U.S. Sen. Ken Salazar has made a national name for himself in just a few short years by being a free-thinking moderate, which is also how he got elected to the Senate in the first place. He’s often made decisions that are unpopular with liberal Democrats, but many times those decisions have been reached by sound logic.

Salazar was unpopular with liberal Democrats recently for his support of Sen. Joe Lieberman, even after the Connecticut Democrat lost in a primary and decided to run for re-election as an Independent candidate (he ended up beating Ned Lamont in the November general election). Salazar supported Lieberman because they were friends, which is the same reason he once supported Alberto Gonzales when he was nominated as the U.S. Attorney General.

Liberal Democrats wanted Salazar to oppose Gonzales’ nomination because of his general acceptance of the use of torture, but Colorado’s freshman Senator stood by his friend Gonzales because he knew him personally. I never had a problem with Salazar’s support of either Gonzales or Lieberman, because personal friendships should often trump political pressure. I admired Salazar for sticking up for his friends, however unpopular that made him with his base.

But friendships can’t solve every problem, and the scandal surrounding the firings of several federal prosecutors has forced Salazar to begin to back away from Gonzales. As a press release from Salazar’s office said today:

Senator Ken Salazar today criticized Attorney General Alberto Gonzales’ leadership role at the department of justice in light of the recent situation concerning the firing of United States attorneys.

Senator Salazar also introduced a bill today that would fine or imprison anyone attempting to coerce, pressure, or attempt to influence a U.S. Attorney’s decision whether to commence the investigation or prosecution of a person based on that person’s race, religion, sex, national origin, political activities, or political beliefs.

In his statement on the floor of the United States Senate Sen. Salazar said, “I am disappointed that the Department of Justice may have blurred the line between representation of President Bush and representation of the people of the Untied States.

I understand that distinction well – having served as both Chief Counsel to the Governor of Colorado and later as Attorney General. Those are two very different positions – one requires representation of an individual and his administration, the other requires representation of the people of the United States.

If Attorney General Gonzales has indeed crossed this line, then he has forfeited his right to lead the Department of Justice.”

This is a start, and it’s probably time for Salazar to go even further in calling publicly for Gonzales to resign. It’s one thing to stick up for a friend, but it’s another thing entirely to follow them down with a ship sunk by their own actions. In the same way that star professional athletes must choose to cut ties with old friends whose criminal activity threatens their political future, Salazar should feel free to stand up and say goodbye to Gonzales.