WASHINGTON (AP) – His job on the line, Attorney General Alberto Gonzales shelved plans for a family vacation and began prepping Monday for a showdown with senators over the firings of federal prosecutors.

An appearance next week in front of a Senate panel that oversees Justice Department spending is shaping up as a trial run for Gonzales’ scheduled April 17 testimony to a separate Senate committee investigating the eight dismissals.

The White House said Monday that Gonzales’ testimony cannot come too fast for the besieged attorney general to explain his explanations about the firings that Democrats contend were politically motivated.

“Look, the attorney general thinks it’s in everyone’s best interest – and we agree with him – that he be able to get up and talk to Congress sooner than later,” White House spokeswoman Dana Perino said.

“I think the American people would like to see us resolve this, so that we can move on and work on other things. So we’d like to see the hearing moved up to next week,” Perino said.

Gonzales initially said he was never involved in discussions about the firings – a position he later changed to say he was only minimally aware of plans to remove the prosecutors. Last week, however, his former chief of staff said Gonzales was regularly briefed and participated in talks about “this process of asking certain U.S. attorneys to resign.”

Growing numbers of Democrats and Republicans have demanded for Gonzales to step down, saying he is no longer a credible attorney general.

Democrats leading the Senate Judiciary Committee’s inquiry of the firings maintain it is too late to move up the April 17 date – a day Gonzales initially requested. But the attorney general will get a pre-emptive shot to tell his side of the story at an April 12 hearing on his department’s 2008 budget.

Senate Judiciary Chairman Patrick Leahy will attend the budget hearing, where aides said the prosecutors issue was expected to come up. That hearing might not, however, yield “the kind of specific interrogation” that Gonzales will face a week later, said Leahy spokeswoman Tracy Schmaler.

After several weeks of flying around the country, promoting efforts to curb child abuse, Gonzales is now buckling down to prepare for his two Senate appearances, Justice officials said.

He is studying the department’s financial plans for the Senate Appropriations subcommittee hearing next week, and has engaged in moot question-and-answer sessions to prepare for the Judiciary panel.

Justice Department officials said private attorneys allied with the Bush administration could be recruited to help Gonzales to prepare in the back-and-forth sessions. It was not immediately clear who those attorneys might be.

“The attorney general remains focused and will spend significant time this week preparing to testify before the Congress,” Roehrkasse said.

Roehrkasse said Gonzales postponed tentative plans to take a spring break with his wife and three sons, opting instead to prepare for what even Republicans say will be a “make or break” April 17 appearance. He may try to take a short vacation this weekend.


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