Attorney General Gonzales Resigns

Controversy plagued top law enforcement official.

ByABC News
January 8, 2009, 1:06 AM

Aug. 27, 2007 — -- Attorney General Alberto Gonzales announced his resignation Monday after months of growing criticism from Congress.

Lawmakers blasted Gonzales after his department fired at least nine U.S. attorneys last year, and they accused him of misusing terrorist surveillance programs. Most recently Democrats said that Gonzales had repeatedly lied to Congress under oath.

But Gonzales didn't address any of those charges in his statement, instead thanking his employees.

"Let me say that it's been one of my greatest privileges to lead the Department of Justice. I have great admiration and respect for the men and women who work here," Gonzales said during a brief morning news conference at the department.

Officially announcing that he will officially leave his post Sept. 17, Gonzales thanked President Bush, saying that he is "profoundly grateful" for the opportunity to serve as attorney general.

"I often remind our fellow citizens that we live in the greatest country in the world and that I have lived the American dream," Gonzales said, referring to his humble upbringing in Texas. "Even my worst days as attorney general have been better than my father's best days." Gonzales is the nation's first Hispanic attorney general.

The embattled attorney general did not take any questions from the press.

In a terse statement to the press in Texas, Monday, President Bush praised Gonzales' career and work at the department, calling the attorney general a man of "integrity, decency and principle," noting that he "reluctantly" accepted his resignation.

Though Republicans and Democrats have criticized the attorney general for a variety of missteps, Bush expressed regret over what he called "months of unfair treatment" of Gonzales, saying, "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."

Throughout Gonzales' sometimes rocky tenure, Bush had defended him, accusing his detractors of playing politics. ABC News has confirmed that the attorney general called the president on Friday to offer his resignation. Gonzales and his wife attended lunch at the president's ranch in Crawford, Texas, Sunday, at which time the attorney general submitted his letter of resignation.

There is wide speculation surrounding Gonzales' potential replacement. Justice Department Solicitor General Paul Clement has been chosen to fill the role temporarily, until the Senate confirms a new attorney general. Clement is the highest-ranking official at the department who is not involved in the fired U.S. attorneys controversy.

There are also some initial reports that Homeland Security Secretary Michael Chertoff could be named as a successor to Gonzales. Another potential successor could be former Deputy Attorney General Larry Thompson, who is currently general counsel for PepsiCo. Thompson would be the first black attorney general.

The chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee, Sen. Patrick Leahy, D-Vt., issued a statement Monday, saying that under the leadership of Gonzales, the Justice Department has "suffered a severe crisis of leadership that allowed our justice system to be corrupted by political influence."