A rift between the White House and the president?

As Dan Bartlett declares Bush's confidence in Alberto Gonzales, top White House officials are said to be complaining

Published March 14, 2007 1:52PM (EDT)

The New York Times says that it's heard from two Republicans "close to the Bush administration" that there's a "growing rift between the White House and the attorney general." Would it be more accurate to say that there's a growing rift between the White House and George W. Bush?

The president steered clear of any questions about Gonzales as he traveled in Mexico Tuesday, but he sent Dan Bartlett out to give reporters a pretty ringing endorsement of the attorney general. The president, Bartlett said, "absolutely has full confidence in the attorney general, and the reason why he does is for exactly what he said today: He's a standup guy; he's a person who comes to the job every day, doing the best he can to serve the United States of America; he takes that job very seriously. And when he saw problems, he's pledged to the American people and to the United States Congress to fix those problems. So the President has all the confidence in the world in Alberto Gonzales as the Attorney General for the United States of America."

Maybe that's right, but the president's men don't seem so smitten. As the Times reports, "top aides to Mr. Bush, including Fred F. Fielding, the new White House counsel, were concerned that the controversy had so damaged Mr. Gonzales's credibility that he would be unable to advance the White House agenda on national security matters, including terrorism prosecutions." One of the Republicans explained: "I really think there's a serious estrangement between the White House and Alberto now."

Gonzales seems to understand that Bush's loyalty to him is ultimately more important than anything his critics might say. Appearing on the "Today" show this morning, Gonzales said: "I work for the American people and serve at the pleasure of the president."

By Tim Grieve

Tim Grieve is a senior writer and the author of Salon's War Room blog.

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