[JURIST] US Attorney General Alberto Gonzales [official profile; JURIST news archive] confirmed his earlier-reported resignation [letter, PDF; JURIST report] Monday, saying that he will conclude his "government service as attorney general of the United States effective as of September 17th, 2007." In a statement [text] at the Justice Department Monday morning, Gonzales continued:
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. I have made a point as attorney general to personally meet as many of them as possible, and today I want to again thank them for their service to our nation.
It is through their continued work that our country and our communities remain safe, that the rights and civil liberties of our citizens are protected, and the hopes and dreams of all of our children are secured.
I often remind our fellow citizens that we live in the greatest country in the world and that I have lived the American dream. Even my worst days as attorney general have been better than my father's best days.
Public service is honorable and noble. And I am profoundly grateful to President Bush for his friendship and for the many opportunities he has given me to serve the American people.
President George W. Bush said Monday that he was reluctant to accept Gonzales' resignation [statement], calling Gonzales "a man of integrity, decency and principle." Bush said:
As Attorney General and before that, as White House counsel, Al Gonzales has played a role in shaping our policies in the war on terror, and has worked tirelessly to make this country safer. The Patriot Act, the Military Commissions Act and other important laws bear his imprint. Under his leadership, the Justice Department has made a priority of protecting children from Internet predators, and made enforcement of civil rights laws a top priority. He aggressively and successfully pursued public corruption and effectively combated gang violence.
As Attorney General he played an important role in helping to confirm two fine jurists in Chief Justice John Roberts and Justice Samuel Alito. He did an outstanding job as White House Counsel, identifying and recommending the best nominees to fill critically important federal court vacancies.
The president also decried the "unfair treatment" Gonzales has been subject to in recent months:
After months of unfair treatment that has created a harmful distraction at the Justice Department, Judge Gonzales decided to resign his position, and I accept his decision. 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.
Current Solicitor General Paul Clement [official profile] will serve as acting attorney general after Gonzales leaves the Justice Department until the Senate confirms a new permanent attorney general.
Sen. Patrick Leahy (D-VT), chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee, said Monday that the Justice Department "suffered a severe crisis of leadership" under Gonzales' leadership [statement], which "allowed our justice system to be corrupted by political influence." Leahy said:
The obligations of the Justice Department and its leaders are to the Constitution, the rule of law and the American people, not to the political considerations of this or any White House. The Attorney General's resignation reinforces what Congress and the American people already know — that no Justice Department should be allowed to become a political arm of the White House, whether occupied by a Republican or a Democrat.
The troubling evidence revealed about this massive breach is a lesson to those in the future who hold these high offices, so that law enforcement is never subverted in this way again. I hope the Attorney General's decision will be a step toward getting to the truth about the level of political influence this White House wields over the Department of Justice and toward reconstituting its leadership so that the American people can renew their faith in its role as our leading law enforcement agency.
Meanwhile, the chairman of the House Judiciary Committee, Rep. John Conyers, Jr. (D-MI), called on the Bush administration to fully disclose information on the US Attorneys firings scandal [JURIST news archive]. Conyers said:
It is a sad day when the attorney general of the United States resigns amid a cloud of suspicion that the system of justice has been manipulated for political purposes. More than accountability, we need answers. Unfortunately, the continued stonewalling of the White House in the U.S. Attorney scandal has deprived the American people of the truth. If the power of the prosecutor has been misused in the name of partisanship, we deserve a full airing of the facts. The responsibility to uncover these facts is still on the Congress, and the Judiciary Committee in particular.
Gonzales' resignation followed months of controversy over the Justice Department's handling of the firings of eight US Attorneys and subsequent allegations that he may have perjured himself [JURIST report] in testimony before Congress.