Attorney General Alberto R. Gonzales today stepped down after several months of battling calls from many in Congress, including some Republicans, for him to resign over the firing of eight federal prosecutors last year.
VIDEO: Attorney General Alberto Gonzales Resigns
Mr. Gonzales made a short statement this morning announcing he will step down on Sept. 17. He flew yesterday to President Bushs ranch in Crawford, Texas, to hand his resignation to his longtime friend.
I have traveled a remarkable journey, Mr. Gonzales said, his voice breaking when he mentioned his wife Rebecca and his three sons.
The attorney general, 52, did not give any explanation for why he was leaving, but instead referenced his rise as the son of a Mexican-born construction worker.
I have lived the American dream, Mr. Gonzales said. Even my worst days as attorney general have been better than my fathers best days.
Mr. Bush, who hired Mr. Gonzales as counsel during the president’s first term as governor of Texas in 1995, told reporters that Mr. Gonzales, his close friend, had suffered months of unfair treatment.
Al Gonzales is a man of integrity, decency and principle, and I have reluctantly accepted his resignation, with great appreciation for the service that has provided for our country, Mr. Bush said, speaking in Texas.
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 for political reasons, the president said.
No replacement has been named by the White House, though several names are reportedly being considered. Secretary of Homeland Security Michael Chertoff, and Sen. Orrin Hatch, Utah Republican, are two top potential nominees.
Fran Townsend, assistant to the president for homeland security and counterterrorism, has also been mentioned.
Mr. Hatchs former spokesman, Peter Carr, went to work at the Justice Department this month.
Solicitor General Paul Clement will serve as acting attorney general until a replacement is named, Mr. Bush said.
Mr. Gonzales is the latest long-serving, high-profile Bush ally to leave office. Two weeks ago today, Mr. Bushs top adviser, Karl Rove, announced his resignation, and Dan Bartlett, the presidents counselor, left in July.
Mr. Gonzales, however, appeared determined over the spring and summer to serve out the rest of the presidents term. He was under fire for the U.S. Attorneys firings and for his role in the governments anti-terrorism activities.
Most recently, Senate Democrats had asked the Inspector General to investigate whether Mr. Gonzales lied or misled them about disagreement within the Bush administration over a domestic surveillance program.
Also, the FBI was found to have abused its powers to obtain personal records of suspects without judicial oversight, after Mr. Gonzales had told Congress no civil liberties violations had occurred — though he was reported to have known of the abuses.
And many Democrats and civil liberties advocates accused him of authorizing torture of prisoners and enemy combatants by U.S. military and intelligence investigators, though the Bush administration has stated flatly that it does not condone torture.
Mr. Gonzales own reasons for leaving may have been a mix of political and personal.
An upcoming political fight over updating the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act was meeting resistance from some Democrats on the basis that it gave Mr. Gonzales more power.
And Mr. Gonzales was an easy target for Democrats, who could have continued to call him up to Capitol Hill for embarrassing testimony, all of which created a drag on the White House.
But one House Republican leadership aide said the attorney generals reasons were also personal.
It was more of a Mrs. Gonzales decision, said the aide, referring to Mr. Gonzales wife.
Democrats vowed to continue their probes of the U.S. Attorneys firings.
This resignation is not the end of the story. Congress must get to the bottom of this mess and follow the facts where they lead, into the White House, said Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, Nevada Democrat.
House Judiciary Committee Chairman John Conyers Jr., Michigan Democrat, said that the responsibility to uncover these facts is still on the Congress, and the Judiciary Committee in particular.”