Alberto Gonzales' second-biggest fan

Cheney stands up for the attorney general; Specter says he wants answers from the White House today.

Published July 31, 2007 10:48AM (EDT)

CBS has done what Fox News couldn't: It has found a Republican willing to go on the air in defense of Attorney General Alberto Gonzales. The man: Dick Cheney.

"I'm a big fan of Al's," the vice president told CBS White House correspondent Mark Knoller Monday. Cheney said he thinks Gonzales should keep fighting to keep his job, but he said he wouldn't "get into the specifics" of whether the attorney general needs to clarify his much-questioned congressional testimony. "I think Al has done a good job under difficult circumstances," Cheney said. "The debate between he and the Senate is something they're going to have to resolve. But I think he has testified truthfully."

Asked about congressional critics on both sides of the aisle who say Gonzales' credibility is gone, Cheney pointed to the ultimate -- barring impeachment, at least -- trump card: "The key," he said, is whether Gonzales has "the confidence of the president, and he clearly does."

Support from Cheney, whose approval ratings are only a little bit better than Gonzales', isn't likely to change anything on Capitol Hill, where administration officials briefed members of Congress Monday on the claim that the visit Gonzales and Andy Card paid to John Ashcroft's hospital room in 2004 concerned a massive database-mining project and not the president's warrantless wiretapping program. In the eyes of Gonzales' supporters, that claim -- as highly disputed as it is -- supports the attorney general's sworn testimony that there have never been any serious internal administration disagreements about the legality of the warrantless wiretapping program.

Arlen Specter, the ranking Republican on the Senate Judiciary Committee, said after the briefing Monday that he expects the administration to provide him and Judiciary Committee chairman Patrick Leahy a letter addressing the question of Gonzales' truthfulness by noon Tuesday. Specter said it would be "premature" for him to comment on the possibility of a perjury investigation targeting the attorney general until the administration provides such a letter or the deadline for it passes.

By Tim Grieve

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

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Arlen Specter D-pa. Department Of Justice Dick Cheney