In a five page handwritten letter to President Bush, U.S. Attorney General John D. Ashcroft announced his resignation last week.
“The objective of securing the safety of Americans from crime and terror has been achieved. The rule of law has been strengthened and upheld in the courts. Yet, I believe that the Department of Justice would be well served by new leadership and fresh inspiration,” Ashcroft wrote.
The letter highlighted his accomplishments while serving the first term in President Bush’s Cabinet. He credited himself for the curbing of crime rates, drug trafficking, prosecutions of gun crimes, and corporate crimes such as those committed by Enron and Worldcom.
However, Ashcroft is commonly noted for his anti-terrorism policies and his push for the implementation of the USA Patriot Act whose purpose was to strengthen homeland security post September 11th.
The USA Patriot Act is a document exceeding 300 pages which restructured the FBI and Justice Department by expanding their search and surveillance powers. Democrats, Republicans and civil libertarians viewed these powers as direct violations of civil liberties.
One facet of the Patriot Act involved the detainment of enemy combatants or suspected terrorists. Detainees were held without access to legal council, a strategy that was later struck down by the Supreme Court. According to the Washington Post, Ashcroft presided over the detainment and deportation of hundreds of Arab and South Asian foreign nationals who were held for immigration violations, however, the links of these individuals to terrorism were small.
Despite political pressure, health has played a major role in his decision to resign. In March he was hospitalized for Pancreatitis and as a result had his gallbladder removed.
The 62-year-old spent most of his political career as attorney general, governor, and served on the U.S. Senate in Missouri. Ashcroft also tried his hand at becoming president in 1998.
Ashcroft became a nominee for U.S. Attorney General in November 2000 after losing his reelection as Missouri governor to Mel Carnahan who later died in a plane crash prior to elections. His appointment was confirmed in February 2001.
Administration officials said Ashcroft plans to join corporate boards, deliver speeches, and work with universities in the near future. “I believe that my energies and talents should be directed toward other challenging horizons,” said Ashcroft.
President Bush has accepted Ashcroft’s resignation, but it is still undetermined who will fill Ashcroft’s seat. According to the Washington Post Ashcroft’s successor is likely to be Alberto R. Gonzales. Ashcroft however, will continue to serve in the cabinet until a formal nomination is made.
Bush also received a resignation from Commerce Secretary Donald l. Evans, a longtime friend. Evans resigned to be with his family in Texas, he is 58.