The embattled attorney general is reaching beyond Washington over the next week to try to soothe his remaining prosecutors and show the public he's still working hard to curb crime. He'll also talk with local media in dozens of cities Friday about keeping kids safe from sexual predators.
"I can really honestly say it's good to be out of Washington and here in St. Louis," Gonzales said Thursday, in the Show-Me State for a round-table discussion on protecting children from sexual exploitation.
The single question he answered from reporters there, however, showed he hadn't escaped the scandal that has engulfed the capital for weeks - and led to growing calls for his ouster.
"I'm not going to resign," he said. "I'm going to stay focused on protecting our kids."
"There's a lot of work that needs to be done around our country," Gonzales said.
Gonzales has acknowledged mistakes in how the Justice Department handled last year's firings of the eight U.S. attorneys, and in misleading Congress when explaining why. Democrats say the firings appear to have been politically motivated, and President Bush last week said he is "not happy" about the political firestorm and expects Gonzales to end it.
Aides said Gonzales has met or spoken with several lawmakers over the last week, but has not yet scheduled a trip to Capitol Hill to explain the firings to the House and Senate panels that oversee the Justice Department. He is expected to be out of Washington for most of next week to meet with small groups of U.S. attorneys to shore up their support.
The first of those meetings was Thursday, in St. Louis, but Justice aides refused to say how many U.S. attorneys he met with, or which ones, or to characterize the discussion in any way. The offices of U.S. attorneys located near St. Louis similarly declined to comment on the meetings.
Joe DiGenova, a Reagan-appointed former U.S. attorney in Washington, said it's doubtful Gonzales' outreach to prosecutors will help much.
"Most of them are pretty offended," said DiGenova, who remains in touch with former and current U.S. attorneys around the country. "I don't think this is going to have an effect. ... It's very hard for me to see how this trip does anything other than provide him an opportunity to get out of town."
Friday's media blitz, with Gonzales participating in about 40 short interviews with local TV and radio reporters, will roll out what aides call a long-planned ad campaign on safeguarding kids from sex abuse. Aides said he will refuse to talk about the firings during the five-minute segments except to briefly reiterate what he said before and again on Thursday: that none of the firings were improper. "There's a lot of work that need to be done around our country," Gonzales said in St. Louis. "I'm staying focused on that."