(CNSNews.com) - U.S. Attorney General Alberto Gonzales said his last day on the job will be Sept. 17.
In formally announcing his resignation on Monday, the much-criticized attorney general did not explain why he's leaving, but he did call his years of public service a "remarkable journey," and he said it's been one of his "greatest privileges" to lead the Justice Department.
Gonzales reportedly told President Bush of his decision to resign in a telephone phone call on Friday. He then met with the president in Crawford, Texas, on Sunday, where the president accepted his resignation. Word of his resignation came Monday morning from the New York Times.
Democrats and a number of Republicans made no secret of the fact that they are glad to see Gonzales go, but President Bush defended his friend to the end.
President Bush on Monday called Gonzales "a man of integrity, decency and principle" and said he "reluctantly" accepted his resignation. Bush also decried the months of "unfair treatment" Gonzales has received.
"It's sad that we live in a time when a talented and honorable person like Alberto Gonzales is impeded form doing important work because his good name was dragged through the mud for political reasons."
Bush said as attorney general and before that, as White House counsel, Gonzales has "played a critical role in shaping our policies in the war on terror and has worked tirelessly to make this country safer." Bush also mentioned Gonzales' role in confirming John Roberts and Samuel Alito to the Supreme Court.
However, Gonzales' many critics have accused him of politicizing the Justice Department, particularly in the firing of eight U.S. attorneys, and they have questioned the truthfulness of statements to Congress about National Security Agency surveillance programs.
But even some of those saying "good riddance" to Gonzales insisted his departure does not let the Bush administration off the hook.
The American Civil Liberties Union said Gonzales' resignation "doesn't put an end to the widespread abuse of executive powers" by the Bush administration.
"The White House may claim that Gonzales' resignation restores the rule of law, but if anything, his departure highlights the need for increased scrutiny and accountability," said Anthony D. Romero, ACLU executive director.
The ACLU is among those who say Gonzales "demonstrated hostility to civil liberties" and "put partisan political considerations over the rule of law."
"He spied on Americans, attempted to justify torture, and worked to strip away our most sacred rights and freedoms - all to further the president's political agenda," said Caroline Fredrickson, director of the ACLU's Washington Legislative Office.
"Congress must not accept Gonzales as the administration's latest sacrificial lamb," Fredrickson added.
Rep. Jerrold Nadler (D-N.Y.) used similar words: "The resignation of Attorney General Alberto Gonzales does not absolve the Bush administration of its various abuses of power," Nadler said in a news release.
"I have long called for the attorney general to resign, but with the full understanding that he must not become the sacrificial lamb of this White House. Mr. Gonzales is but one actor in the administration's ongoing campaign to evade, ignore and undermine the Constitution."
Nadler said he still wants a special prosecutor to be appointed to investigate the attorney general's allegedly false statements to Congress and to investigate the apparent criminal violations of law involving the National Security Agency's warrantless wiretapping program.
Rep. Chris Van Hollen (D-Md.), chairman of Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee, said he hopes the departures of Harriet Miers, Karl Rove and now Alberto Gonzales will allow the Justice Department to "get back to enforcing our laws without regard to partisanship."
Sen. Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.), one of Gonzales' leading critics in the Senate, said he hopes the resignation "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 so that the American people can renew their faith in its role as our leading law enforcement agency."
In one of the kinder comments, Senate Republican Leader Mitch McConnell thanked Gonzales for his public service and wished him well.
"It is my hope that whomever President Bush selects as the next attorney general, he or she is not subjected to the same poisonous partisanship that we've sadly grown accustomed to over the past eight months," McConnell said.
President Bush said he's asked Solicitor General Paul Clement to serve as acting attorney general until a permanent replacement is named.
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