Gonzales Resigns Justice Post; Bush Blames Politics

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Role in Controversial Bush Policies

Attorney General Alberto Gonzales' decision to step down comes months after critics began calling for his resignation over the firing of U.S. attorneys. But Gonzales was also a central figure in the development of controversial Bush administration policies — including those on the treatment of prisoners and on domestic surveillance. Read an overview of Gonzales' areas of influence.

Quick Profile: Gonzales

Alberto Gonzales became the nation's 80th attorney general on Feb. 3, 2005, after a four-year stint as White House counsel.

Gonzales, who just celebrated his 52nd birthday, spent much time in government posts prior to working for the Bush Administration in Washington. He served as a justice on the Supreme Court in Texas, as secretary of state in Texas, and as general counsel to Bush during Bush's time as governor of Texas.

He spent more than 10 years at the law firm Vinson & Elkins L.L.P. before moving from private practice, where he ascended to firm partner, into the public sector.

Gonzales, who grew up in Texas, earned an undergraduate degree from Rice University and a law degree from Harvard University. He is married and has three sons.

Gonzales Timeline

Read about key moments in Alberto Gonzales' career — from his days as general counsel to then-Texas Gov. George Bush to his time as U.S. attorney general.

Attorney General Alberto Gonzales said Monday he would resign his White House post effective Sept. 17, ending a protracted standoff with Congressional critics over the Justice Department's handling of FBI terrorism investigations and the firing of U.S. attorneys.

"It has been one of my greatest privileges to lead the Justice Department," Gonzales said in a brief statement to journalists.

"I have lived the American dream," said Gonzales, the first Hispanic to serve in the post. "Even my worst days as attorney general have been better than my father's best days."

As attorney general and, earlier, as White House counsel, Gonzales pushed for expanded presidential powers, including the authority to conduct warrantless eavesdropping on U.S. citizens. He also drafted controversial rules for military war tribunals and sought to limit the legal rights of detainees at Guantanamo Bay — prompting lawsuits by civil libertarians who said the government was violating the Constitution in its pursuit of terrorists.

Gonzales came under intense criticism and pressure to resign over what critics said were politically motivated firings of federal prosecutors. He is among about a dozen senior administration officials who have resigned amid the protracted congressional investigation into the matter.

The president, in a brief statement of his own later Monday, thanked Gonzales for his service, crediting him with helping shape the Patriot Act and the Military Commissions Act — some of the very things that so infuriated his detractors.

Mr. Bush called Gonzales' resignation "sad" and said he is a "man of integrity, decency and principle."

The president said "months of unfair treatment" had kept Gonzales from "doing good work, because his name was dragged through the mud for political reasons."

The president had long stood firm against demands for the attorney general's resignation, and the timing of Gonzales' decision is interpreted by some as a desire to be seen as leaving on his own terms. To stay longer, on the other hand, might have complicated the task for a lame duck administration in pushing through a successor.

Sen. Charles Schumer (D-NY), a member of the Senate Judiciary Committee, said Gonzales had done "the right thing" by stepping down.

"The Justice Department has been virtually nonfunctional and desperately needs new leadership. Democrats will not obstruct or impede a nominee who we are confident will put the rule of law above political considerations," he said.

"Better late than never," said Democratic presidential candidate John Edwards.

A senior Justice Department official indicated that Solicitor General Paul Clement is a likely temporary replacement for Gonzales.

Homeland Security Chief Michael Chertoff is among those mentioned as possible successors, but a senior administration official said the matter had not been raised with Chertoff. The president leaves Washington, D.C., on Sept. 3 for Australia, and Gonzales' replacement might not be named by then, the official said.

Mr. Bush had steadfastly — and, at times, angrily — refused to give in to critics, even from his own GOP, 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," Mr. Bush said testily.

Gonzales is the fourth high-ranking administration official to leave since November 2006.

Donald Rumsfeld, an architect of the Iraq war, resigned as defense secretary one day after the November elections. Paul Wolfowitz agreed to step down in May as president of the World Bank after an ethics inquiry. And top Bush adviser Karl Rove earlier this month announced he was stepping down.

