Thank you for sharing!

Your article was successfully shared with the contacts you provided.
WASHINGTON � Attorney General Alberto Gonzales � the nation’s troubled top law enforcement officer � ended speculation Monday and resigned after a months-long standoff with the Democratic-controlled Congress over his candor on several major issues, most notably the handling of the firing of at least eight U.S. attorneys. For much of the past eight months, Gonzales withstood a barrage of criticism that he had politicized the Department of Justice and misled Congress while giving testimony about the firings. President Bush named Solicitor General Paul Clement as interim attorney general to replace his longtime confidant and Texas ally. Gonzales, 52, will leave his post on Sept. 17. Gonzales’ exit is the latest in a string of high-level resignations at the department, which have left Main Justice largely devoid of leadership. Several observers used Gonzales’ departure as an opening to urge changes for the department. “President Bush should appoint an attorney general whose record demonstrates a firm commitment to the rule of law, not just to his or her political patrons,” says Virginia Sloan, president of the bipartisan Constitution Project. Some also urged Congress not to halt its examination of Gonzales’ controversial tenure. “It is by no means a reason for the Senate to stop its investigation into the Bush administration’s attempts to politicize our justice system,” says Nan Aron, president of the liberal Alliance for Justice. Others, meanwhile, came to his defense. “Although his tenure has been controversial, I believe history will judge him well,” says Noel Francisco, a partner at Jones Day in Washington, D.C., who served with Gonzales as associate White House counsel. “He has guided the Department of Justice and the government through some intensely controversial decisions to respond to the biggest issues of the day.” Gonzales, who has held the post of attorney general since February 2005, came under intense scrutiny earlier this year for his role in the firing of U.S. attorneys. During congressional testimony, he said he did not regret the firing of the U.S. attorneys but admitted that “mistakes” were made in the handling of the terminations. Critics also say he exercised lax internal oversight over expanded anti-terrorism powers, including the warrantless surveillance program and the FBI’s controversial use of national security letters to subpoena records. While serving as White House counsel, Gonzales helped to justify the administration’s aggressive policies on interrogation methods and Guantanamo Bay detainees. Perhaps most telling of Gonzales’ conduct was a hospital visit in 2004 to then-Attorney General John Ashcroft to override other Justice officials’ objections to the warrantless program. Gonzales’ loyalty and long-standing ties to Bush, which date back to Bush’s first run for governor in Texas, also damaged Gonzales’ standing on Capitol Hill. Both Democrats and some Republicans had called for his ouster. CHERTOFF ‘NOT WELL-LIKED’ In a brief statement Monday morning that made scant reference to his troubled time at the Justice Department, Gonzales thanked his benefactor. He did not take questions but recalled his upbringing as the son of a migrant worker: “Even my worst days as attorney general have been better than my father’s best days.” Daniel Metcalfe, who retired in January after more than 30 years at the Justice Department, says Gonzales’ departure will be received by career employees as “long overdue, a very positive development because it removes an almost unprecedented negative.” Metcalfe, who was director of the Office of Information and Privacy, likens the mood at the department at the time he left as “very much akin to the Watergate period.” What the department requires now, Metcalfe says, is someone who can make “badly needed repairs” in its credibility and standing in the legal community. Metcalfe says Michael Chertoff, often mentioned as a successor to Gonzales, has “a lot of baggage” both in his current job as head of the Department of Homeland Security and within the Justice Department, where he once headed the Criminal Division. “He was not well-liked,” Metcalfe says. “People in the department have long memories.” Other observers say Clement and whoever succeeds him must reinforce the commitment to professionalism and the career personnel. “Gonzales and those around him showed a lack of concern for the professional traditions of the department and a lack of respect for professional personnel,” says Dan Richman, professor at Columbia University School of Law and a former consultant to the Justice Department. A ‘REMARKABLE JOURNEY’ The embattled Gonzales, who had ridden out numerous storms during his two years as the nation’s top law enforcement official, said he told Bush on Sunday about his plans to leave office. At his news conference, Gonzales’ words were emotional, but his demeanor was calm as he spoke of the end of his “remarkable journey” in public service, thanking fellow Justice Department employees. “We live in the greatest country in the world,” he said. As abruptly as he arrived in the Justice Department’s briefing room, Gonzales turned and exited after finishing his statement, leaving reporters to shout questions to his back. His appearance lasted