Bush Taps Gonzales,
White House Counsel,
To Succeed Ashcroft
A WALL STREET JOURNAL ONLINE NEWS ROUNDUP
November 10, 2004 1:10 p.m.
WASHINGTON – President Bush has chosen White House counsel Alberto Gonzales, a Texas confidant and one of the most prominent Hispanics in the administration, to succeed Attorney General John Ashcroft, people familiar with the situation told the Associated Press today.
Mr. Ashcroft announced his resignation yesterday, along with Commerce Secretary Don Evans, a Texas friend of the president’s.
After a National Security Council meeting, Mr. Bush was sitting down Wednesday with Secretary of State Colin Powell, another figure being closely watched for signs of whether he will stay or go. Mr. Powell has been largely noncommittal when asked about his plans.
Mr. Gonzales, 49, has long been rumored as a leading candidate for a Supreme Court vacancy if one develops. Speculation increased after Chief Justice William H. Rehnquist announced he has thyroid cancer.
Mr. Gonzales’s career has been linked with Mr. Bush for at least a decade, serving as general counsel when Mr. Bush was governor of Texas, and then as secretary of state and as a justice on the Texas Supreme Court.
Mr. Gonzales has been at the center of developing Mr. Bush’s positions on balancing civil liberties with waging the war on terrorism – opening the White House counsel to the same line of criticism that has dogged Mr. Ashcroft. For instance, Mr. Gonzales publicly defended the administration’s policy – essentially repudiated by the Supreme Court and now being fought out in the lower courts – of detaining certain terrorism suspects for extended periods without access to lawyers or courts.
He also wrote a controversial February 2002 memo in which Mr. Bush claimed the right to waive antitorture law and international treaties providing protections to prisoners of war. That position drew fire from human-rights groups, which said it helped lead to the type of abuses uncovered in the Abu Ghraib prison scandal in Iraq.
Some conservatives also have quietly questioned Mr. Gonzales’s credentials on core social issues. And he once was a partner in a Houston law firm which represented the scandal-ridden energy giant Enron Corp.
The departure of Mr. Ashcroft, a former governor and senator from Missouri, removes perhaps the administration’s most politically polarizing figure. He has been a lightning rod for criticism over his prosecution of the domestic war on terror and his use of the Patriot Act. That legislation, enacted after the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks, greatly enhanced the powers of law enforcement and has been criticized by civil-liberties advocates.
A senior Justice Department official said Mr. Ashcroft submitted his resignation in a handwritten note on Election Day, before the results were known. “He was ready to move on,” the official said. Mr. Ashcroft had grown weary in recent weeks from dealing with health problems, as well as the stress of his counterterrorism duties, aides said. The 62-year-old attorney general had surgery to remove his gallbladder earlier this year.
Mr. Ashcroft will remain in office at least through the president’s inauguration in January, if not until his successor is sworn into office. His departure could make it easier for Mr. Bush to win congressional approval to renew some provisions of the Patriot Act that are set to expire and were put off until after the election. Mr. Bush says the law is essential for pursuing the war on terrorism, which he vowed to pursue vigorously if re-elected.
Mr. Evans’s departure means the president has lost a long-time Texas confidant from his inner circle. His resignation, though, suggests that Treasury Secretary John Snow’s hold on his own job is firming. Mr. Evans had been mentioned as a potential candidate to take over Treasury. Officials said yesterday that it is increasingly likely that Mr. Snow would remain in his post to help advance the president’s second-term agenda, which includes a bid to overhaul the U.S. tax code.
Jockeying for to succeed Mr. Evans is brisk, and among the leading candidates is Mercer Reynolds, finance chairman of the president’s re-election campaign and a former U.S. ambassador to Switzerland. Treasury Deputy Secretary Samuel Bodman also is considered a potential successor to Mr. Evans. The former head of Cabot Corp. was deputy secretary of Commerce before taking the Treasury post. Also mentioned in the running is Marc Racicot, the former governor of Montana and chairman of the Bush re-election campaign.
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