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GOP senator predicts federal prosecutors probe will lead to Gonzales' resignation

    WASHINGTON - The top Republican on the Senate Judiciary Committee predicted Thursday that the probe of firings of federal prosecutors would lead to the resignation of Attorney General Alberto Gonzales.

The Justice Department, according to veteran Sen. Arlen Specter, can't properly protect the nation from terrorism or oversee President Bush's no-warrant eavesdropping program with Gonzales at the helm.

"I have a sense that when we finish our investigation, we may have the conclusion of the tenure of the attorney general," Specter, R-Pa., said during a committee hearing. "I think when our investigation is concluded, it'll be clear even to the attorney general and the president that we're looking at a dysfunctional department which is vital to the national welfare."

His comment echoed new criticism of the attorney general this week. Former deputy attorney general James Comey testified that Gonzales tried to get his predecessor as attorney general, John Ashcroft, to approve Bush's eavesdropping program as Ashcroft lay in intensive care.

The tale inspired Sen. Chuck Hagel, R-Neb., to become the fourth Republican senator to call for Gonzales' resignation. Sen. Pat Roberts, R-Kan., joined in the criticism.

"When you have to spend more time up here on Capitol Hill instead of running the Justice Department, maybe you ought to think about it," Roberts told The Associated Press.

Judiciary Committee Chairman Patrick Leahy, who has not called for Gonzales' resignation, agreed.

"I have absolutely no confidence in the attorney general or his leadership," said Leahy, D-Vt.

Bush has stood by his longtime friend and adviser, the key to Gonzales' hold on his job.

But just when some predicted that Gonzales had survived the furors over the firings, Comey's testimony helped broaden the Democrat-led probe into whether the attorney general politicized the Justice department at the White House's behest _ and inspired new calls for his resignation.

Gonzales has said only eight U.S. attorneys were targeted for dismissal. But the Justice Department, over nearly two years, listed as many as 26 prosecutors after concerns were raised about their performances, a senior government official familiar with the process said Thursday.

The Justice Department said it fully supports all of its current U.S. attorneys. The list of 26 names was first reported Thursday by The Washington Post.

Many of the names on various and changing lists of prosecutors under scrutiny "clearly did not represent the final actions or views of the department's leadership or the attorney general," said Justice spokesman Dean Boyd. He said the lists "reflect Kyle Sampson's thoughts for discussion during the consultation process."

Sampson, Gonzales' former chief of staff, oversaw the review that drove the firings. He resigned in March as a result of the department's botched handling of the dismissals.

The developments came as Democrats sought more testimony from current and former Justice Department officials. House Democrats announced that Gonzales' former White House liaison, Monica Goodling, would testify next week under a grant of immunity.

Across the Capitol, the Senate Judiciary Committee on Thursday was considering a subpoena for Bradley Schlozman, a former senior civil rights attorney and U.S. attorney who replaced Todd Graves in Missouri. Graves also was ordered to resign.

At issue is whether the department, at the White House's urging, tried to cause problems for Democrats by facilitating voter fraud cases and others involving corruption.

Republicans, unhappy with Gonzales for months, have largely refrained from outright calls for his sacking. But they issued more criticism Wednesday, driven by Comey's testimony this week.

According to Comey, Gonzales in 2004 pressured Attorney General John Ashcroft to certify the legality of Bush's no-warrant eavesdropping program. The conversation took place at Ashcroft's hospital bedside as the attorney general recuperated from pancreatitis.

Ashcroft rebuffed Gonzales, but the White House certified the program's legality anyway. Faced with the resignations of Ashcroft, Comey and FBI Director Robert Mueller, Bush ordered the program be changed to accommodate Justice's objections.

Democrats said his testimony appeared to contradict Gonzales' account in February 2006, when he told two congressional panels that there had "not been any serious disagreement about the program."

Dean Boyd, a Justice Department spokesman said Gonzales' testimony "was and remains accurate."

Joining Hagel in demanding Gonzales' resignation are GOP Sens. John Sununu of New Hampshire, Tom Coburn of Oklahoma and John McCain of Arizona, who is a presidential candidate. House Republican Conference Chair Adam Putman of Florida also has called for a new attorney general.

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