Attorney General Alberto R. Gonzales announced his resignation on Monday, ending a stormy tenure at the Justice Department that was marked by repeated battles with Congress over whether he had allowed his intense personal loyalty to President Bush to overwhelm his responsibilities to the law.
Gonzales, the nation’s first Hispanic attorney general, offered no clear explanation of the reasons for his departure or its timing. The announcement caught his top aides at the Justice Department by surprise, leading to speculation among lawmakers and department officials that Gonzales may have been pressured from within the administration to step down.
In a statement to reporters Monday on the airport tarmac in Waco, Texas, as he prepared to board Air Force One, Bush said he had “reluctantly” accepted the resignation and portrayed Gonzales as a “man of integrity, decency and principle” who had been hounded from office for political reasons.
“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,” he said.
For months, Gonzales, with what appeared to be Bush’s full backing, had rebuffed bipartisan calls for his ouster and suggested that he intended to remain indefinitely at the Justice Department, possibly through the end of the Bush presidency.
The most persistent calls for his resignation came from Democrats who questioned whether Gonzales had lied under oath about his involvement in the dismissals of several U.S. attorneys. He was also accused of misleading Congress about his role, in his earlier job as White House counsel, in promoting a government eavesdropping program.
Bush said Monday that Solicitor General Paul D. Clement, the Justice Department’s chief lawyer before the Supreme Court, would serve as acting attorney general until a permanent successor was chosen for Gonzales, who is scheduled to step down Sept. 17.
White House officials said the president expected to find a successor quickly, though associates of some prospective candidates said the White House would struggle to find someone who was well qualified and could be easily confirmed.
Among the candidates, they said, were Michael Chertoff, the secretary of homeland security and a former federal appeals court judge and top Justice Department official; Christopher Cox, the chairman of the Securities and Exchange Commission; George J. Terwilliger III, a deputy attorney general under the first President Bush; Laurence H. Silberman, a court of appeals judge in Washington; and Larry D. Thompson, a former deputy attorney general who is now senior vice president and general counsel of PepsiCo. White House officials said Thompson would have special appeal as a nominee, as he would be the first black attorney general.
In the brief statement he read to reporters at the Justice Department on Monday to announce his departure, Gonzales did not explain why he was resigning or refer to the turmoil over his actions as attorney general. Instead, he focused his remarks on his gratitude to Bush and to his colleagues at the Justice Department.