Democrats call for Gonzales investigations to continue
Democrats reacted with relief to what they saw as the long-delayed resignation of Alberto Gonzales, but Congressional leaders pledged to continue investigating the attorney general's alleged misconduct in office.
Saying the Department of Justice has suffered a "severe crisis of leadership" and has been "corrupted by political influence," Sen. Patrick Leahy (D-VT) said he hopes Gonzales's resignation will shine some light on the White House's influence over Justice Department decisions.
"The obligations of the Justice Department and its leaders are to the Constitution, the rule of law and the American people, not to the political considerations of this or any White House. ... The troubling evidence revealed about this massive breach is a lesson to those in the future who hold these high offices, so that law enforcement is never subverted in this way again," the chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee said. "I hope the Attorney General's decision will be a step toward getting to the truth about the level of political influence this White House wields over the Department of Justice and toward reconstituting its leadership."
Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid said investigations need to continue.
"Alberto Gonzales was never the right man for this job," Reid said. "He lacked independence, he lacked judgment, and he lacked the spine to say no to Karl Rove," 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."
Gonzales's resignation opens the door to confirmation hearings for a possible replacement, giving Democrats additional leverage over the White House to demand information related to ongoing investigations of political influence over the Justice Department, and the National Security Agency's warrantless wiretapping program.
The Senate has sole authority to approve Bush's nominee, but the chairman of the House Judiciary Committee, where Gonzales has testified several times, will continue investigating his and the White House's actions.
"More than accountability, we need answers. Unfortunately, the continued stonewalling of the White House in the U.S. Attorney scandal has deprived the American people of the truth," Rep. John Conyers (D-MI) said in a prepared statement. "If the power of the prosecutor has been misused in the name of partisanship, we deserve a full airing of the facts. The responsibility to uncover these facts is still on the Congress, and the Judiciary Committee in particular."
Sen. Russ Feingold (D-WI), a longtime critic of the administration's ability to protect civil liberties, stressed that the next attorney general must be someone from outside the president's inner circle.
"Attorney General Gonzalesí tenure was marked by unprecedented politicization of the Department of Justice, deception of Congress and the American people, and disrespect for the rule of law," Feingold said. "He should never have been confirmed and should have resigned long ago. The first loyalty of the next attorney general must be to the law, not the president."
Republican Sen. Chuck Hagel, who called for Gonzales's resignation in May, praised the decision.
"Attorney General Gonzales has taken the responsible and appropriate action in resigning," Hagel said in a prepared statement. "His resignation is the best thing for the country, Justice Department and the President."