Embattled Gonzales Resigns

"I believe this is the right time for my family and I to begin a new chapter in our lives," Attorney General Alberto Gonzales wrote to the president. (By Nikki Kahn -- The Washington Post)
By Dan Eggen and Michael A. Fletcher
Washington Post Staff Writers
Tuesday, August 28, 2007

Attorney General Alberto R. Gonzales, one of President Bush's closest confidants and a key architect of his controversial counterterrorism policies, announced yesterday that he is quitting after seven months of bitter confrontation with Congress over his honesty and his competence to run the Justice Department.

His resignation, submitted Sunday to President Bush and disclosed yesterday, removes one of the nation's most controversial attorneys general since the Watergate era. He will leave behind a Justice Department battered by allegations that partisan politics has infected its law enforcement mission.

Gonzales had long been a lightning rod for critics of the administration's harsh interrogation policies, its secret overseas prisons and its expanded domestic surveillance -- all supported by legal analyses conducted under his supervision or with his concurrence. But his political undoing stemmed from his tangled account of having approved the dismissals of nine U.S. attorneys in 2006 while denying detailed knowledge of the circumstances or reasons.

The events that led to his resignation began with a Democratic-led inquiry into those firings, and they included accusations that Gonzales had lied to lawmakers. Most of his senior aides have already departed, and Congress is now locked in conflict with the White House over its access to documents related to Gonzales's decision-making.

Gonzales will be replaced temporarily by Solicitor General Paul D. Clement, and Bush could name a permanent nominee for the job by the end of this week, White House officials said. Lawmakers began floating names of possible replacements yesterday, but administration officials insisted that no candidate has been tagged.

With unwavering support from Bush, his longtime mentor, Gonzales long defied demands from lawmakers of both parties that he step aside. But within the past week, Justice aides and other officials said, Gonzales concluded that his credibility with Congress, his employees and the public was so shattered that he could not promise to remain through the end of Bush's term, as the White House chief of staff had demanded of Cabinet officers.

Gonzales, a son of migrant workers and the nation's first Hispanic attorney general, gave no reason for his departure during a brief news appearance in Washington, emphasizing his "remarkable journey" from a poor childhood in Texas to the height of power in Washington.

"I often remind our fellow citizens that we live in the greatest country in the world and that I have lived the American dream," Gonzales said, his voice cracking slightly. "Even my worst days as attorney general have been better than my father's best days."

Bush told reporters yesterday that he accepted Gonzales's resignation reluctantly, casting his friend as the victim of "months of unfair treatment that has created a harmful distraction at the Justice Department." He added: "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 FBI director and others undercut Gonzales's standing in recent months by providing accounts of events surrounding the government's warrantless surveillance program and the prosecutor firings that were at odds with Gonzales's account. Justice investigators have said they are examining whether Gonzales purposely misled Congress or attempted to improperly influence a witness in his employ.

Gonzales also repeatedly angered lawmakers by saying that he could not recall key episodes and details related to the U.S. attorneys' dismissals, testifying nearly 70 times at one hearing alone that he could not remember specific events. Some Democrats called for a special prosecutor to conduct a perjury probe, while a handful of Republicans said the department would be improved by his departure.

White House officials said that Gonzales and his wife, Rebecca, had discussed the possibility of his leaving the post for months. One Justice official said the decision was hastened by White House Chief of Staff Joshua B. Bolten's directive that senior administration officials should leave by September if they did not plan to stay until the president's term ends, in January 2009.

CONTINUED     1           >

© 2007 The Washington Post Company