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November 10, 2004
Ashcroft Quits Top Justice Post; Evans Going, Too
WASHINGTON, Nov. 9 - Attorney General John Ashcroft, one of the most prominent and polarizing members of the Bush cabinet, said Tuesday that he would resign, after a tumultuous tenure in which he was praised for his aggressive fight against terrorists but assailed by critics who said he sacrificed civil liberties in the wake of the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks.
Commerce Secretary Donald L. Evans, a close friend of President Bush who spent years promoting the administration's tax cuts across the country, also submitted a letter of resignation on Tuesday.
The two were the first in a series of departures from the administration that are expected before Mr. Bush is inaugurated in January for a second term.
Leading candidates to succeed Mr. Ashcroft include Alberto R. Gonzales, the White House counsel, and Marc Racicot, the chairman of Mr. Bush's re-election campaign. Larry D. Thompson, who served as deputy attorney general until last year and is now the general counsel of Pepsico in Purchase, N.Y., is a personal favorite of the president but is said not to be interested in the job, a Republican close to the White House said.
In his letter of resignation, Mr. Ashcroft indicated that he would stay in the job to ensure a smooth transition until his successor was nominated and confirmed.
Mercer Reynolds, a Cincinnati businessman who was Mr. Bush's campaign finance chairman, is a top candidate to replace Mr. Evans, the Republican said.
In a handwritten resignation letter to Mr. Bush, dated Nov. 2, that was released by the White House on Tuesday, Mr. Ashcroft said, "The demands of justice are both rewarding and depleting."
He added: "I take great personal satisfaction in the record which has been developed. The objective of securing the safety of Americans from crime and terror has been achieved. The rule of law has been strengthened and upheld in the courts. Yet, I believe that the Department of Justice would be well served by new leadership and fresh inspiration."
The resignation of Mr. Ashcroft, 62, had been widely expected, even as some Justice Department officials in recent days had suggested that he might want to stay on.
But Mr. Ashcroft had been sidelined for nearly a month last March when he underwent surgery to remove his gallbladder after a severe case of pancreatitis. In addition, he never developed a close relationship with Mr. Bush and annoyed some members of the White House staff who thought he was at times a grandstander who was overtly politicizing the Justice Department. One Republican close to the White House said on Tuesday night that Mr. Ashcroft had gotten a "strong signal" from the administration that his resignation would be accepted.
Mr. Bush, in a three-paragraph statement released by the White House, praised Mr. Ashcroft for his work over the past four years.
"I applaud his efforts to prevent crime, vigorously enforce our civil rights laws, crack down on corporate wrongdoing, protect the rights of victims and those with disabilities, reduce crimes committed with guns and stop human trafficking," the statement said. "I appreciate his work to fight Internet pornography. I am grateful for his advice on judicial nominations and his efforts to ensure that my judicial nominees receive fair hearings and timely votes."
But Mr. Ashcroft's critics were caustic. "We had an attorney general who treated criticism and dissent as treason, ethnic identity as grounds for suspicion and Congressional and judicial oversight as inconvenient obstacles," said David Cole, a law professor at Georgetown University. "He was a disaster from a civil liberties perspective but also from a national security perspective."
Republicans close to the administration said that the candidates to replace Mr. Ashcroft were still undergoing scrutiny by the White House.
Mr. Gonzales, who grew up in a poor Mexican-American family and attended Harvard Law School, was appointed by then-Governor Bush to the Texas Supreme Court. He has been central in the administration's debate over what interrogation techniques are permissible for prisoners held since the Sept. 11 attacks, and is the author of a White House memorandum in which he wrote that the Geneva Conventions were "quaint'' and not suitable for the war against terrorism.
Former Mayor Rudolph W. Giuliani of New York City was mentioned by some as a possible successor, but his spokeswoman, Sunny Mindel, said Tuesday night that he was not interested in the job.
The resignation of Mr. Evans had also been widely expected. Mr. Evans, who has known Mr. Bush for more than three decades, had made it clear to associates before the election that he wanted to step down even if the president won a second term. Mr. Evans's family had recently moved back to Texas, where Mr. Evans has been a Republican favorite to run for governor.
In his letter of resignation to the president, dated Nov. 9, Mr. Evans said, "While the promise of your second term shines bright, I have concluded with deep regret that it is time for me to return home." He added, "It is a blessing to have served America with such an extraordinary leader and a true friend."
Mr. Bush, in a statement released by the White House, called Mr. Evans "one of my most trusted friends and advisers" and "a valuable member of my economic team." Mr. Bush added: "To encourage job creation here at home, Don has worked closely with me to reduce taxes, open markets for American goods and services and promote a level playing field abroad."
Mr. Evans's departure is part of a broader reshuffling expected in the administration's economic team, which includes John W. Snow, the treasury secretary. A prominent Republican with close ties to the White House said on Tuesday that while Mr. Snow would remain for now at Treasury, he would probably step down after six months or a year.
Extending Mr. Snow's tenure would reward the treasury secretary, a 65-year-old former railroad executive who aggravated Bush campaign officials when he traveled to Ohio in October and called job losses under the president nothing more than "myths." But Mr. Snow has also been a tireless salesman for Mr. Bush's tax cuts and a cheerleader for his economic policies.
Administration officials are also contemplating a shift for Stephen Friedman, who is currently director of the White House National Economic Council. Mr. Friedman, a former top executive at Goldman Sachs, is under consideration as the United States trade representative and would be in charge of negotiating international trade agreements.
It remains unclear what will happen to Robert B. Zoellick, Mr. Bush's top trade negotiator for the past four years. Mr. Zoellick, who made progress on global trade talks and negotiated free-trade agreements with Chile, Australia and nations in Central America, had been looking for a new post in a second Bush term.
Administration officials said N. Gregory Mankiw, chairman of Mr. Bush's White House Council of Economic Advisers, was expected to return to Harvard University, where he is a tenured professor of economics. Mr. Mankiw, although well respected as an economist, badly rattled the White House and many Congressional Republicans last year when he said "outsourcing" American jobs to foreign countries was simply a new form of trade that would ultimately benefit the United States.
Republicans also said on Tuesday that Roland W. Betts, a close friend of the president and a Democrat, is a leading candidate to become chairman of the inauguration festivities in Washington in January. Mr. Betts, an owner of the Chelsea Piers sports and entertainment complex in Manhattan, has known Mr. Bush since their days together at the Delta Kappa Epsilon fraternity at Yale, and spent election night at the White House with Mr. Bush.