Gonzales quits

ST. PAUL -- U.S. Attorney General Alberto Gonzales made the right decision by resigning, but he leaves behind a key federal agency tarnished by political controversy, Upper Midwestern lawmakers said.

ST. PAUL -- U.S. Attorney General Alberto Gonzales made the right decision by resigning, but he leaves behind a key federal agency tarnished by political controversy, Upper Midwestern lawmakers said.

Gonzales said Monday he would step down next month from his post at the Justice Department.

The announcement was welcomed by many in Congress, who during Gonzales' rocky tenure had lost faith in his leadership.

"It has been one of my greatest privileges to lead the Department of Justice," Gonzales said in a brief statement before taking no questions.

For months lawmakers of both major parties have been calling for Gonzales' ouster.


He became marred by scandals surrounding anti-terrorism programs and the firing of U.S. attorneys.

"Hopefully, this sets the stage for an attorney general who's going to obey the law," Sen. Kent Conrad, D-N.D., said of Gonzales' departure. "This guy went way over the line."

President Bush's problems with Gonzales have been as bad as any in the administration, Sen. Amy Klobuchar said, although "it is not as publicly obvious as some of those missteps they have taken."

"This is not as blatant as the Iraq war decision or the defense department or how they took the surplus and turned it into a deficit," the Minnesota Democrat said in an interview. "This one is more insidious."

President Bush on Monday continued to support Gonzales, a fellow Texan and the country's first Hispanic attorney general. The Republican president called him "a man of integrity, decency and principle," and credited Gonzales for his involvement in the administration's war on terror and for overseeing key Justice Department initiatives.

"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," Bush said.

"That's absurd," Conrad said. "Let's make no mistake. This guy is leaving because he lost all credibility."

Gonzales had supporters in Congress, but even some Senate Republicans who backed his confirmation in February 2005 later joined the call for him to step down.


Sen. Norm Coleman said the resignation "will allow the country to move forward."

"Moreover, it will allow Congress to spend time working on the major issues before our country, rather than spending time on congressional hearings regarding the attorney general," the Minnesota Republican said in a statement.

The attorney general's resignation is right for the country, Sen. Byron Dorgan said. The North Dakota Democrat said the Justice Department is "critically important" but lost credibility during Gonzales' tenure.

"I hope this resignation means the president will now select someone who is extremely qualified and who will engender a great deal of confidence as we go forward," Dorgan said.

Gonzales' resignation sets the stage for another Senate confirmation process with about 17 months remaining in the Bush presidency. Conrad said in an interview that Gonzales' successor must be confirmed well before the end of this year.

"The hard reality is there is a real threat to this country from al-Qaida ... and the attorney general is a key player in the effort to combat terrorism," he said. "We need him soon."

Gonzales' involvement with the Bush administration's anti-terrorism initiatives prompted criticism last year, when he defended government surveillance without warrants. He came under intense congressional scrutiny earlier this year after eight U.S. attorneys were removed from office.

Klobuchar, the former Hennepin County attorney, said she still does not understand why then-U.S. Attorney Tom Heffelfinger of Minnesota was on a Justice Department hit list. The only thing that has come out is that the Bush administration was not happy with his work on American Indian issues. Heffelfinger resigned before he and the public learned his name appeared on the list.


State Capitol Bureau reporter Don Davis contributed to this story.

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