From NPR reports and The Associated Press

Gonzales Helped Shape Controversial Bush Policies

U.S. Attorney General Alberto Gonzales formally announces his resignation. i i

hide captionU.S. Attorney General Alberto Gonzales formally announces his resignation during a news conference Aug. 27, 2007, at the Justice Department.

Saul Loeb/AFP/Getty Images
U.S. Attorney General Alberto Gonzales formally announces his resignation.

U.S. Attorney General Alberto Gonzales formally announces his resignation during a news conference Aug. 27, 2007, at the Justice Department.

Saul Loeb/AFP/Getty Images

Attorney General Alberto Gonzales' decision to step down comes months after critics began calling for his resignation over the firing of U.S. attorneys. But Gonzales was also a central figure in the development of controversial Bush administration policies — including those on the treatment of prisoners and on domestic surveillance. Among his areas of influence:

Enemy Combatants: Gonzales developed the policy allowing the indefinite detention of American citizens deemed to be enemy combatants, without charge or access to counsel or the court system.

At a Senate Judiciary Committee hearing in January 2007, Gonzales asserted that the U.S. Constitution does not offer an "express grant" of habeas corpus — the right to challenge one's imprisonment in federal court. It's an ancient concept, first recognized in medieval England and considered a basic protection of human liberties.

"The Constitution doesn't say every individual in the United States, or every citizen, is hereby granted or assured the right to habeas," Gonzales said.

Timeline: The Career of Alberto Gonzales

Alberto Gonzales has been in George Bush's inner circle since Bush's years as the governor of Texas. Their relationship has weathered numerous controversies, such as those over the administration's policies addressing torture and the U.S. attorney firings. Key events in his career as a Bush confidant include:

1994: Joins the administration of then-Texas Gov. George W. Bush as general counsel, advising the governor on dozens of death-penalty cases, among other issues.

December 1997: Bush taps Gonzales to be Texas secretary of state.

January 1999: Bush appoints Gonzales to the Texas Supreme Court.

January 2001: Joins President Bush's administration in Washington, D.C., as White House counsel. In that position, plays a key role in developing the Bush administration's controversial policies on the treatment of prisoners and enemy combatants in the global war on terrorism.

February 2002: As White House counsel, writes a memo in which he dismisses the Geneva Conventions as "obsolete."

August 2002: Requests and signs off on a legal memo that drastically narrows the definition of torture, to allow Defense Department and CIA interrogators to use methods widely seen as torture. The legal opinion is later rescinded by the Bush administration.

Feb. 3, 2005: Confirmed by the Senate to succeed John Ashcroft as U.S. attorney general — the first Hispanic American to serve in that position. However, most Democrats oppose his confirmation, accusing him of playing a leading role in providing legal grounds for torture of foreign detainees.

March 2005-March 2006: Leads the Bush administration's campaign to reauthorize the Patriot Act.

Dec. 19, 2005: A few days after The New York Times reports that President Bush authorized the National Security Agency to eavesdrop inside the United States without warrants, Gonzales says Congress gave Bush broad war powers after the 2001 terrorist attacks, tying that support to the president's approval of warrantless wiretapping.

March 9, 2006: President Bush signs the Patriot Act reauthorization into law. One provision allows the attorney general to appoint replacement U.S. attorneys indefinitely without Senate confirmation.

July 18, 2006: While testifying about Bush's terrorist surveillance programs before the Senate Judiciary Committee, Gonzales confirms Bush blocked a Justice Department investigation of the domestic spying program.

Nov. 27, 2006: Attends a meeting to discuss the upcoming U.S. attorney dismissals.

Dec. 7, 2006: Seven U.S. attorneys are dismissed by the Justice Department.

Jan. 18, 2007: Tells the Senate Judiciary Committee that he would never make a change in a U.S. attorney position for political reasons. Also declines to discuss operational details of the warrantless spying program, a day after announcing that the program is now being monitored by a secret court.

March 13, 2007: Gonzales insists he will not resign over attorney firings, but holds a press conference, saying, "Mistakes were made."

March 14, 2007: Bush says he has confidence in Gonzales, although he says the firings were mishandled.

April 19, 2007: While Gonzales is again questioned before the Senate Judiciary Committee, both Democrats and some Republicans call for his resignation, saying they have lost faith in him.

June 11, 2007: Republicans block a no-confidence resolution on Gonzales in the Senate.

