Alberto Gonzales has resigned as Attorney General, apparently effective on confirmation of his replacement. He resigned Friday in a phone call to George Bush, but the President waited to announce it until he had a chance to meet with Gonzales in person:
Attorney General Alberto R. Gonzales, whose tenure has been marred by controversy and accusations of perjury before Congress, has resigned. A senior administration official said he would announce the decision later this morning in Washington.
Mr. Gonzales, who had rebuffed calls for his resignation, submitted his to President Bush by telephone on Friday, the official said. His decision was not immediately announced, the official added, until after the president invited him and his wife to lunch at his ranch near here.
Mr. Bush has not yet chosen a replacement but will not leave the position open long, the official said, speaking on condition of anonymity because the Attorney General's resignation had not yet been made public.
This makes the US News report from the weekend a little more credible. Someone heard that the decision had been made, and perhaps wanted to float a trial balloon through the Washington Whispers column. How did it get out so quickly? I'd bet that the White House quietly suggested Chertoff to some members on the Senate Judiciary Committee after the phone call from Gonzales, or it could have come directly from the White House to gauge the reaction.
In any case, it's far past time for Gonzales to go. No one did anything illegal in terminating the federal prosecutors, but Gonzales and his team made it into a royal botch-up anyway. Gonzales really should have resigned after telling people publicly that the attorneys had performance issues when their reviews showed that they had performed well. That set off a series of statements that Gonzales had to retract or clarify, including some in Senate testimony that made him appear as though he hardly had anything to do with running the Department of Justice.
It's been an ongoing embarrassment -- and not just for the White House, which refused to acknowledge the reality of Gonzales' incompetent handling of the DoJ. The Senate has spent months trying to nail Gonzales on some sort of crime when none occurred. The SJC, and to a lesser extent their House Judiciary colleagues, have wasted months trying to deliver Gonzmas to the nutroots crowd, and the only thing they can find is mediocrity with frequent bouts of incompetence. Had they left it at that point, they would have won the war, but instead the Democrats overpromised and underdelivered and now look like fools.
At least on that note, Gonzales made the partisan differences fade into the background. He made everyone look like fools in equal proportion.
Will the White House nominate Michael Chertoff, as rumored? I tend to think that they'll go for someone less associated with the administration, hopefully learning from the nomination of Robert Gates at Defense that going outside can have its advantages. If they do nominate Chertoff, it promises not one but two bruising confirmation battles, the second to replace Chertoff at DHS. There has to be more quality choices available, even in a lame-duck administration.
UPDATE: QandO points to an interview with Chuck Schumer saying that he would prefer to conduct the confirmation hearings in the spirit of looking forward and not backward by dredging up the controversies of the Gonzales period. McQ doesn't buy it, but I think the Democrats will be as happy to get past Gonzales as the White House. If the administration picks someone from the outside, they may get a fairly easy ride in the Senate, just as they did with Robert Gates.
A few others have mentioned a recess appointment, but that would prove so divisive that even Republicans in the Senate would object. If the administration wants to minimize confirmation conflict, they should not nominate someone who would need a second confirmation to replace in his current position.