Embattled Gonzales quits at last
By: Mike Allen
August 27, 2007
Attorney General Alberto Gonzales resigned this morning, long after he had become a persistent embarrassment to President Bush.
The acting attorney general will be Solicitor General Paul Clement, who can stay in the job for months, administration officials said.
The president praised and defended Gonzales during brief remarks in Waco, Texas. "After months of unfair treatment, that has created a harmful distraction at the Justice Department, Judge Gonzales decided to resign his position and I accept his decision," Bush said. "It's sad that we live in a time when a talented and honorable person like Alberto Gonzales is impeding from doing important work because his good name was dragged through the mud for political reasons."
In a brief statement before cameras at the Justice Department, Gonzales said he had met with Bush on Sunday and informed him of his decision to resign, effective Sept. 17. He made no references to the controversies that hounded him from office.
“Let me say that it's been one of my greatest privileges to lead the Department of Justice,” Gonzales said. “I have great admiration and respect for the men and women who work here. I have made a point as attorney general to personally meet as many of them as possible, and today I want to again thank them for their service to our nation. ... I am profoundly grateful to President Bush for his friendship and for the many opportunities he has given me to serve the American people.”
Possible successors include Homeland Security Secretary Michael Chertoff and Frances Fragos Townsend, the assistant to the president for Homeland Security and Counterterrorism. One oft-discussed scenario would have Townsend succeeding Chertoff. But a Chertoff confirmation rehearing would mean an exploration of the administration’s handling of Hurricane Katrina.
Several Republicans said Towsend might be a promising choice. She was a federal prosecutor in New York City, handling mob and white-collar cases. Towsend worked at the Justice Department under President Clinton's attorney general, Janet Reno. She has become close to Bush and is one of the White House's most compeling personalities for television appearances.
Another possibility would be Sen. Orrin G. Hatch (R-Utah), former Judiciary Committee chairman. But it's not clear that he would want to give up his Senate seat for a job that will last for a little more than a year.
Sen. Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) was prepared to call the chamber to order occasionally during August to prevent Bush from using his recess appointment powers to install officials while Congress is gone. But the White House agreed not to do that.
The administration is now planning for a nominee who will be confirmed by the Senate and serve until the end of the administration. An individual may serve in an acting capacity for 210 days. However, if there is a pending nominee, the 210-day "clock" is reset at Day One when the nominee is announced. The clock is reset again if the nomination is withdrawn or fails.
Clement was an editor of the Harvard Law Review before clerking for Judge Laurence H. Silberman of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit, and for Associate Justice Antonin Scalia of the U.S. Supreme Court. He later served as chief counsel of the Senate subcommittee on the Constitution, Federalism and Property Rights and was a partner in the Washington office of King & Spalding.
Gonzales had become the most visible and frequent administration target for the Democratic majority in Congress, which complained that his testimony about the quiet firing of several U.S. attorneys was misleading at best.
Bush stood by his longtime friend from Texas even as White House loyalists despaired about the damage he was doing to the image of the Justice Department.
Gonzales, the first Hispanic attorney general, was counsel to Bush in the Texas governor's office, was appointed by him to the Texas Supreme Court and was this president's first White House counsel.
Democratic presidential candidate John Edwards issued a four-word reaction: "Better late than never.”
Sen. Charles Schumer (D-N.Y.) said on Fox: "Thank God."
The Gonzales decision was first reported on the website of The New York Times.