The Lone Defender

By Ed O'Keefe

Aug 27, 2007 11:43am

ABC News’ Z. Byron Wolf Reports: Senator Orrin Hatch, R-Utah, has never liked all the Gonzales bashing and he’s not very happy about his resignation either.  But he’s not taking his job.

While rumors persist, Hatch’s office is denying that he will be asked by President Bush to succeed Alberto Gonzales as Attorney General.

Partially fueling these rumors is the fact that Hatch’s chief spokesman, Peter Carr, left the Senator’s office this month to become the deputy director of public affairs at the Department of Justice. Carr’s first day at DOJ was last Monday.

So reporters who wanted comment from Hatch on whether he would go to DOJ and were used to calling Carr had to dig a little deeper into their rolodexes and contact his spokesperson in Utah, Heather Barney, who said she had in fact asked her boss about who would succeed Gonzales. Hatch told her it would not be Hatch. But he is not speaking directly to reporters Monday because, according to Barney, he is having some dental work done.

"The main thing he said to me was there are some qualified candidates he knows they will be looking at that he does support," Barney said. "He did not say who those candidates were."

"Is he one of those candidates he was talking about?" she was asked by ABC News.

"No," she replied.

Hatch is the former chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee and so might have an easier time being confirmed than some other candidates for the job. But Hatch, at 72, was just reelected to his sixth term in 2006. He would get only a year as Attorney General before a new president came to office.

Nevertheless, Senator Arlen Specter, R-Penn., a longtime colleague of Hatch and critic of Gonzales, fueled the Hatch rumor further when he told reporters on a conference call that a "former senator might be just the ticket."

"A former senator or a present senator might be well known to the (Judiciary) Committee," Specter said.  "You might have confidence in the person’s ability."

But Specter was heading overseas, on a plane from Poland, and on a cell phone and when reporters asked him if the names of any particular senator leapt to mind, the phone connection went dead.

Specter did say he wouldn’t take the job, and that speculation "wouldn’t be fruitful," because the nomination has to come from the White House.

For months, Hatch has been really the only vocal defender of Attorney General Alberto Gonzales on Capitol Hill.

Lone among a chorus of criticism, Hatch is the only lawmaker, Republican or Democrat, to release a statement saying it was a shame that Gonzales is leaving and that history will be kind to his tenure, remembering his work against meth and not the 9 US Attorneys who may or may not have been fired for political reasons.

"Alberto Gonzales has been the President’s strong right arm in fighting terrorists using the tools of law enforcement, and he helped successfully protect the American homeland during his tenure. Beyond that, he has overseen the Department of Justice’s efforts to protect children from Internet predators, to combat human trafficking, and to prevent the spread of meth in our communities," Hatch said.

The Senator concluded, "I hope that history will remember Attorney General Gonzales for his honorable service to his country, rather than for the absurd political theater to which some critics have subjected him."

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