Washington: US Attorney General Alberto Gonzales resigns today after a scandal-tainted tenure marred by critics’ claims that he was incompetent, hid the truth and may be guilty of perjury.
Gonzales, an architect of contentious US “war on terror” legal tactics, was also at the centre of a row with Democrats over firings of federal prosecutors and had lost the confidence of many top Republicans.
He was the latest confidant to leave President George W Bush’s inner circle, two weeks after political guru Karl Rove named his own departure date and 17 months before the US leader himself exits the White House.
“Al Gonzales is a man of integrity, decency and principle, and I have reluctantly accepted his resignation,” Bush said in Waco, Texas after Gonzales’s sudden announcement.
“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 for political reasons.”
Tenure mired in controversy
Democrats vowed to press on with congressional probes into the conduct of the Justice Department and the White House. Senate Judiciary committee chairman Patrick Leahy said Gonzales had made the Justice Department “a political arm of the White House.”
Democratic Senator Chuck Schumer added: “under Alberto Gonzales, the Department of Justice was a sinking ship.” But Republican Senator John Cornyn defended his fellow Texan.
“It’s a shame to see somebody who’s a good man chewed up and spit out by the hyper-partisan atmosphere in Washington D.C. when he did nothing, the evidence will show, wrong,” Cornyn told MSNBC.
Human rights groups offered their own indictments. “History will remember Gonzales as the man who never said no to torture and detention policies that violated US and international law,” said Ken Roth, executive director of Human Rights Watch.
Maureen Byrnes, executive director of Human Rights First said: “the Justice Department gave legal cover to a policy of official cruelty in the treatment of prisoners.”
Critics say Gonzales, a former White House counsel, signed off on ‘torture´ methods to interrogate ‘war on terror´ prisoners and say programmes he backed like a warrantless wiretapping scheme infringed the US constitition.
Decision to quit
The first Hispanic Attorney General, Gonzales, announced his departure in a short press conference.“Yesterday, I met with President Bush and informed him of my decision to conclude my government service as Attorney General of the United States effective as of September 17, 2007,” Gonzales said.
Solicitor General Paul Clement, another top Justice Department official, will be acting attorney general until a replacement is confirmed by the Senate.
Several reports said Homeland Security Secretary Michael Chertoff was being lined up as a possible successor, but he would face a grilling over the botched government response to Hurricane Katrina two years ago.
While Bush’s opponents savoured Gonzales’s scalp, his departure will spare the president from a political headache as he prepares to confront Congress over his Iraq strategy next month.
Last month, Democrats demanded a perjury probe on Gonzales, claiming that the White House and Justice Department were mired in legal obstruction similar to that of disgraced ex-president Richard Nixon.
He was also accused by Democrats of firing eight federal prosecutors for political reasons which has sparked a string of congressional hearings and a prolonged constitutional standoff between the White House and Congress.