A DEFENDER OF BUSH’S POWER, GONZALES RESIGNS
By PHILIP SHENON and DAVID JOHNSTON
Published: August 28, 2007
WASHINGTON, Aug. 27 — Attorney General Alberto R. Gonzales announced his resignation on Monday, ending
a stormy tenure at the Justice Department that was marked by repeated battles with Congress over whether he had allowed his
intense personal loyalty to President Bush to overwhelm his responsibilities to the law.
the nation’s first Hispanic attorney general, offered no clear explanation of the reasons for his departure or its timing.
The announcement caught his top aides at the Justice Department by surprise, leading to speculation among lawmakers and department
officials that Mr. Gonzales may have felt pressure from within the administration to step down.
In a statement to reporters Monday on the airport
tarmac in Waco, Tex., as
he prepared to board Air Force One, Mr. Bush said he had “reluctantly” accepted the resignation and portrayed
Mr. Gonzales as a “man of integrity, decency and principle” who had been hounded from office for political reasons.
“It’s sad that we live in a time
when a talented and honorable person like Alberto Gonzales is impeded from doing important work because his good name was
dragged through the mud,” he said.
For months, Mr. Gonzales, with what appeared
to be Mr. Bush’s full backing, had rebuffed bipartisan calls for his ouster and suggested that he intended to remain
indefinitely at the Justice Department, possibly through the end of the Bush presidency.
The most persistent calls for his resignation
came from Democrats who questioned whether Mr. Gonzales had lied under oath about his involvement in the dismissals of several
United States attorneys. He was also accused
of misleading Congress about his role, in his earlier job as White House counsel, in promoting a government eavesdropping
Mr. Bush said Monday that Solicitor General
Paul D. Clement, the Justice Department’s chief lawyer before the Supreme Court, would serve as acting attorney general
until a permanent successor was chosen for Mr. Gonzales, who is scheduled to step down Sept. 17.
White House officials said the president expected
to find a successor quickly, though associates of some prospective candidates said the White House would struggle to find
someone who was well qualified and could be easily confirmed.
Among the candidates, they said, were Michael
Chertoff, the secretary of homeland security and a former federal appeals court judge and top Justice Department official;
Christopher Cox, the chairman of the Securities and Exchange Commission; George J. Terwilliger III, a deputy attorney general
under the first President Bush; Laurence H. Silberman, a court of appeals judge in Washington; and Larry D. Thompson, a former
deputy attorney general who is now senior vice president and general counsel of PepsiCo Inc. White House officials said Mr.
Thompson would have special appeal as a nominee, as he would be the first black attorney general.
In the brief statement he read to reporters
at the Justice Department on Monday to announce his departure, Mr. Gonzales did not explain why he was resigning or refer
to the turmoil over his actions as attorney general. Instead, he focused his remarks on his gratitude to Mr. Bush, who appointed
Mr. Gonzales to every government job he has held since law school, beginning in Texas,
and to his colleagues at the Justice Department.
“Even my worst days as attorney general
have been better than my father’s best days,” Mr. Gonzales said. “I have lived the American dream.”
Mr. Gonzales’s father was a Mexican-American construction worker who raised eight children in a two-room home near Houston.
Mr. Gonzales refused to answer questions reporters
shouted to him as he hurriedly left the briefing room.
Mr. Gonzales has been a controversial figure
in Washington since shortly after the terrorist attacks
on Sept. 11, 2001, when, as White House counsel, he supported legal policies that broadly expanded the powers of the executive
branch and allowed for the imprisonment and interrogation of terrorism suspects in conditions that human rights groups said
amounted to torture. He became attorney general in February 2005, succeeding John Ashcroft.
The president’s passionate defense of
Mr. Gonzales in his comments Monday reflected the almost familial bonds of loyalty between the two men. They met when Mr.
Bush was governor of Texas in the 1990s and Mr. Gonzales was a young Houston lawyer with an impressive, up-by-the-bootstraps
life story about his rise from an impoverished home to the Air Force and Harvard Law School.
There were expressions of relief on Capitol
Hill on Monday at news of his resignation, including from Republicans who said Mr. Gonzales’s presence at the Justice
Department was making it impossible for Mr. Bush to pursue his law enforcement agenda in Congress.
“Our country needs a credible, effective
attorney general who can work with Congress on critical issues ranging from immigration to investigating terrorism at home
and abroad,” said Senator John E. Sununu, Republican of New Hampshire. “Alberto Gonzales’s resignation will
finally allow a new attorney general to take on this task.”
Senator Charles E. Schumer, Democrat of New
York, who has led calls on the Judiciary Committee for Mr. Gonzales’s ouster, said: “It has been a long and difficult
struggle, but at last the attorney general has done the right thing and stepped down. For the previous six months, the Justice
Department has been virtually nonfunctional, and desperately needs new leadership.”