Ashcroft and Evans resign from Bush Cabinet
WASHINGTON – Attorney General John Ashcroft, a fierce conservative who generated controversy with his tough tactics in the war on terror, and Commerce Secretary Don Evans, one of President Bush’s closest friends, resigned Tuesday, the first members of the Cabinet to quit before the start of a second term.
Ashcroft and Evans have served all four years of Bush’s administration, which has been marked by little turnover. Ashcroft said he would remain until a successor is confirmed, which could take months. Evans said he would stay well into January.
In a five-page, handwritten letter, Ashcroft told Bush, “The objective of securing the safety of Americans from crime and terror has been achieved. Yet I believe that the Department of Justice would be well served by new leadership and fresh inspiration.” Ashcroft, who suffered health problems earlier this year and had his gall bladder removed, dated his letter Nov. 2, Election Day.
Evans, a longtime friend from Texas, wrote Bush, “While the promise of your second term shines bright, I have concluded with deep regret that it is time for me to return home.”
Ashcroft’s critics cheered his departure. “We wish John Ashcroft good health and a good retirement. And we hope the president will choose a less polarizing attorney general as his successor,” said Sen. Charles Schumer, D-N.Y.
Anthony Romero, executive director of the American Civil Liberties Union, said, “Mr. Ashcroft’s legacy has been an open hostility to protecting civil liberties and an outright disdain for those who dare to question his policies.”
Speculation about Ashcroft’s successor has centered on his former deputy, Larry Thompson, who recently took a job as general counsel at PepsiCo. If appointed, Thompson would be the nation’s first black attorney general. Others prominently mentioned include Bush’s 2004 campaign chairman, former Montana Gov. Marc Racicot, and White House general counsel Alberto Gonzales.
Bush issued statements of praise for Ashcroft, 62, and Evans, 58, and for the policies they advanced.
“John Ashcroft has worked tirelessly to help make our country safer,” the president said. “John has served our nation with honor, distinction, and integrity.”
Bush’s farewell to Evans was more effusive and more personal, in fitting with their more than three decades of friendship dating to Midland, Texas, where they worked in the oil business, attended church together and met for a daily three-mile jog. Evans partied with Bush the night in 1986 when they celebrated their 40th birthdays and Bush swore off drinking.
“Don Evans is one of my most trusted friends and advisers,” Bush said. “Don has worked to advance economic security and prosperity for all Americans. He has worked steadfastly to make sure America continues to be the best place in the world to do business.”
A preacher’s son, former Missouri governor and one-time U.S. senator, Ashcroft was a favorite of the religious conservatives who make up a key part of the Republican political base. At the same time, he has been a lightning rod for criticism of his handling of the U.S. end of the war against terror, especially the detention of terror suspects.