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Speculation follows Cabinet resignations Source: Gonzales is leading candidate to replace Ashcroft
WASHINGTON (CNN) -- The White House could announce a replacement for outgoing Attorney General John Ashcroft as early as today, a senior administration official told CNN.
Alberto Gonzales, the White House general counsel, is the leading candidate for the post, the source said.
Gonzales, a former Texas Supreme Court justice, was named White House counsel in January 2001. He had also previously served as Texas Secretary of State.
If named and confirmed in the post, Gonzales would be the first Hispanic American to hold the Cabinet position.
Also mentioned as possible nominees are Marc Racicot -- the Bush-Cheney 2004 campaign chairman and former Montana governor -- and Larry Thompson, a former deputy attorney general.
The White House announced Tuesday evening that Ashcroft and Commerce Secretary Don Evans would be leaving the administration. (Special Report: President Bush, the Second Term)
Ashcroft's resignation will become effective upon confirmation of a successor, Justice Department officials said. Evans will stay into January, according to The Associated Press.
Ashcroft, a former senator and two-term governor of Missouri, has garnered criticism during his nearly four years as attorney general on issues like the Patriot Act, which backers say helps the government in its fight against terrorism and critics say infringes on civil liberties.
In July, Ashcroft released a progress report and said the Patriot Act "saves lives" and was "al Qaeda's worst nightmare." Portions of the law are set to expire in December 2005.
His confirmation hearing in January 2000 was filled with sharply divided debate. Ashcroft's critics highlighted his longstanding conservative political and religious views -- especially his anti-abortion stance.
Yet those views have also made him a favorite of many on the right, especially religious conservatives.
Eventually the Senate voted 58-42 for his confirmation -- an usually narrow margin for confirming a Cabinet official.
Ashcroft was treated for gallstone pancreatitis in March, and his recovery kept him out of the office for nearly a month. In his handwritten resignation letter, dated November 2, he told Bush the job has been "both rewarding and depleting." (Text of resignation letter)
"I believe that the Department of Justice would be well served by new leadership and fresh inspiration," he said. "I believe that my energies and talents should be directed toward other challenging horizons."
In a statement from the White House, Bush said Ashcroft "has worked tirelessly to help make our country safer" and "served our nation with honor, distinction, and integrity."
"During his four years at the Department of Justice, John has transformed the department to make combating terrorism the top priority, including making sure our law enforcement officials have the tools they need to disrupt and prevent attacks," Bush said.
Bush: Evans a trusted friend and adviser Evans, who served as Bush's campaign chairman in 2000, is a longtime friend and one of the president's closest advisers. In his resignation, dated Tuesday, he congratulated Bush on last week's election results but said he concluded "with deep regret that it is time for me to return home."
"It is a blessing to have served America with such an extraordinary leader and a true friend," he said. (Text of resignation letter)
In response, Bush called Evans "one of my most trusted friends and advisers" and "a valuable member of my economic team."
"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," the president said.
President Bush met with his Cabinet on Thursday and held a news conference later that day. At that time Bush said he had yet to make any decisions about replacements for any people who resigned.
"I don't know who they'll be," he said. "It's inevitable. There'll be some changes. It happens in every administration."
Bush said Thursday that he was proud of every member of the Cabinet and his staff, and that he understood that they had exhausting jobs and made many family sacrifices.