/ 28 August 2007

New blow to Bush as Gonzales resigns

United States President George Bush finally lost his battle to hang on to the Attorney General, Alberto Gonzales, on Monday after months of unremitting congressional pressure over a series of scandals that included the firing of nine state prosecutors, wire tapping and torture.

Bush blamed the Democrats, accusing them of dragging a decent and talented man through the mud for political reasons.

His loss of yet another high-profile colleague demonstrated how weak he has become at the tail-end of his presidency.

Gonzales formally announced his resignation on Monday after informing Bush by phone on Friday at his ranch in Crawford, Texas. he flew to Crawford to discuss it with the president over lunch on Sunday. Bush accepted his offer, effective September 17.

The president, though he has removed one of the biggest sores in his relations with Congress, now faces the prospect of awkward and long drawn-out confirmation hearings over a successor.

One of Bush’s closest friends, Gonzales has been the number-one target of Democratic congressmen since the resignation of the defence secretary, Donald Rumsfeld, in November. Fatally for his chances of hanging on to office, he lost the support of many Republican Congressmen, who saw him as damaging the party.

His departure leaves the Vice-President, Dick Cheney, as the only original member of the team that entered the White House with Bush in 2001. It comes only a fortnight after the resignation of Karl Rove, Bush’s chief strategist and, like Gonzales, a member of the ”Texas mafia” that had been in the president’s team since he was governor of the state in the 1990s.

The first Hispanic to reach such a high office in the US, Gonzales made a short resignation statement at the Justice Department in Washington and declined to answer reporters’ questions.

He gave no explanation for his resignation and instead stuck to effusive comments about what a privilege heading the Justice Department had been and thanked those employed there for their service. He said it was through them that ”the rights and civil liberties of our citizens are protected”.

Gonzales (52), the son of immigrants, added: ”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.”

‘Dragged through the mud’

In a short statement in Texas, Bush, who only three weeks ago said he would stand by Gonzales, described him as ”a man of integrity, decency and principle”. He said: ”After months of unfair treatment that has created a harmful distraction at the Justice Department, Judge Gonzales decided to submit his resignation and I accepted his decision.

”It’s sad that we live in a time when a talented and honourable person like Alberto Gonzales is impeded from doing important work because his good name was dragged through the mud for political reasons.”

Gonzales’s hold on office was undermined by a disastrous series of appearances before congressional committees investigating his handling of the sacked prosecutors. He repeatedly told the congressmen he could not remember key events and conversations.

The White House said Bush has not yet made a decision about who to appoint as a replacement. The Solicitor General, Paul Clement, will serve as acting attorney general.

Democrats claimed the prosecutors were sacked last year for political reasons, but the White House insisted it had been because some of them were not up to the job.

Gonzales lost credibility too when he got into a muddle over habeas corpus, suggesting before a congressional committee that it was not guaranteed by the Constitution.

He was the White House counsel from 2001 until 2005, when he took over as Attorney General. He was a controversial figure even as counsel when he wrote that parts of the Geneva convention on the treatment of prisoners of war were ”obsolete” and ”quaint”. He also indicated that torture was acceptable in certain circumstances.

The Democratic leader in the Senate, Harry Reid, said: ”This resignation is not the end of the story. Congress must get to the bottom of this mess and follow the facts where they lead, into the White House.”

The ex-team

Key allies who have left the Bush administration:

  • Karl Rove: Senior adviser and chief policy aide to George Bush. Resigned August 2007

  • Dan Bartlett: White House counsellor. Resigned June 2007

  • Harriet Miers: White House counsel. Resigned January 2007

  • John Bolton: US ambassador to United Nations. Resigned December 2006

  • Donald Rumsfeld: Defence secretary. Resigned November 2006

  • Andrew Card: Chief of staff. Resigned March 2006

  • Lewis ”Scooter” Libby: Chief of staff to Cheney. Resigned October 2005. Sentenced to two-and-a-half years in June 2007 for perjury and obstruction of justice in relation to the Iraq war

  • Paul Wolfowitz: Deputy defence secretary. Resigned March 2005

  • John Ashcroft: Attorney general. Resigned November 2004

  • Colin Powell: Secretary of state. Resigned November 2004

  • Ari Fleischer: Press secretary. Resigned July 2003
  • — Guardian Unlimited Â