Washington Another day, another scandal. The Justice Department's improper and illegal use of the USA Patriot Act puts Attorney General Alberto Gonzales on the hot seat, an all-too-familiar place for President Bush's inner circle.
The last thing a troubled president needs is another friend in trouble.
"This strikes me as another blow for the administration," said Republican consultant Joe Gaylord.
He was not the only Republican fretting about the Bush White House after a Justice Department audit criticizing the FBI's use of post-Sept. 11 powers to secretly obtain personal information.
"This is, regrettably, part of an ongoing process where the federal authorities are not really sensitive to privacy and go far beyond what we have authorized," said Sen. Arlen Specter of Pennsylvania, ranking Republican on the Judiciary Committee.
Lawmakers already were seething at the Justice Department for the firing of eight federal prosecutors and Gonzales' dismissive response to critics.
It is too soon to tell whether Gonzales will be forced to leave, but his ouster would do little to change a perception that the Bush administration is unraveling amid declining public support and trust. Some heads already have rolled.
Donald H. Rumsfeld was forced to resign after Democrats seized control of Congress in fall elections that were a repudiation of Bush's policies on Iraq.
I. Lewis "Scooter" Libby, a powerful adviser to Vice President Dick Cheney, left the White House to face perjury charges in the investigation of the exposure of a CIA official. He was convicted Tuesday in a trial that also revealed that top Bush aide Karl Rove and a State Department official played roles in the CIA leak, part of a White House strategy to undermine a critic of the Iraq war.
Jim Nicholson, secretary of Veterans Affairs, is clinging to his job amid revelations of shoddy treatment for wounded troops.
The latest events are more heavy baggage for a president who's already close to his limit. Re-elected by a comfortable margin in 2004, Bush watched his job approval rating plummet in 2005 with the rise of violence in Iraq and the government's weak response and follow-up to Hurricane Katrina.
With a rating of just 35 percent, Bush's standing is the weakest of any second-term president at this point in 56 years.