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Gonzales prepping for potential make-or-break testimony

Story Highlights

• Attorney General Gonzales preparing for testimony on U.S. attorney firings
• Ex-aide contradicted Gonzales' statements on his role in firings
• Testimony could determine whether he he keeps his job, political observers say
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WASHINGTON (CNN) -- As part of intensive preparations for coming congressional questioning concerning the eight fired U.S. attorneys, Attorney General Alberto Gonzales next week will take part in mock question-and-answer sessions that could include outside legal advisers, Justice Department officials said Thursday.

How well Gonzales performs during the testimony may determine whether he keeps his job, political observers say.

Gonzales canceled plans for a family vacation to focus on the preparations, which resemble what a Cabinet nominee does before a confirmation hearing, officials said. (Watch how Gonzales is preparing like it's a heavyweight title bout Video )

When he appears before the Senate Judiciary Committee on April 17, Gonzales will face questions about inconsistencies in the accounts of what his role was in the firing of the prosecutors.

To bolster his lagging support, the attorney general is continuing "to reach out" to Capitol Hill, a Justice Department official said.

The official said that so far, Gonzales has spoken to more than a dozen GOP members of Congress and added that he may speak to some Democrats as well.

Meanwhile, a scheduled appearance at a Senate appropriations subcommittee budget hearing set for next Thursday has been postponed.

"As chairman of the appropriations subcommittee that funds the agency, I believe it would be very difficult in this environment to give the department's budget request the attention it deserves until the Senate has examined the department's leadership failures," said Sen. Barbara Mikulski, D-Maryland.

Contradicted by ex-aide

Gonzales has said he knew little about the discussions concerning the dismissals, but his former chief of staff, Kyle Sampson, testified March 29 that Gonzales was continually briefed on the matter. (Full story)

In the past two weeks, while traveling around the country on another matter, Gonzales met with groups of current U.S. attorneys to answer concerns about how the situation was handled. (Interactive: Key events in the U.S. attorney firings)

"I don't recall being involved in deliberations involving the question of whether or not a U.S. attorney should or should not be asked to resign," he said last Friday at a news conference in Boston. "I didn't focus on specific concerns about individuals. My primary focus was ensuring the White House was kept advised of what we were doing."

Gonzales' job at stake?

Several Republican political consultants -- who requested anonymity because they were talking about the future of the attorney general -- have told CNN that what Gonzales tells Congress in the next few weeks and how he is received will be key to whether he can rebuild support on Capitol Hill.

"He has a tall order," is how one of them put it, saying it has to be a "compelling presentation."

Whether Gonzales keeps his job may depend on his performance during the testimony, says Los Angeles Times columnist Ron Brownstein.

Previous battles with Congress over the administration's torture police and the warrantless surveillance program have left Gonzales with little good will on Capitol Hill, Brownstein said.

"I don't think there's anything that Attorney General Gonzales can do to rebuild his support among Democrats -- that is gone," Brownstein said. "I think the only question for him here is can he shore up enough support among Republicans that the White House doesn't feel overwhelming pressure to force him out."

Gonzales' inability to provide a consistent, clear account of how the attorneys were fired got him into trouble with lawmakers on both sides of the aisle, said Republican pollster David Winston.

"If the president wants him to stay, he will stay. But I think what the attorney general is beginning to realize at this point is the way he has been handling this is unsatisfactory and it has undercut his ability to deal with the Hill," Winston said. "He needs to take the initiative here to fix this, and that means he has to be pretty aggressive about it"

CNN's Kevin Bohn, Terry Frieden and Brian Todd contributed to this report.

U.S. Attorney General Alberto Gonzales has said he had little direct involvement in planning the firings.

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