July 10, 2007: The Washington Post reports that Gonzales received at least half a dozen reports of FBI violations of the Patriot Act in the weeks and months before he told senators in 2005 that no violations had taken place.

July 24, 2007: Gonzales again testifies before the Senate Judiciary Committee, this time denying accusations that he tried to pressure then-Attorney General Ashcroft into reauthorizing the administration's warrantless spying program while Ashcroft was in the hospital recovering from surgery in 2004. Apparent conflicts in his testimony lead a group of Senate Democrats to call for a perjury investigation.

Aug. 27, 2007: Gonzales announces his resignation and says he will step down Sept. 17.

Timeline: Behind the Firing of Eight U.S. Attorneys

The E-Mail Trail

In response to congressional inquiries, the Department of Justice released a series of internal communications — including e-mails with White House staff — that preceded the firings of eight U.S. attorneys.

Attorney General Alberto Gonzales at a March 13 news conference.

hide captionAt a March 13 news conference, Attorney General Alberto Gonzales admits that "mistakes were made" in the Justice Department's handling of the firings of eight U.S. attorneys.

Mark Wilson/Getty Images

In Depth

The Bush administration fired seven U.S. attorneys on a single day last December. After Democrats took control of both chambers of Congress in January, they began hearings into whether those dismissals — as well as an earlier one, in June 2006 — were politically motivated. Political furor has ensued. Follow events so far:

Late December 2004: White House Counsel Alberto Gonzales and Justice Department official Kyle Sampson discuss replacing some or all of the country's 93 U.S. attorneys.

Jan. 9, 2005: Sampson e-mails Deputy White House Counsel David Leitch to suggest dismissing 15 percent to 20 percent of all U.S. attorneys, including those who are not "loyal Bushies." Sampson writes, "If Karl [Rove, the president's political adviser] thinks there would be political will to do it, then so do I."

February 2005: Harriet Miers, who has replaced Gonzales as White House counsel, suggests that all 93 U.S. attorneys be replaced.

Feb. 14, 2005: Gonzales is sworn in as attorney general of the United States.

March 2, 2005: Sampson e-mails Miers a chart, categorizing U.S. attorneys into one of three groups based on whether they have "produced, managed well, and exhibited loyalty to the President and Attorney General."

Sept. 23, 2005: Sampson becomes chief of staff to the attorney general

Jan. 9, 2006: Sampson e-mails Miers to suggest replacing "a limited number of U.S. Attorneys."

March 9, 2006: President Bush signs the USA PATRIOT Act reauthorization into law. One provision allows the attorney general to appoint replacement U.S. attorneys indefinitely without Senate confirmation.

May 11, 2006: Sampson e-mails White House official William Kelley: "Please call me at your convenience to discuss ... the real problem we have right now with [San Diego U.S. Attorney] Carol Lam that leads me to conclude that we should have someone ready to be nominated on 11/18, the day after her 4-year term expires."

The Los Angeles Times reports that Lam's corruption investigation of Republican Rep. Randy "Duke" Cunningham has expanded to include another Republican congressman from California, Jerry Lewis.

June 2006: The Justice Department dismisses H.E. "Bud" Cummins III of Arkansas. His replacement, J. Timothy Griffin, is a former aide to Karl Rove.

Sept. 13, 2006: Sampson writes an e-mail to Miers, urging the administration to circumvent Congress in appointing replacement U.S. attorneys: "I strongly recommend that, as a matter of administration policy, we utilize the new statutory provisions that authorize the AG [attorney general] to make USA [U.S. attorney] appointments ... we can give far less deference to home-state Senators and thereby get (1) our preferred person appointed and (2) do it far faster and more efficiently, at less political cost to the White House."

Fall 2006: President Bush meets with Gonzales and relays general complaints about U.S. attorneys' performance, without naming specific prosecutors.

October 2006: Sen. Pete Domenici (R-NM) and Rep. Heather Wilson (R-NM) each call U.S. Attorney David Iglesias to ask about a federal corruption probe into some New Mexico Democrats.

The Justice Department adds Iglesias to a list of U.S. attorneys slated for dismissal.

