AG Gonzales Quits

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Gonzales appeared to contradict Senate testimony by FBI Director Robert Mueller that a confrontation between Gonzales and then-Attorney General John Ashcroft in Ashcroft's hospital room in 2004 was indeed about the controversial surveillance program.

President Bush on Monday said he reluctantly accepted the resignation of Attorney General Alberto Gonzales, whose "good name was dragged through the mud for political reasons."

After months of standing by his top prosecutor and "close friend," Bush spoke briefly in Texas to praise Gonzales, saying the attorney general endured "unfair treatment that has created harmful distraction at the Justice Department."

Bush said it's "sad that we live in a time when a talented and honorable person" is impeded "from doing important work."
Solicitor General Paul Clement will serve as acting attorney general, Bush said, until a nominee has been confirmed by the Senate.

Earlier in Washington, Gonzales announced his resignation, saying, "I have lived the American dream." The first Latino to helm the Justice Department said his "worst days as attorney general have been better than my father's best days." 

Gonzales described public service as "honorable and noble" and thanked Bush for his friendship.
"Yesterday I met with President Bush and informed him of my decision to conclude my government services as attorney general of the United States effective September 17."

Neither Bush nor Gonzales took questions from reporters. Some senior administration officials floated Homeland Security chief Michael Chertoff as a possible replacement, but others waved CNN away from Chertoff, saying that his nomination could run into problems because of his role during Hurricane Katrina.

A congressional source familiar with deliberations about Gonzales' replacement told CNN that the successor will not be Chertoff and that senior administration officials are "playing you guys," referring to the media.

A source close to Chertoff said of a possible nomination, "this would be a surprise to Mike." A senior administration official "aware of discussions" said White House Chief of Staff Josh Bolten is looking for a Washington establishment-type, in the model of Treasury Secretary Henry Paulson and White House counsel Fred Fielding.

Another name that emerged is Larry Thompson, a former deputy attorney general who currently serves as vice president and general counsel for PepsiCo. But a spokeswoman for the company said, "We are very fortunate and pleased, but he is very happy in his role here."
According to senior administration officials, when Thompson has been approached in the past to return to the government he has turned down offers, saying he is happy in the private sector.

Aides at the highest level and other top officials received no warning about the Gonzales announcement, Justice Department sources told CNN. They were not informed until a meeting Monday morning, sources said, when Gonzales acknowledged he would be reading a statement later in the day.

One of Gonzales' chief Democratic critics, New York Sen. Charles E. Schumer, appealed to the administration "to work with us to nominate someone whom Democrats can support and America can be proud of."

Although Bush had long stood by Gonzales, many members of Congress from both sides of the aisle had called on him to quit after the firing of several U.S. attorneys in 2006 -- terminations which were alleged to have been politically motivated.
Schumer and several congressional Democrats have asked for a special counsel to investigate Gonzales' involvement in those firings and in a controversial government no-warrant wiretapping program.

Senior Justice Department officials say Gonzales' resignation is not expected to affect the scope or pace of an ongoing internal investigation into the U.S. attorneys' dismissals and other issues.

"Alberto Gonzales was never the right man for this job," said Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid on Monday. "He lacked independence, he lacked judgment and he lacked the spine to say no to Karl Rove." Rove, another longtime Bush official and his top political adviser, also resigned this month.

"This resignation is not the end of the story," Reid warned. "Congress must get to the bottom of this mess and follow the facts where they lead, into the White House."

After Rove's resignation, senior administration officials said Bolten had told senior aides that if they intended to stay after Labor Day, they should plan to remain for the rest of Bush's term through January 2009.

Throughout Gonzales' time as attorney general, controversies surrounded his positions on issues such as U.S. interrogation techniques and the wiretapping of conversations between Americans and suspected terrorists overseas.

In the probe into the U.S. attorney firings, the Senate Judiciary Committee looked into whether the administration may have fired some or all of the U.S. attorneys for political reasons. In his testimony before the committee on multiple occasions, Gonzales repeatedly seemed to contradict himself, other members of his department or Justice Department documents.

The attorney general also testified that he could not answer dozens of questions because he could not "recall" certain incidents or meetings.

Gonzales also was at the center of a dispute over the controversial no-warrant eavesdropping program authorized by Bush and his testimony that there was no dissent among administration officials over the program. Gonzales later sent a letter to Senate leaders acknowledging he "may have created confusion" in his testimony.

Gonzales said the dissent erupted over "other intelligence activities" and he would not discuss what he meant by "other." Gonzales appeared to contradict Senate testimony by FBI Director Robert Mueller that a confrontation between Gonzales and then-Attorney General John Ashcroft in Ashcroft's hospital room in 2004 was indeed about the controversial surveillance program.


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