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Gonzales Bids Justice Department Farewell

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Gonzales Bids Justice Department Farewell

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Gonzales Bids Justice Department Farewell

Gonzales Bids Justice Department Farewell

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Outgoing Attorney General Alberto Gonzales gives a farewell speech to Justice Department personnel. Melissa Block discusses the speech with NPR's Ari Shapiro.

MICHELE NORRIS, host:

From NPR News, this is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED. I'm Michele Norris.

MELISSA BLOCK, host:

And I'm Melissa Block.

This is the last day on the job for Attorney General Alberto Gonzales. In his farewell speech to the Justice Department, he did not mentioned the U.S. attorneys' controversy that eventually led to his resignation. Instead, he described what he sees as his legacy, including a program to protect children from predators.

Attorney General ALBERTO GONZALES (U.S. Department of Justice): If there is an agreement, a consensus about anything, it is that children are what are most dear to us and we must do everything that we can to protect them from being hurt. And we've done that.

BLOCK: NPR's Ari Shapiro joins us to talk about the departure and what comes next. And Ari, Alberto Gonzales is the attorney general for about two and a half years including many, many months of very divisive issues. What's the tone been like at Justice since he announced he would resign?

ARI SHAPIRO: Well, you didn't hear this at today's ceremony, but the tone has really been relief. I mean, just to give you an example, a lot of U.S. attorneys and their staffers were in Washington this week for a conference. And during part of the conference yesterday, one of the U.S. attorneys asked during a panel discussion: How do we get our reputation back? And you've had that sense of the Justice Department for several months now. And the answer that's come from many people has been put new leadership in.

Today is one step towards that. And so, frankly, you're seeing a lot of people who are relieved to see Alberto Gonzales step down.

BLOCK: A new leadership. A lot of attention will now turn to who will the president might nominate to be the next attorney general. What's the latest there?

SHAPIRO: Well, for the last couple of weeks, we have seen names floated and withdrawn - nothing official yet. But you may remember right after Gonzales announced his resignation, Michael Chertoff, the secretary of Homeland Security, was the name on everybody's lips. That quickly was withdrawn.

In the last couple of days, Ted Olson, the former solicitor general, seemed to be the frontrunner. But then, you saw Democrats in Congress really rebelling against that idea. Harry Reid, the Senate Majority Leader, said I intend to do everything I can to prevent him from being confirmed as the next attorney general.

I mean, we've got to understand. This job is a tough sell to being with. You're talking about people who are giving up, in most cases, a very big salary to become attorney general for the last year and a half of an unpopular president's second term. And when you add to that, being told pointblank that Democrats are going to do everything they can to keep you from being confirmed, it makes it a really, really tough sell.

BLOCK: Well, who else is still in the mix?

SHAPIRO: Well, from the beginning, it was as much a question of who they could convince to take the job as it was who wants the job. And one name that has been in there very early on, all the way since last spring, was Senator Orrin Hatch of Utah, former chairman of the Judiciary Committee in the Senate.

Another name that has recently come at a prominence, which is interesting, is Judge Michael Mukasey. He stepped down last year as a federal judge in New York. He has lot of experience trying high-profile terrorism cases. One of the interesting things about him is that New York Democratic Senator Charles Schumer said he thinks Mukasey would be a great choice. So you've got him out there as a potential consensus nominee.

Another name that's been in there early on is Solicitor General Paul Clement, who is the acting attorney general starting Monday. It seems as though Clement probably doesn't want the job, but he might be able to be convinced to take it.

BLOCK: So the end of the road within the Bush administration for Alberto Gonzales, but what goes on are the ongoing investigations by Justice and Congress. Tell us about the state of those.

SHAPIRO: Well, there is this massive ongoing investigation by the Justice Department's Inspector General's Office and the Office of Professional Responsibility. That covers everything from whether Gonzales lied under oath, to whether U.S. attorneys were fired for political reasons, to whether career attorneys were illegally hired on the basis of their partisan affiliations. Whenever that report comes out - and it may not be for a while - it's going to be huge that we should keep an eye up for that.

But Congress is also continuing its investigation. They are fighting to get White House officials to testify about the U.S. attorney firings and other matters. The White House is pushing back. This probably will not be resolved until the end of the Bush administration, if then. And these issues are all certainly likely to be very significant parts of the confirmation hearing for whoever is tapped as the next attorney general.

BLOCK: Okay. NPR's Ari Shapiro. Ari, thanks a lot.

SHAPIRO: You're welcome.

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