capitalnewsRe: Attorney General Alberto GonzalesMon Aug 27, 2007 16:40Did Attorney General Alberto Gonzales receive an unfair amount of criticism?
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Gonzales Quits After Months of Turmoil Over Firings (Update5)
By Robert Schmidt and Roger Runningen
Aug. 27 (Bloomberg) -- Attorney General Alberto Gonzales resigned after months of accusations that he misled Congress over the firing of federal prosecutors and wiretapping of suspected terrorists and let politics determine how he ran the Justice Department.
Gonzales is resigning ``after months of unfair treatment that has created a harmful distraction at the Justice Department,'' President George W. Bush told reporters in Waco, Texas, near his ranch. ``His good name was dragged through the mud for political reasons.''
Solicitor General Paul Clement, the administration's top courtroom lawyer, will take over on a temporary basis until a permanent replacement is confirmed. Bush may decide on a nominee as early as Sept. 3, a White House official told reporters.
The resignation climaxes a political battle over Gonzales's leadership of the Justice Department, though congressional investigations into the prosecutor firings and the government's anti-terrorist spying program continue. Bush may also clash with Congress over Gonzales's successor, who must be confirmed by the Democratic-led Senate.
Gonzales, propelled to power by his close friendship with Bush, had for months withstood demands for his ouster from Democrats and Republicans. At least six other high-ranking administration officials have left with more than a year to go in Bush's administration.
``Even my worst days as attorney general have been better than my father's best days,'' Gonzales, the son of migrant workers, told reporters as he announced his resignation at the Justice Department in Washington. He said he will leave Sept. 17.
Critics said Gonzales's Justice Department wasn't independent enough from Bush, the attorney general's longtime friend and political benefactor who brought him to Washington.
As recently as Aug. 9, Bush defended Gonzales, saying, ``I haven't seen Congress say he's done anything wrong.'' Today, the president praised Gonzales as a man of ``integrity, decency and principle,'' taking no questions from reporters as he departed from the Waco airport for a fund-raising trip.
Charles Schumer, the New York Democrat who led the Senate investigation of the prosecutor firings, said Democrats ``will not obstruct or impede a nominee who we are confident will put the rule of law above political considerations.''
Still, the senator said ``many of us have some doubts'' about one potential nominee, Homeland Security Secretary Michael Chertoff. His agency ``is not one of the better run departments in this administration,'' Schumer said. ``The kinds of messups we have seen on issue after issue after issue are worrisome.''
Other possible replacements include Christopher Cox, chairman of the Securities and Exchange Commission; Stuart Levey, Treasury undersecretary for terrorism and financial intelligence; former Deputy Attorney General Larry Thompson, now general counsel of PepsiCo Inc., and Asa Hutchinson, a former congressman from Arkansas and ex-undersecretary of homeland security.
Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid of Nevada said Democrats will continue their probes of the Justice Department.
``Congress must get to the bottom of this mess and follow the facts where they lead, into the White House,'' Reid said.
Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Patrick Leahy of Vermont said he hoped Gonzales's resignation ``will be a step toward getting to the truth about the level of political influence this White House wields over the Department of Justice.''
``It think Attorney General Gonzales did the right thing,'' said Republican Senator Lamar Alexander of Tennessee. ``The country was starting to lose confidence in the Department of Justice.''
Political strategist Karl Rove said Aug. 13 he was leaving by the end of August. Others who have left or are quitting include counselor Dan Bartlett, chief White House attorney Harriet Miers, budget chief Rob Portman, political director Sara Taylor and Meghan O'Sullivan, a deputy national security adviser who worked on Iraq. There also have been a number of resignations by top-ranking Justice Department officials.
The congressional probes over the spying and firings are heading toward a constitutional showdown over executive privilege as Bush orders White House aides to defy House and Senate subpoenas to testify or provide documents.
Gonzales, 52, became the nation's first Hispanic attorney general in February 2005 and was once seen as a possible Supreme Court nominee. He previously served as Bush's White House counsel and was a chief legal architect of the U.S. war on terrorism.
