Gonzales Resigns Justice Post; Bush Blames Politics
Attorney General Alberto Gonzales said Monday he would resign his White House post effective Sept. 17, ending a protracted standoff with Congressional critics over the Justice Department's handling of FBI terrorism investigations and the firing of U.S. attorneys.
"It has been one of my greatest privileges to lead the Justice Department," Gonzales said in a brief statement to journalists.
"I have lived the American dream," said Gonzales, the first Hispanic to serve in the post. "Even my worst days as attorney general have been better than my father's best days."
As attorney general and, earlier, as White House counsel, Gonzales pushed for expanded presidential powers, including the authority to conduct warrantless eavesdropping on U.S. citizens. He also drafted controversial rules for military war tribunals and sought to limit the legal rights of detainees at Guantanamo Bay — prompting lawsuits by civil libertarians who said the government was violating the Constitution in its pursuit of terrorists.
Gonzales came under intense criticism and pressure to resign over what critics said were politically motivated firings of federal prosecutors. He is among about a dozen senior administration officials who have resigned amid the protracted congressional investigation into the matter.
The president, in a brief statement of his own later Monday, thanked Gonzales for his service, crediting him with helping shape the Patriot Act and the Military Commissions Act — some of the very things that so infuriated his detractors.
Mr. Bush called Gonzales' resignation "sad" and said he is a "man of integrity, decency and principle."
The president said "months of unfair treatment" had kept Gonzales from "doing good work, because his name was dragged through the mud for political reasons."
The president had long stood firm against demands for the attorney general's resignation, and the timing of Gonzales' decision is interpreted by some as a desire to be seen as leaving on his own terms. To stay longer, on the other hand, might have complicated the task for a lame duck administration in pushing through a successor.
Sen. Charles Schumer (D-NY), a member of the Senate Judiciary Committee, said Gonzales had done "the right thing" by stepping down.
"The Justice Department has been virtually nonfunctional and desperately needs new leadership. Democrats will not obstruct or impede a nominee who we are confident will put the rule of law above political considerations," he said.
"Better late than never," said Democratic presidential candidate John Edwards.
A senior Justice Department official indicated that Solicitor General Paul Clement is a likely temporary replacement for Gonzales.
Homeland Security Chief Michael Chertoff is among those mentioned as possible successors, but a senior administration official said the matter had not been raised with Chertoff. The president leaves Washington, D.C., on Sept. 3 for Australia, and Gonzales' replacement might not be named by then, the official said.
Mr. Bush had steadfastly — and, at times, angrily — refused to give in to critics, even from his own GOP, who argued that Gonzales should go. Earlier this month at a news conference, the president grew irritated when asked about accountability in his administration and turned the tables on the Democratic Congress.
"Implicit in your questions is that Al Gonzales did something wrong. I haven't seen Congress say he's done anything wrong," Mr. Bush said testily.
Gonzales is the fourth high-ranking administration official to leave since November 2006.
Donald Rumsfeld, an architect of the Iraq war, resigned as defense secretary one day after the November elections. Paul Wolfowitz agreed to step down in May as president of the World Bank after an ethics inquiry. And top Bush adviser Karl Rove earlier this month announced he was stepping down.
From NPR reports and The Associated Press
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