US Attorney General Alberto Gonzales has resigned, ending a lengthy standoff with critics over the botched handling of FBI terror investigations and the firings of US attorneys, officials said yesterday.
A longtime friend of US President George W. Bush, who once considered Gonzales for appointment to the US Supreme Court, Gonzales is the fourth high-ranking administration official to leave since November.
Donald Rumsfeld, an architect of the Iraq war, resigned as defense secretary one day after the November elections gave Democrats majorities in both chambers of Congress. Paul Wolfowitz, another major personality behind the war, agreed in May to step down as president of the World Bank after an ethics inquiry. And top Bush political adviser Karl Rove announced this month that he was quitting.
Gonzales served more than two years as the US' first Hispanic attorney general. Lawmakers had voiced doubts about his truthfulness in combative and often evasive testimony to Congress, involving both the FBI's conduct in investigating suspected terrorists and whether Gonzales' Justice Department fired a number of federal investigators for political reasons in collaboration with the White House.
"Better late than never," said Democratic presidential candidate John Edwards, summing up the response of many in Washington to reports of Gonzales' resignation.
The probable temporary replacement for Gonzales is Solicitor General Paul Clement, the administration's top lawyer, who would take over until a permanent replacement could be found, according to a senior administration official who spoke on condition of anonymity.
The announcement of Gonzales' departure was to come in a Justice Department news conference yesterday morning in Washington. Bush was to discuss his friend's departure -- first reported yesterday on the New York Times Web site -- at his Crawford, Texas, ranch, before leaving on a trip to Western states.
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 Gonzales' critics.