White House says Dems are trying to 'destroy' Gonzales

Press official says lawmakers put the attorney general in an impossible situation by asking questions about a classified program.

A frustrated White House on Friday attacked Senate Democrats for their treatment of Attorney General Alberto Gonzales, accusing them of waging a vengeful campaign designed to destroy him.

"I think that when the committee relentlessly asked questions about a subject that they know that he is going to have difficulty answering because he has one hand tied behind his back, that they . . . have deliberately had this crusade against him to try to destroy the Attorney General," said White House Deputy Press Secretary Dana Perino. "What I'm saying is that for months we've had this trickle-down effect of, let's issue a subpoena, and then hold him in contempt, and then we'll call for a special prosecutor. ... It's a constant setting of settling scores."

Gonzales incurred withering criticism during testimony Wednesday before the Senate Judiciary Committee. Lawmakers questioned his assertion that a meeting with congressional leaders in 2004 did not concern the terrorist surveillance program, but another classified program that he was not at liberty to discuss.

Perino indicated Gonzales was put in an impossible situation because he could not answer questions about a classified program. Some Democrats want the Justice Department to appoint a special prosecutor to determine whether Gonzales committed perjury before the committee.

Gonzales' credibility was questioned anew Thursday when FBI Director Mueller said there was extensive debate within the administration about the eavesdropping program and contended that the program was the topic of discussion during a visit by then-White House Counsel Gonzales and then-Chief of Staff Andrew Card to the bedside of ailing Attorney General John Ashcroft.

Gonzales has said another classified program was the focus of the hospital-room session and said there was not significant debate within the administration about the legality of the eavesdropping program.

Perino said Mueller's and Gonzales' testimony was true, but she said she was not permitted to say why it was true because of the classified nature of the information. She suggested that a closed session with senators might help explain the apparent discrepancies in the testimony.