All the papers lead with the long-awaited, but surprise, resignation of Attorney General Alberto Gonzales. The Washington Postcalls Gonzales “one of the nation’s most controversial attorneys general since the Watergate era.” In an incredibly brief news conference yesterday, Gonzales did not explain his decision and refused to take questions. “I have lived the American dream,” Gonzales said. “Even my worst days as attorney general have been better than my father’s best days.”
The Los Angeles Timessays Gonzales’ resignation “marks the end of an era in which the president relied on a small circle of advisors who date back to his days as Texas governor.” His close relationship with President Bush was clearly evident yesterday as the president described the attorney general as a victim of “months of unfair treatment.” The New York Timesnotes up high that lawmakers frequently questioned whether Gonzales “had allowed his intense personal loyalty to President Bush to overwhelm his responsibilities to the law.” USA Todaypoints out that whether “by design or not, the administration has been shedding the aides who have been prime targets of criticism.” The Wall Street Journal looks at the big picture and says the controversy over Gonzales’ tenure was really about how the Bush administration has been trying to “impose greater political control over the federal bureaucracy.” The administration tried to insert itself into almost every single part of the government, a plan that wasn’t so successful at the Justice Department, where a certain amount of political independence is expected.
For the better part of the year, Gonzales has been engulfed in fights with Congress that began over his failure to properly explain the firings of nine U.S. attorneys, which were followed by claims that he misled lawmakers when he talked about the warrantless wiretapping program, and calls for his resignation began to pour in from both Democrats and Republicans. But his incredible staying power surprised even the most seasoned Washington experts, and his resignation caught most insiders, including senior Justice Department officials, off guard.
Why now? No one really knows. Officially, Gonzales came to the decision on his own and Bush “reluctantly” accepted. According to this version, Gonzales and his wife decided they had grown tired of all the criticism. Others say administration officials quietly pushed for him to resign. The NYT also notes that Karl Rove was one of Gonzales’ biggest supporters and once he left, the attorney general didn’t have any important backers besides the president. Longtime Bush adviser Dan Bartlett tells the Post the White House always planned to make a decision on Gonzales in August.
Regardless of the reason, the resignation brought mostly praise, and big sighs of relief, from Capitol Hill. But the LAT notes that Democrats should be careful what they wish for because the resignation immediately gets rid of “a popular campaign issue: Gonzales bashing.” Although many vowed to continue investigating the problems at the Justice Department, the Post points out some top Democrats disagree over whether the investigations should continue.
The NYT says the resignation of Rove and Gonzales is a “good-news/bad-news situation” for Bush, who is now more alone than ever but could get more done without two of the most controversial Washington figures weighing him down. But the WSJ sees the writing on the wall and says that although the resignation “closes one particularly messy stage” of Bush’s presidency, “a new one may be opening: the lame-duck phase.”
The other big question of the day is who will replace Gonzales. Solicitor General Paul Clement will step in as acting attorney general when Gonzales leaves and the White House hinted that Bush might announce his pick before next week. The next attorney general will have the unenviable task of reviving a largely demoralized Justice Department where “at least six senior positions, including the top three jobs, will be held by officials in an acting capacity,” notes the WSJ. Although all the papers mention Homeland Security Secretary Michael Chertoff as a possibility, the Post plays down that choice, saying that officials aren’t eager to prepare for two confirmation hearings. There are a bunch of different names going around, but the one that makes everyone’s list is Larry Thompson, a former deputy attorney general, who would be the first black attorney general. (Slate’s Dahlia Lithwick and Emily Bazelon go through the different options).
Beyond the scandals, it’s important to remember, as the NYT and LAT do in separate Page One pieces, that Gonzales was instrumental in helping the Bush administration claim a new set of powers to fight against terrorism. Just in case you need a refresher, he’s the one who called some of the provisions in the Geneva Convention “quaint” in 2002, to name one example.
In other news, the NYT off-leads word that several agencies are investigating criminal cases “involving the purchase and delivery of billions of dollars of weapons, supplies and other matériel to Iraqi and American forces.” The Times reveals that this network of corruption is not just about the already-reported missing weapons, and so far 73 criminal investigations have resulted in 20 civilians and military officials being charged in federal court. Apparently one investigation is looking into Lt. Col. Levonda Joey Selph, a close associate of Gen. David Petraeus, although it’s unclear exactly what she’s actually being investigated for.
The WP fronts, and everyone mentions, news that Republican Sen. Larry E. Craig of Idaho pleaded guilty to disorderly conduct after he was arrested in June by an undercover officer in a men’s bathroom. Roll Call was the first to reveal the news and cited a police report that says a police officer who was investigating claims of sexual activity in the bathroom arrested Craig after a series of events that he described as sexual advances. While under questioning, Craig pulled out his business card. “What do you think about that?” the senator asked. Craig says his actions were misconstrued and he should not have pleaded guilty.
The Post fronts news that disgraced football star Michael Vick pleaded guilty to federal dogfighting charges and then apologized to the cameras. “I will redeem myself. I have to,” Vick said. “Dogfighting is a terrible thing.”