Gonzales Leaves Justice with Few Defenders

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After months of speculation, beleaguered Attorney General Alberto Gonzales announced his resignation Monday. His tenure was marked by public debate over the use of warrantless wiretaps by the United States government and the firing of eight U.S. attorneys.

Juan Williams, NPR senior correspondent

Bud Cummins, former U.S. attorney for the Eastern District of Arkansas and one of eight federal prosecutors fired by the Gonzales' Justice Department

Noel Francisco, former deputy assistant attorney general and White House associate counsel during President Bush's first term; he is now in private practice at the Washington law firm Jones Day

Bill Minutaglio, is author of The President's Counselor: The Rise to Power of Alberto Gonzales

Daniel Metcalfe, retired Justice Department attorney and current American University law professor, directing the Center on Government Secrecy

Gonzales Resigns Justice Post; Bush Blames Politics

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Full Coverage

Read a full report on the attorney firings scandal including all NPR coverage.

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Download audio of Gonzales announcing his resignation, and NPR analysis. hide caption

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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

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The President's Counselor

The Rise to Power of Alberto Gonzales

by Bill Minutaglio

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