As Senate Democrats announced plans to call for a no-confidence vote on Attorney General Alberto Gonzales, Sen. Norm Coleman, R-Minn., became the fifth Republican senator to call for the embattled attorney general's resignation Thursday.
"I don't have confidence in Gonzales," Coleman said in a conference call with Minnesota media. "I would hope that the attorney general understands that the department is suffering right now, and he does the right thing, and that is allows the president to provide new leadership."
Coleman joins Sens. Chuck Hagel, R-Neb., John Sununu, R-N.H., Tom Coburn, R-Okla., and John McCain, R-Ariz., in breaking from GOP ranks to call for the attorney general's ouster. There may be a political dimension to this boldness. Coleman and Sununu are up for re-election next year in Democratic-leaning states, while McCain is running for president and Hagel is weighing a bid for the White House.
Other Republicans including Sen. Gordon Smith, R-Ore., and Arlen Specter, R-Pa., have suggested that Gonzales might want to consider stepping down without directly calling for him to do so.
Earlier this week Sen. Pat Roberts, R-Kan., said, "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."
Senate Democrats ensured the idea would remain in the public sphere for at least the next week, when Sens. Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., and Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif., plan to introduce a resolution expressing the state of the Senate having no confidence in the attorney general.
"It seems the only person who has confidence in the attorney general is President Bush," Schumer said Thursday. "The president long ago should have asked the attorney general to step down."
Thursday's news follows gripping testimony from Deputy Attorney General James Comey, who on Tuesday told the Senate Judiciary Committee that Gonzales and then-White House chief of staff Andrew Card go to Ashcroft's sick bed at a hospital to seek his approval to certify the legality of the controversial NSA warrantless wiretapping program, after Comey, acting attorney general at the time, had refused to do so.
Gonzales and Card stormed into Ashcroft's sick room in the intensive care unit at George Washington University Hospital. Ashcroft refused to go along with them, saying Comey was the acting attorney general. The move infuriated Comey.
"I was angry," Comey said. "I thought I had just witnessed an effort to take advantage of a very sick man who did not have the powers of the attorney general."
This contradicted previous statements from Gonzales that there had "not been any serious disagreement about the program."
White House spokesman Tony Snow pooh-poohed Comey's testimony. "'Trying to take advantage of a sick man' -- because he had an appendectomy, his brain didn't work?" Snow asked.
In actuality Ashcroft had a severe inflammation of the pancreas, spent 10 days in the hospital and did not return to work for four weeks.