By JENNIFER LOVEN and LARA JAKES JORDAN
U.S. officials say Gonzales has resigned
CRAWFORD, Texas –resigned, officials said Monday, ending a monthslong standoff with critics who questioned his honesty and competence at the helm of the Justice Department.
Republicans and Democrats alike had demanded his resignation over the botched handling ofterror investigations and the firings of U.S. attorneys, but had defiantly stood by his friend until accepting his resignation Friday, according to senior administration officials who spoke on condition of anonymity.
The Justice Department planned a news conference for 10:30 a.m. EDT, in Washington. Bush was expected to discuss Gonzales’ departure at his, ranch before leaving on a trip to western states.
Solicitor Generalwill be acting attorney general until a replacement is found, said the officials who spoke on condition of anonymity to avoid pre-empting the announcement.
chief was among those mentioned as possible successors. However, a senior administration official said the matter had not been raised with Chertoff. Bush leaves Washington next Monday for , and Gonzales’ replacement might not be named by then, the official said.
THIS IS A BREAKING NEWS UPDATE. Check back soon for further information. AP’s earlier story is below.
(AP) — Attorney General Alberto Gonzales has resigned, ending a monthslong standoff with critics over the botched handling of FBI terror investigations and the firings of U.S. attorneys, officials said Monday.
The likely temporary replacement for Gonzales is Solicitor General Paul Clement, who would take over until a permanent replacement is found, according to a senior administration official who spoke on condition of anonymity.
The Justice Department planned a news conference for 10:30 a.m. EDT,in Washington. President Bush was expected to discuss Gonzales’ departure — first reported on The New York Times’ Web site — at his Crawford, Texas, ranch, before leaving on a trip to western states.
Gonzales served more than two years as the nation’s first Hispanic attorney general. Lawmakers had voiced doubts about his truthfulness in combative and often evasive testimony to Congress.
“Better late than never,” said Democratic presidential candidate John Edwards, summing up the response of many in Washington.
Although Democrats most fiercely questioned Gonzales’ stewardship of the nation’s law enforcement establishment, several Republicans in Congress criticized him too.
For his part, Bush steadfastly — and at times angrily — refused to give in to critics, even from his own, 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,” Bush said testily.
Gonzales, 52, called Bush on Friday to inform him of his resignation, according to a senior administration official who spoke on condition of anonymity to not pre-empt Gonzales’ statement. The president had Gonzales come to lunch at his ranch on Sunday as a parting gesture.
A longtime friend of Bush, who once considered him for appointment to the Supreme Court, 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.agreed in May to step down as president of the World Bank after an ethics inquiry. And top Bush adviser earlier this month announced he was stepping down.
Reacting to Monday’s developments, Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman, D-Vt., said that Gonzales’ department had “suffered a severe crisis of leadership that allowed our justice system to be corrupted by political influence.”
He said that Gonzales’s resignation “reinforces what Congress and the American people already know — that no Justice Department should be allowed to become a political arm of the.”
A frequent Democratic target, Gonzales could not satisfy critics who said he had lost credibility over the Justice Department’s handling of warrantless wiretaps related to the threat of terrorism and the firings of several U.S. attorneys.
As attorney general and earlier as White House counsel, Gonzales pushed for expanded presidential powers, including the eavesdropping authority. He drafted controversial rules for military war tribunals and sought to limit the legal rights of detainees at— prompting lawsuits by civil libertarians who said the government was violating the Constitution in its pursuit of terrorists.
There were indications that the development came suddenly. Bush normally handles Cabinet resignations with efficiency, only allowing news of them to leak when a successor has been chosen and appearing with both the person departing and the replacement when the public announcement was made. That was not to be the case this time, the official said.
The president had no candidates for Gonzales’ replacement to his ranch over the weekend for interviews, the official said.
“It has been a long and difficult struggle but at last, the attorney general has done the right thing and stepped down,” said, D-N.Y., a vocal critic.
The flap over the fired prosecutors proved to be the final straw for Gonzales, whose truthfulness in testimony to Congress was drawn into question.
Lawmakers said the dismissals of the federal prosecutors appeared to be politically motivated, and some of the fired U.S. attorneys said they felt pressured to investigate Democrats before elections. Gonzales maintained that the dismissals were based the prosecutors’ lackluster performance records.
Thousands of documents released by the Justice Department show a White House plot, hatched shortly after the 2004 elections, to replace U.S. attorneys. At one point, senior White House officials, including Rove, suggested replacing all 93 prosecutors. In December 2006, eight were ordered to resign.
In several House and Senate hearings into the firings, Gonzales and other Justice Department officials failed to fully explain the ousters without contradicting each other.
U.S. attorneys serve at the pleasure of the president, and can be removed. But congressional Democrats said politics played an unusually critical role in the ouster of several prosecutors.
In 2004, Gonzales pressed to reauthorize a secret domestic spying program over the Justice Department’s protests. Gonzales was White House counsel at the time and during a dramatic hospital confrontation he and then-White House chief of staff Andrew Card sought approval from then-, who was in intensive care. Ashcroft refused.
The White House subsequently reauthorized the program without the department’s approval. Later, Bush ordered changes to the program to help the department defend its legality. The domestic surveillance program was later declared unconstitutional by a federal judge and since has been changed to require court approval before surveillance can be conducted.
Similarly, Gonzales found himself on the defensive in early March for‘s improper and, in some cases, illegal prying into Americans’ personal information during terror and spy probes. On March 9, the Justice Department’s inspector general released an audit showing that FBI agents, over a three-year period, demanded telephone and Internet companies to hand over their customers’ personal information without official authorization.
The damning audit also found that the FBI had improperly obtained telephone records in non-emergency circumstances, and concluded that it underreported to Congress how often it used national security letters to ask businesses to turn over customer data. The letters are administrative subpoenas that do not require a judge’s approval.
Gonzales declared himself upset and frustrated over the findings. But lawmakers said they had begun to lose confidence in him.