WASHINGTON (AP) _ His job in jeopardy, Attorney General Alberto Gonzales insisted Thursday he played only a small role in the dismissal of eight federal prosecutors. Skeptical senators reacted with disbelief.
``We have to evaluate whether you are really being forthright,'' Sen. Arlen Specter bluntly informed the nation's chief law enforcement officer.
The Pennsylvania Republican said Gonzales' description was ``significantly if not totally at variance with the facts.''
``I don't want to quarrel with you,'' Gonzales replied.
The exchange punctuated a long morning of testimony for Gonzales, who told the committee there was no impropriety in last winter's firings and said the decision was ``justified and should stand.''
Gonzales conceded that ``reasonable people might disagree'' with the decision. He said the process by which the U.S. attorneys were dismissed was ``nowhere near as rigorous or structured as it should have been.''
Offering an apology to the eight and their families, he also said he had ``never sought to mislead or deceive the Congress or the American people'' on that or any other matter.
Democrats, too, expressed skepticism at the attorney general's testimony.
``Since you apparently knew very little about the performance about the replaced United States attorneys, how can you testify that the judgment ought to stand?'' asked Sen. Edward M. Kennedy, D-Mass.
Gonzales sat alone at the witness table in a crowded hearing room for a widely anticipated hearing. There was no doubt about the stakes involved for a member of President Bush's inner circle, under pressure to resign since the dismissal of the eight prosecutors spawned a scandal that has yet to subside.
``The moment I believe I can no longer be effective I will resign as attorney general,'' Gonzales said, after making it clear he did not believe it had come to that.