Nov. 15, 2006: Sampson e-mails Miers, copying Deputy Attorney General Paul McNulty on the message. Sampson writes, "I am concerned that to execute this plan [firing seven U.S. attorneys simultaneously] properly, we must all be on the same page and be steeled to withstand any political upheaval that might result. If we start caving to complaining U.S. attorneys or Senators, then we shouldn't do it — it'll be more trouble than it's worth."

Nov. 27, 2006: Gonzales attends an hourlong meeting to discuss the upcoming U.S. attorney dismissals.

Dec. 2, 2006: Sampson e-mails Justice official Michael Elston: "Still waiting for green light from White House [to fire U.S. attorneys]."

Dec. 7, 2006: The Justice Department dismisses seven U.S. attorneys: Daniel Bogden of Nevada, Paul Charlton of Arizona, Margaret Chiara of Michigan, David Iglesias of New Mexico, Carol Lam of San Diego, John McKay of Seattle, and Kevin Ryan of San Francisco.

Jan. 11, 2007: Three senators propose legislation to restore Senate authority to oversee U.S. attorney appointments.

Jan. 18, 2007: Gonzales testifies before the Senate Judiciary Committee: "I would never, ever make a change in a United States attorney position for political reasons, or if it would in any way jeopardize an ongoing, serious investigation." (Hear Gonzales' testimony.)

Feb. 6, 2007: McNulty testifies before the Senate Judiciary Committee: "In every single case where a United States attorney position is vacant, the administration is committed to filling that position with the United States attorney who is confirmed by the Senate." (Hear NcNulty's testimony.)

Feb. 23, 2007: Acting Assistant Attorney General Richard Hertling sends several members of Congress a letter saying, in part, "The [Justice] Department is not aware of Karl Rove playing any role in the decision to appoint Mr. Griffin."

March 6, 2007: Former U.S. attorneys testify before Congress. Some say they believe they were fired for political reasons.

March 9, 2007: Gonzales says he will not fight congressional proposals to undo the PATRIOT Act provision that gave him more authority to appoint replacement U.S. attorneys.

March 12, 2007: Justice Department officials say Sampson did not tell people at the agency about the extent of his communications with the White House. Sampson resigns as the attorney general's chief of staff.

March 13, 2007: The Justice Department sends documents to Capitol Hill detailing the correspondence between White House and Justice Department officials over the U.S. attorneys issue. Gonzales insists that he will not resign amid calls for his ouster. He cancels travel plans and holds a news conference to say, "Mistakes were made." He adds, "I never saw documents. We never had a discussion about where things stood." (Hear Gonzales apologize.)

March 14, 2007: President Bush says at a news conference in Mexico, "I do have confidence in Attorney General Al Gonzales." Mr. Bush says the firings were mishandled, and he's not happy about it. He says, "Al was right: Mistakes were made. And he's going to go up to Capitol Hill to correct them."

March 15, 2007: The Senate Judiciary Committee grants Chairman Patrick Leahy (D-VT) authority to subpoena five Justice Department officials and six fired U.S. attorneys.

March 16, 2007: Sampson releases a statement through his lawyer saying that he did not resign because he failed to tell Justice officials the extent of his communications with the White House. Instead, he says, he resigned because he did not "organize a more effective political response" to the dismissals.

March 19, 2007: The Justice Department sends Congress 3,000 pages of documents related to the U.S. attorney dismissals.

March 20, 2007: White House counsel Fred Fielding offers to make White House officials available to the House and Senate Judiciary Committees for private interviews without an oath or transcript. Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Leahy responds, "I don't accept his offer."

March 26, 2007: The Justice Department's White House liaison and senior counselor to Gonzales, Monica Goodling, says she will invoke her Fifth Amendment right not to respond to questions from Congress about the U.S. attorney dismissals.

March 28, 2007: The Justice Department says its Feb. 23, 2007, letter to Congress denying Rove's involvement in the U.S. attorney dismissals is "contradicted by Department documents."

March 29, 2007: Sampson testifies before the Senate Judiciary Committee. In response to questions about several of the attorney general's statements about the U.S. attorney dismissals, Sampson says, "I don't think it's entirely accurate."

April 6, 2007: Goodling resigns from the Justice Department.

April 10, 2007: The House Judiciary Committee subpoenas Justice Department documents related to the U.S. attorney dismissals.

Gonzales appoints Kevin O'Connor, U.S. attorney for Connecticut, as his chief of staff.

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