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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)

It was a decision that might have attracted less attention if Congress was still held by a Republican majority, but the newly empowered Democrats quickly seized on it as a lever to pry loose information about the influence of politics in the department. The White House responded by refusing to turn over documents or to allow Rove and other officials to testify about the firings.

Lawmakers also questioned Gonzales's truthfulness in testifying that a National Security Agency surveillance program had not provoked any serious dissent among Justice lawyers. Testimony and documents showed that half a dozen senior Justice and FBI officials were prepared to resign in early 2004 because they had concluded that the program was illegal and required changes.

Gonzales's public image also took a hit when a former deputy attorney general and the FBI director both said that he had tried to pressure then-Attorney General John D. Ashcroft into certifying that the program was legal, while Ashcroft was ill and in the hospital recovering from surgery. Gonzales eventually clarified his remarks on the NSA program and said he did not intend to mislead Congress.

Republicans expressed hope yesterday that Gonzales's resignation would deflate some of the partisan tension on Capitol Hill. Sen. Arlen Specter (Pa.), who for months has called on Gonzales to step down, said that the impending departure is "a major, helpful turn of events." Sen. John Cornyn (Tex.) was one of only a few in Congress to publicly defend Gonzales, saying that his only mistake "was underestimating the ferocity of relentless partisan attacks."

But some Senate Republican aides complained yesterday about the administration's handling of the Gonzales issue, saying that his refusal to quit stretched out the controversy and maximized the political damage. And Sen. Charles E. Grassley (Iowa), a Judiciary Committee member, said that damage done by Gonzales may be irreparable and that the Justice Department may remain in a "demoralized" state under Bush.

"I have to modify what the president said, that he didn't do anything wrong," Grassley said, referring to Bush's defense of Gonzales. "He may have been drawn through the mud. But on the other hand, he did handle a pretty easy situation pretty stupidly."

Staff writers Jonathan Weisman in Washington and Michael Abramowitz, traveling with the president, and staff writer Paul Kane in Washington contributed to this report.

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