less than two minutes. In a statement to reporters in Texas an hour after Gonzales’ announcement, Bush praised Gonzales and thanked him and his family � wife Becky and sons Jared, Graham, and Gabriel � for their “sacrifice.” He called Gonzales a “trusted adviser,” saying he also became a close personal friend, before chastising critics and blaming politics for his departure. He had endured “months of unfair treatment that has created a harmful distraction at the Justice Department,” he told reporters at about 11:50 a.m. “It’s sad . . . when a talented, honorable person like Alberto Gonzales is impeded from doing important work because his good name was dragged through the mud for political reasons.” Bush recounted how, as Texas governor in 1995, he recruited Gonzales to become his general counsel from the Houston law firm Vinson & Elkins. Gonzales also eventually served as secretary of state and a Texas Supreme Court justice before Bush tapped him to become White House counsel in early 2001. Gonzales “played a role in shaping policies in the war on terror and has worked tirelessly to make this country safer,” Bush said. In addition, Bush cited Gonzales’ contributions to combating child pornography, civil rights violations, public corruption, and gangs while at the helm of the Justice Department. Bush also pointed to Gonzales’ role in vetting and guiding the Supreme Court nominations of Chief Justice John Roberts and Justice Samuel Alito as a major part of his legacy. In part because of his prior role as White House counsel, Gonzales handled both the legal and political considerations involved in the nominations. Gonzales has, in fact, been depicted as playing a leading role in the nomination process. In the recent book “Supreme Conflict,” which focuses on the nominations, author Jan Crawford Greenburg recounts a meeting at the residence of Vice President Dick Cheney where Roberts was first interviewed as a possible nominee. “Well, you’re the lawyer, let’s get things started,” Cheney told Gonzales. According to the book, Gonzales also went to President Bush to try to dissuade him from nominating Harriet Miers to replace former Justice Sandra Day O’Connor. It was awkward for Gonzales, because he himself was a possible candidate. But Gonzales had been convinced that a Miers nomination spelled trouble, and he met personally with Bush to head off the nomination. Bush went ahead and nominated Miers anyway, only to withdraw her name weeks later when conservatives and liberals alike revolted. ENTER CLEMENT While Gonzales had no prosecutorial experience, Clement, 40, is highly touted for his deep knowledge of the federal law enforcement system. This is not the first time that a solicitor general has served as acting attorney general. In the so-called Saturday Night Massacre at the height of the Watergate scandal, Attorney General Elliot Richardson and his deputy William Ruckelshaus both refused to fire special prosecutor Archibald Cox and resigned. Then-Solicitor General Robert Bork was next in authority, and he agreed to serve as acting attorney general and to fire Cox. Clement, a former law clerk to Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia, has the respect of the justices and has won praise as a nimble litigator before the nation’s highest court. He does not refer to notes as he speaks. First as deputy solicitor general and then as solicitor general, Clement also played a leading role in managing the extensive litigation that followed the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks, including disputes over the detention of enemy combatants at Guantanamo Bay Naval Base in Cuba. Bush said Monday that Clement would serve until a new attorney general could be nominated and confirmed by the Senate. Bush said Clement has “the respect and confidence of the entire Justice Department.” Tony Mauro is the U.S. Supreme Court correspondent and Pedro Ruz Gutierrez, a reporter, for Legal Times, a Recorder affiliate based in Washington, D.C.

This content has been archived. It is available through our partners, LexisNexis® and Bloomberg Law.

To view this content, please continue to their sites.

Not a Lexis Advance® Subscriber?
Subscribe Now

Not a Bloomberg Law Subscriber?
Subscribe Now

Why am I seeing this?

LexisNexis® and Bloomberg Law are third party online distributors of the broad collection of current and archived versions of ALM's legal news publications. LexisNexis® and Bloomberg Law customers are able to access and use ALM's content, including content from the National Law Journal, The American Lawyer, Legaltech News, The New York Law Journal, and Corporate Counsel, as well as other sources of legal information.

For questions call 1-877-256-2472 or contact us at [email protected]

Reprints & Licensing
Mentioned in a Law.com story?

License our industry-leading legal content to extend your thought leadership and build your brand.


ALM Legal Publication Newsletters

Sign Up Today and Never Miss Another Story.

As part of your digital membership, you can sign up for an unlimited number of a wide range of complimentary newsletters. Visit your My Account page to make your selections. Get the timely legal news and critical analysis you cannot afford to miss. Tailored just for you. In your inbox. Every day.

Copyright © 2021 ALM Media Properties, LLC. All Rights Reserved.