WASHINGTON - The White House, blaming "hazy memories," yesterday dropped its contention that former counsel Harriet Miers first raised the idea of firing U.S. attorneys, as e-mail shed new light on Karl Rove's role. And support eroded further for Attorney General Alberto Gonzales.

Presidential press secretary Tony Snow previously asserted Miers was the person who came up with the idea, but yesterday he said: "I don't want to try to vouch for origination. At this juncture, people have hazy memories."

The White House also said it needed more time before deciding whether Miers, political strategist Rove and other presidential advisers would testify before Congress on the matter and whether the White House would release documents to lawmakers.

"Given the importance of the issues under consideration and the presidential principles involved, we need more time to resolve them," White House spokeswoman Dana Perino said. She said White House counsel Fred Fielding suggested to the House Judiciary Committee that he get back to members Tuesday.

Fielding called a staff member of the House Judiciary Committee on Thursday afternoon, saying he needed to clear the White House's position with President Bush, according to an official who works for the panel. That official spoke on condition of anonymity because the conversation was private.

After receiving word of the delay, committee chairman John Conyers Jr. (D., Mich.) said the panel would vote next week on subpoenas for Rove, Miers and other officials.

Snow's comments came hours after the Justice Department released e-mail Thursday night that pulled the White House deeper into an intensifying investigation into whether eight firings were a purge of prosecutors deemed unenthusiastic about presidential goals.

Snow said it was not immediately clear who first floated the more dramatic idea of firing all 93 U.S. attorneys shortly after Bush was reelected.

"This is as far as we can go: We know that Karl recollects Harriet having raised it, and his recollection is that he dismissed it as not a good idea," Snow told reporters. "That's what we know. We don't know motivations. . . . I don't think it's safe to go any further than that."

Asked if Bush himself might have suggested the firings, Snow said: "Anything's possible . . . but I don't think so." He said Bush "certainly has no recollection of any such thing. I can't speak for the attorney general."

"I want you to be clear here: Don't be dropping it at the president's door," Snow said.

Conyers said the House Judiciary Committee "must take steps to ensure that we are not being stonewalled or slow-walked on this matter." He said, "I will schedule a vote to issue subpoenas for the documents and officials we need to talk to."

"We hope that this delay is not a signal they will not cooperate," said Sen. Charles E. Schumer (D., N.Y.), who is leading the Senate's probe into the matter. "The story keeps changing, which neither does them or the public any good."

A Republican House member suggested it might be time for Gonzales to go.

"It is ultimately the President's decision, but perhaps it would benefit this administration if the attorney general was replaced with someone with a more professional focus rather than personal loyalty," said Rep. Dana Rohrabacher (R., Calif.). He complained of "a pattern of arrogance in this administration."

Republican Sen. John Sununu of New Hampshire also has called for Bush to replace Gonzales.

House Democratic Whip James Clyburn of South Carolina said the controversies reflected poorly on administration officials generally.

"They don't know anything about running government. They're just political hacks," Clyburn said at a news conference in Columbia, S.C. "Gonzales is just a political hack."

Other GOP lawmakers have joined Democrats in harsh criticism of Gonzales' effectiveness but have not said he should be fired.

"I do not think the attorney general has served the president well, but it is up to the president to decide on . . . Gonzales' continued tenure," said Sen. Susan Collins (R., Maine).

The latest e-mail between White House and Justice Department officials suggest Rove inquired in early January 2005 about firing U.S. attorneys. They also indicate Gonzales was considering dismissing up to 20 percent of U.S. attorneys in the weeks before he took over the Justice Department.

In one e-mail, Gonzales' top aide, Kyle Sampson, said an across-the-board housecleaning "would certainly send ripples through the U.S. attorney community if we told folks they got one term only." The e-mail concluded that "if Karl thinks there would be political will to do it, then so do I."

Sampson resigned this week amid the uproar.