“The president still has full confidence in Alberto Gonzales,” says White House spokesman Tony Snow.

Yikes! The president still has confidence.

Even Snow, whose willingness to explore the outer limits of spin is well established, can’t pretty this mess up.

There is no way to get around the fact that the Attorney General is in bigger trouble today than he was yesterday, and he will almost certainly be in more trouble tomorrow.

The latest shoe to drop took the form of the revelation by former Deputy Attorney General James Comey that Gonzales in March 2004 – when he served as George Bush’s White House counsel – plotted to undermine the authority of the department he now heads by pressuring Ashcroft to approve the president’s warrantless wiretapping project.

Comey’s testimony before the Senate Judiciary Committee this week — which came the same day as the No. 2 man in the Department of Justice announced he was exiting — proved to be the last straw for two more key senators.

Nebraska Senator Chuck Hagel, a maverick potential presidential candidate, issued a statement to the effect that: “The American people deserve an attorney general, the chief law enforcement officer of our country, whose honesty and capability are beyond question. Attorney General Gonzales can no longer meet this standard. He has failed this country. He has lost the moral authority to lead.”

There will be those who suggest that Hagel’s abandonment of Gonzales was to be expected, but no one can say that of Kansas Senator Pat Roberts, who chaired the Intelligence Committee at the time when Comey says Gonzales was scheming to clear the way for the illegal gathering of intelligence.

Yet, on Wednesday, Roberts said that Gonzales should consider quitting. “When you have to spend more time up here on Capitol Hill instead of running the Justice Department, maybe you ought to think about it,” explained Roberts, a conservative who is generally seen as one of the premier Bush administration loyalists in the Senate.

Roberts echoed statements by Pennsylvania Senator Arlen Specter, the ranking Republican on the Judiciary Committee, and several other key Republicans in the Senate.

And more Republicans are rumored to be preparing calls for Gonzales to step down.

The debate over whether Gonzales should stay is no longer a partisan or ideological fight. At stake is the question of whether the Department of Justice can continue to function when the Attorney General is suspected of lying to Congress and the American people on a regular basis.

The question of the Gonzales’s credibility is highlighted by a new letter from four key players on the Judiciary Committee — Democratic Senators Russ Feingold of Wisconsin, Chuck Schumer of New York, Ted Kennedy of Massachusetts and Dick Durbin of Illinois — that asks Gonzales: “In light of Mr. Comey’s testimony yesterday, do you stand by your 2006 Senate and House testimony, or do you wish to revise it?”

Translation: “We don’t want to call you a ‘liar,’ but…”

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