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Attorney General John Ashcroft, a fierce conservative who generated controversy with his tough tactics in the war on terror, and Commerce Secretary Don Evans, one of President Bush’s closest friends, resigned Tuesday, the first members of the Cabinet to quit before the start of a second term. Ashcroft and Evans have served all four years of Bush’s administration, which has been marked by little turnover. Ashcroft said he would remain until a successor is confirmed, which could take months. Evans said he would stay well into January. In a five-page, handwritten letter, Ashcroft told Bush, “The objective of securing the safety of Americans from crime and terror has been achieved. Yet I believe that the Department of Justice would be well served by new leadership and fresh inspiration.” Ashcroft, who suffered health problems earlier this year and had his gall bladder removed, dated his letter Nov. 2, Election Day. Evans, a longtime friend from Texas, wrote Bush, “While the promise of your second term shines bright, I have concluded with deep regret that it is time for me to return home.” Ashcroft’s critics cheered his departure. “We wish John Ashcroft good health and a good retirement. And we hope the president will choose a less polarizing attorney general as his successor,” said Sen. Charles Schumer, D-N.Y. Anthony Romero, executive director of the American Civil Liberties Union, said, “Mr. Ashcroft’s legacy has been an open hostility to protecting civil liberties and an outright disdain for those who dare to question his policies.” Speculation about Ashcroft’s successor has centered on his former deputy, Larry Thompson, who recently took a job as general counsel at PepsiCo. If appointed, Thompson would be the nation’s first black attorney general. Others prominently mentioned include Bush’s 2004 campaign chairman, former Montana Gov. Marc Racicot, and White House general counsel Alberto Gonzales. Bush issued statements of praise for Ashcroft, 62, and Evans, 58, and for the policies they advanced. “John Ashcroft has worked tirelessly to help make our country safer,” the president said. “John has served our nation with honor, distinction, and integrity.” Bush’s farewell to Evans was more effusive and more personal, in fitting with their more than three decades of friendship dating to Midland, Texas, where they worked in the oil business, attended church together and met for a daily three-mile jog. Evans partied with Bush the night in 1986 when they celebrated their 40th birthdays and Bush swore off drinking. “Don Evans is one of my most trusted friends and advisers,” Bush said. “Don has worked to advance economic security and prosperity for all Americans. He has worked steadfastly to make sure America continues to be the best place in the world to do business.” A preacher’s son, former Missouri governor and one-time U.S. senator, Ashcroft was a favorite of the religious conservatives who make up a key part of the Republican political base. At the same time, he has been a lightning rod for criticism of his handling of the U.S. end of the war against terror, especially the detention of terror suspects. A former Ashcroft aide sought to dispel talk that health was a factor in the attorney general’s departure, saying the decision to leave came only after discussions with the president. “He would have been pleased to consider staying in the Cabinet,” said Juleanna Glover Weiss, who worked for Ashcroft in the Senate and is also a former aide to Vice President Dick Cheney. White House officials said neither Ashcroft nor Evans was asked to leave. Evans, 58, was instrumental in Bush’s 2000 campaign and came with him to Washington. Evans has told aides he was ready for a change. One name being mentioned for Evans’ job at Commerce is Mercer Reynolds, national finance chairman for the Bush campaign, who raised more than $260 million to get him re-elected. Meanwhile, three high-ranking Bush administration officials said they would like to remain on the job. Agriculture Secretary Ann Veneman, Interior Secretary Gale Norton and Environmental Protection Agency Administrator Michael Leavitt all said they want to continue. Washington continued to buzz with speculation about the futures of Secretary of State Colin Powell and Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld. Powell, en route to Mexico City, said late Monday he has an ambitious travel schedule in Europe in the weeks ahead in hopes of patching deep divisions stemming from the Iraq war. He gave no hint about his own plans beyond the early December meetings, although he is widely expected to leave his job at the end of Bush’s term or early in the second term. Senior aides to Rumsfeld say he would like to remain in the job for at least part of Bush’s second term. Rumsfeld told reporters at a news conference Tuesday that he had not discussed it with Bush since the election, and he did not say whether he wanted to remain. Rumsfeld ran through a list of Pentagon accomplishments during his tenure, prompting some at the White House to suggest that his remarks had a valedictory tone. But Pentagon aides discouraged the idea he was hinting at any intention to leave. Condoleezza Rice, the president’s national security adviser, is considered a possible successor for either Rumsfeld or Powell. She has let it be known that she does not want to remain in her current role in the second term, and officials say her path is up or out. Rice said a year ago she wasn’t interested in getting enmeshed in the bureaucracy at the State Department, but aides don’t rule that out now, particularly with prospects for change in the Middle East. Copyright 2004 Associated Press. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.

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