WASHINGTON (AP) — Attorney General John Ashcroft, a
favorite of conservatives, and Commerce Secretary Don Evans, one of
President Bush’s closest friends, resigned yesterday, the
first members of the Cabinet to leave as Bush heads from
re-election into his second term.

Eston Bond
Attorney General John Ashcroft — who resigned yesterday — addresses participants in a Christian Coalition conference in 1998, when he was a Missouri senator. (AP PHOTO)

Both Ashcroft and Evans have served in Bush’s Cabinet from
the start of the administration.

Ashcroft, in a five-page, handwritten letter to Bush, said,
“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,” said
Ashcroft, whose health problems earlier this year resulted in
removal of his gall bladder.

“I believe that my energies and talents should be directed
toward other challenging horizons,” he said. Ashcroft’s
letter was dated 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.”

Bush issued statements of praise for both men — 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, fitting to their more than three decades of friendship
dating to the oil business in Midland, Texas, where they would
attend church together and meet every day for a three-mile jog.

“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.”

Ashcroft, 62, has been well liked by many conservatives. At the
same time, he has been a lightning rod for criticism of his
handling of the U.S. end of the war against terrorism, especially
the detention of suspected terrorists.

Evans, 58, was instrumental in Bush’s 2000 campaign and
came with him to Washington. Evans has told aides he was ready for
a change. He was mentioned as a possible White House chief of staff
in Bush’s second term, but the president decided to keep Andy
Card in that job.

One name being mentioned for Evans’ job at Commerce is
Mercer Reynolds, national finance chairman for the Bush campaign,
who raised more than $260 million to get him re-elected.

 

Speculation about a successor to Ashcroft 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.

Meanwhile, three high-ranking Bush administration officials said
they would like to remain on the job. Agriculture Secretary Ann
Veneman, Interior Secretary Gale Norton and Environmental
Protection Agency Administrator Michael Leavitt all said they want
to continue.

Washington continued to buzz with speculation about the futures
of Secretary of State Colin Powell and Defense Secretary Donald H.
Rumsfeld.

Powell, en route to Mexico City, said late Monday he has an
ambitious travel schedule in Europe in the weeks ahead in hopes of
patching deep divisions stemming from the Iraq war. He gave no hint
about his own plans beyond the early December meetings, although he
is widely expected to leave his job at the end of Bush’s term
or early in the second term.

Powell has fenced with reporters who have asked if he will stay
on the job, saying only that he serves at the pleasure of the
president.

Senior aides to Rumsfeld say he would like to remain in the job
for at least part of Bush’s second term. Rumsfeld told
reporters at a news conference Tuesday that he had not discussed it
with Bush since the election, and he did not say whether he wanted
to remain. Rumsfeld ran through a list of Pentagon accomplishments
during his tenure, prompting some at the White House to suggest
that his remarks had a valedictory tone. But Pentagon aides
discouraged the idea he was hinting at any intention to leave.

Condoleezza Rice, the president’s national security
adviser, is considered a possible successor for either Rumsfeld or
Powell. She has let it be known that she does not want to remain in
her current role in the second term, and officials say her path is
up or out. Rice said a year ago she wasn’t interested in
getting enmeshed in the bureaucracy at the State Department, but
aides don’t rule that out now, particularly with prospects
for change in the Middle East.

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