“Mistakes were made,” intoned Attorney General Alberto Gonzales, attempting to explain away the mass firing of eight U.S. Attorneys last year. The real reason was not their job performance but rather their failure to display sufficient loyalty to George W. Bush and his drive to clamp permanent Republican control on the White House and the nation.

Gonzales’ empty phrase will not put out this latest firestorm engulfing the Bush-Cheney White House. Bush may be forced to fire Gonzales, who authored Bush’s memo justifying torture and green-lighted the vast political surveillance of law-abiding citizens. But dumping Gonzales is already too late. The White House is exposed as the instigator of the vast purge of federal attorneys. The paper trail includes Karl Rove, and apparently Bush as well.

At one point, then-White House counsel Harriet Miers wrote to Gonzales’ closest aide, Kyle Sampson, asking if all 93 U.S. attorneys could be fired en masse so Bush could appoint handpicked stooges whose only qualification was their loyalty to him.

U.S. Attorney Carol Lam was fired after her success in prosecuting former GOP Rep. Randy “Duke” Cunningham, now serving an eight-year prison sentence for accepting bribes from Pentagon contractors. She was pressing ahead with probes of other Republican crooks.

In New Mexico, U.S. Attorney David Iglesias was fired because he would not make his office a cog in the Republican machine. Sen. Pete Domenici and Rep. Heather Wilson, both New Mexico Republicans, called Iglesias last October and pressed him to move quickly to announce an investigation of corruption within the state’s Democratic Party, knowing it could help Wilson defeat her Democratic opponent. According to Iglesias, Domenici demanded, “Are those [charges] going to be filed before November?” Wilson asked, “What can you tell me about sealed indictments?” Iglesias told a Senate hearing that he informed Wilson he is bound by law not to divulge the contents of a sealed indictment.

Congress should subpoena Gonzales, Rove and Bush and interrogate them on what they knew about this drive to transform the Justice Department into a Republican political crime syndicate.