Bush accepts attorney general's resignation

In a brief appearance at Justice Department headquarters Monday, Attorney General Alberto Gonzales announced he would leave his position on Sept. 17.

Gonzales thanked President Bush for his friendship and the opportunities the president had given him to serve the public, but Gonzales offered no insight into why he offered his resignation now or why President Bush accepted it.

In a brief appearance later Monday morning in Crawford, Texas, President Bush said he had "reluctantly accepted" Gonzales' resignation.

Bush praised Gonzales' role in shaping the administration's response to terrorism, such as the development of the USA PATRIOT Act. He also highlighted Gonzales' work on combating child predators on the internet and enforcing public corruption and voting rights laws.

"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," Bush said.

Bush announced that Solicitor General Paul Clement would become acting attorney general until a replacement for Gonzales is confirmed, but gave no indication of who the nominee might be. Bush praised Clement though, suggesting he would be able to unify the Justice Department.

"Paul is one of the finest lawyers in America," Bush said. "He has a reputation for excellence and fairness and has earned the respect and confidence of the entire Justice Department."

Gonzales' statement echoed the narrative of opportunity and struggle that characterized his nomination and confirmation hearings.

"Even my worst days as attorney general have been better than my father's best days," he said. "Public service is honorable and noble. I am profoundly grateful to President Bush for his friendship and for the many opportunities he has given me to serve the American people."

He also complimented Justice Department employees.

"It has been one of my greatest privileges to lead the Department of Justice. I have great admiration and respect for the men and women who work here," he told reporters. "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 this nation."

In Gonzales' letter of resignation, obtained by the website TPMMuckraker, he further praised Justice Department staffers.

"I am proud to have served with the career investigators, administrative and support staff, litigators, and prosecutors in the Department of Justice," Gonzales wrote. "It is because of their hard work and professionalism that our country is safer from acts of terrorism, our neighborhoods suffer less from violent crime, and our children are better protected from predators."

After Gonzales' appearance, Sen. Charles Schumer, D-N.Y., said the attorney general had "completely lost faith with the 90,000 employees of the Justice Department."

Gonzales' relations with his employees were strained by the firings of nine U.S. attorneys and his performance during congressional hearings investigating those firings. An anonymous group of Justice employees sent a letter to Sens. Patrick Leahy, D-Vt., and Rep. John Conyers, D-Mich., the chairs of the Senate and House Judiciary Committees, in April, asking them to investigate other hiring programs they believed were tainted by political bias.

An early statement from Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., indicated that those investigations would continue.

"This resignation is not the end of the story. Congress must get to the bottom of this mess and follow the facts where they lead, into the White House," Reid said.

CNN reported Monday that Gonzales' resignation could trigger a governmentwide shake-up, with Homeland Security Secretary Michael Chertoff drawing on his experience as a U.S. attorney to become attorney general and Office of Management and Budget Deputy Director Clay Johnson moving over to replace Chertoff.

But OMB spokeswoman Andrea Wuebker denied on Monday morning that Johnson would replace Chertoff.

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