Leading Democratic presidential candidates welcomed Gonzales's departure.
``Better late than never,'' former North Carolina Senator John Edwards said in a statement. New York Senator Hillary Clinton called the resignation ``long overdue,'' and Illinois Senator Barack Obama said, ``I have long believed that Alberto Gonzales subverted justice to promote a political agenda.''
Fred Thompson, a former Republican senator from Tennessee who's considering a presidential run, said ``things could have been handled a lot better'' at the Justice Department. Even so, he said the attorney general's ``political enemies'' were ``so insulting and so mean and unnecessarily partisan about this matter.''
Gonzales called Bush three days ago to offer his resignation and ``the president regretfully accepted it,'' White House spokesman Scott Stanzel said in Waco. He said Gonzales reached the decision on his own.
Stanzel said Bush didn't try to talk Gonzales out of leaving. ``He knew that that the attorney general had given this thoughtful consideration,'' the spokesman said. ``He had come to the conclusion that it was in the best interest of the Department of Justice for him to step down.''
Scrutiny From Democrats
The New York Times reported that when Gonzales's press spokesman asked him over the weekend how he should respond to media queries about a possible resignation, the attorney general told him to issue a denial.
The department came under scrutiny in January after the U.S. attorney dismissals. Democrats, who took control of Congress that month, said the purge may have been conducted to influence political corruption cases.
Gonzales maintained he knew little about how the prosecutors were chosen for dismissal, though he approved the final list. He and the White House insisted the prosecutors -- all Bush appointees -- weren't asked to resign for political reasons.
Though the Justice Department at first said Rove wasn't involved in the firings, e-mails showed he discussed them with the White House counsel's office as early as Jan. 6, 2005. Bush invoked executive privilege to keep Rove and Miers from testifying about their roles in the ouster.
At the heart of Gonzales's troubles were allegations he committed perjury on several occasions. Gonzales maintains he told the truth to Congress, though he acknowledged his testimony on the eavesdropping program was confusing.
Gonzales, in 2006 Senate testimony, said there wasn't ``any serious disagreement'' in the administration over U.S. eavesdropping on communications of suspected terrorists.
He was contradicted by former Deputy Attorney General James Comey and FBI Director Robert Mueller who testified that there was vigorous dissent. Gonzales told lawmakers the debate involved other intelligence activities, not the domestic spying program.
On the prosecutor firings, Democrats said Gonzales may have lied when he testified he didn't talk to other Justice Department officials about the ousters. Former Justice Department counsel Monica Goodling testified he raised the matter with her, and she suggested he may have tried to influence her recollection of events.
`A Wily Witness'
Gonzales won little support from his own party. The senior Republican on the Senate Judiciary Committee, Arlen Specter of Pennsylvania, in August called him ``a wily witness'' and said Congress should ``find a way to end the tenure of Attorney General Gonzales.''
Gonzales was the 80th U.S. attorney general. Along with fighting terrorism, he sought to break up gangs, combat child pornography, crack down on illegal drugs and prosecute intellectual-property crimes.
Gonzales was one of eight children in his family in Humble, Texas. His parents met as migrant workers, picking crops. After attending public schools, Gonzales graduated from Rice University in Houston and Harvard Law School.
He became friends with Bush in the mid-1990s when the president was governor of Texas and hired Gonzales as general counsel and secretary of state, and later named him to the state Supreme Court. Gonzales still prefers to be called ``judge.''
In the White House, Gonzales provided legal advice on administration plans for fighting terrorism. He signed off on a 2002 legal opinion that let interrogators inflict physical pain and mental coercion. Democrats said the policy sanctioned torture, and it was withdrawn.
Gonzales also helped author a 2002 memorandum that called some Geneva Convention protections for prisoners of war ``obsolete.'' The Supreme Court ruled last year that the conventions apply to the U.S. war against al-Qaeda.
To contact the reporters on this story: Robert Schmidt in Washington at firstname.lastname@example.org ; Roger Runningen in Washington at email@example.com
Last Updated: August 27, 2007 15:17 EDT
Alberto Gonzales should be jailed for a long, long time!!!
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