WASHINGTON - Alberto Gonzales, the nation's first Hispanic attorney general, announced his resignation Monday, driven from office after a wrenching standoff with congressional critics over his honesty and competence.
Republicans and Democrats alike had demanded his departure over the botched handling of FBI terror investigations and the firings of U.S. attorneys, but President Bush had defiantly stood by his Texas friend for months until accepting his resignation last Friday.
"After months of unfair treatment that has created a harmful distraction at the Justice Department, Judge Gonzales decided to submit his resignation and I have accepted his decision," Bush said from Texas, where he is vacationing.
Solicitor General Paul Clement will be acting attorney general until a replacement is found and confirmed by the Senate, Bush said.
Homeland Security chief Michael Chertoff was among those mentioned as possible successors, though a senior administration official said the matter had not been raised with Chertoff. Bush leaves Washington next Monday for Australia, and Gonzales' replacement might not be named by then, the official said.
"It has been one of my greatest privileges to lead the Department of Justice," Gonzales said, announcing his resignation effective Sept. 17 in a terse statement. He took no questions and gave no reason for stepping down.
Bush denounced what he called "unfair treatment" that he said prevented Gonzales from adequately doing his job. He said the attorney general's "good name was dragged through the mud for political reasons."
Though some Republicans echoed Bush's veiled slap at Democrats, Gonzales had few defenders left on Capitol Hill.
"Better late than never," said Democratic presidential candidate John Edwards, summing up the response of many to the resignation.
Many Republicans welcomed the departure of the embattled attorney general, some quietly and others publicly so.
"The attorney general's decision to step down is a positive step forward for the Department of Justice," said Sen. Susan Collins, R-Maine.
"Attorney General Gonzales' ability to lead the Department of Justice had been undermined by his serious errors in judgment and conflicting statements," she said in a statement.