I am not happy about them," said Bush, noting that the Department of Justice improperly withheld information from lawmakers. "The fact that both Republicans and Democrats felt like there was not straight communication troubles me and it troubles the attorney general."
Gonzales has been on the hot seat since revelations, first made by McClatchy Newspapers, that a number of U.S. attorneys had been removed from their positions despite positive job reviews. In one case, the U.S. attorney in Arkansas was removed to make way for a close associate of Karl Rove, Bush's closest political adviser.
Over the past few days, Bush's spokespeople have defended the firings by saying the 93 U.S. attorneys, who are chief federal prosecutors, serve at the pleasure of the president. Bush on Wednesday skirted a direct question on whether he has a political loyalty test for U.S. attorneys, who are political appointees who are supposed to serve without political interference.
The Bush administration denies wrongdoing in the firings, and the president's disappointment with Gonzales comes from the revelations that the attorney general's chief of staff, Kyle Sampson, didn't fully disclose information to congressional overseers. Sampson resigned earlier this week.
Bush made it clear he does not seek the resignation of Gonzales, although several top Democrats are calling for just that.
"I do have confidence in Attorney General Al Gonzales. I talked to him this morning," the president said, noting he had ordered Gonzales to go up to Capitol Hill and fully address the concerns of lawmakers.
Some Democrats have threatened to subpoena Rove, but Bush's senior spokesman Dan Bartlett called that "highly unlikely" on Tuesday while briefing reporters in Merida, Mexico.
With Mexican President Felipe Calderon looking on, Bush acknowledged on Wednesday that he did share complaints with Gonzales that came from lawmakers reportedly unhappy that some U.S. attorneys were not sufficiently investigating alleged voter fraud by Democrats.
However, Bush said he did not order anyone's firing.
"It's just not true," he said, noting that he was simply passing along complaints. "I get complaints all the time from members of congress on a variety of subjects."
Bush was asked whether Gonzales might have taken the passing on of a complaint as an implicit instruction.
"You'll have to ask Al that question," he answered.