US Attorney General Gonzales Steps Down

NPR.org, August 27, 2007 · Attorney General Alberto Gonzales said Monday he was resigning his White House post effective Sept. 17, ending a protracted standoff with Congressional critics over the Justice Department’s handling of FBI terror investigations and the firing of U.S. attorneys, officials said Monday.

“It has been one of my greatest priviledges 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 was among about a dozen senior administration officials to resign amid the protracted congressional investigation into the matter.

Senator Charles E. 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 was a likely temporary replacement for Gonzales.

Homeland Security chief Michael Chertoff was among those mentioned as possible successors. However, a senior administration official said the matter had not been raised with Chertoff. The president leaves Washington next Monday 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,” he said testily.

Gonzales is the fourth high-ranking administration official to leave since November 2006.

Donald H. Rumsfeld, an architect of the Iraq war, resigned as defense secretary one day after the November elections. Paul Wolfowitz agreed in May to step down 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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