Monday, August 27, 2007

MONDAY EXTRA: Another Political Blow to Bush As Gonzales Abruptly Resigns

Embattled Attorney General's Surprise Announcement That He'll Step Down on September 17 Catches Bush Off-Guard After Months of Resisting Bipartisan Demands That He Quit; Reasons For His Sudden Departure Unknown


Attorney General Alberto Gonzales announces his resignation during a news conference Monday at the Justice Department headquarters in Washington. (Photo: Jim Bourg/Reuters)

By Matt Apuzzo
The Associated Press

WASHINGTON -- Embattled U.S. Attorney General Alberto Gonzales abruptly resigned Monday — stunning official Washington and ending a nasty, months-long standoff between the White House and Congress over his honesty and competence at the helm of the Justice Department.

Republicans and Democrats alike had demanded his resignation over the botched handling of FBI terror investigations and the highly controversial firings of nine U.S. attorneys, but President Bush had defiantly stood by his Texas friend until he accepted his resignation on Friday.

Gonzales' departure comes just days after White House Press Secretary Tony Snow -- who announced his own resignation a week ago Sunday -- predicted that there would be "a couple" of other high-profile Executive Branch officials stepping down in what observers inside the Beltway say is an accelerating exodus of high-level Republican bigwigs in the Bush administration and in Congress.

Outgoing AG Refuses to Give Reason for His Departure

"It has been one of my greatest privileges to lead the Department of Justice," Gonzales said, announcing his resignation, effective September 17, in a terse statement to reporters a the Justice Department headquarters. He declined to state a reason for his decision to step down and took no questions.

Solicitor General Paul Clement will be acting attorney general until a replacement is found, said administration officials who spoke on condition of anonymity to avoid pre-empting the announcement.

Homeland Security chief Michael Chertoff was among those mentioned as possible successors. However, a senior administration official said the matter had not been raised with Chertoff. Bush leaves Washington next Monday for Australia, and Gonzales' replacement might not be named by then, the official said.

Democrats Say 'Good Riddance,' Republicans Hope Successor Will Be Better

"Better late than never," said Democratic presidential candidate John Edwards, summing up the response of many in Washington to Gonzales' resignation. Republicans reacted cautiously.

Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, who offered only muted support for the attorney general when some Republicans called for Gonzales' resignation, on Monday largely blamed his troubles on Democrats.

"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 (R-Kentucky) said in a statement.

Gonzales, the former White House counsel who served more than two years at the Justice Department, reflected on his up-from-the-bootstraps life story, the son of migrant farm workers from Mexico who didn't finish elementary school.

"Even my worst days as attorney general have been better than my father's best days," Gonzales said.

Bush Caught Off-Guard After Defiantly Standing By Gonzales for Months

There were indications that Gonzales' departure came suddenly and caught the president off-guard. Bush normally handles Cabinet resignations with efficiency, only allowing news of them to leak when a successor has been chosen and appearing with both the person departing and the replacement when the public announcement was made. That was not to be the case this time, the official said.

Bush steadfastly — and at times angrily — refused to give in to critics, even from his own GOP, who argued that Gonzales should go. Earlier this month at a news conference, the president grew irritated when asked about accountability in his administration and turned the tables on the Democratic Congress.

"Implicit in your questions is that Al Gonzales did something wrong. I haven't seen Congress say he's done anything wrong," Bush said testily.

Gonzales, 52, called Bush on Friday to inform him of his resignation, according to a senior administration official who spoke on condition of anonymity to not pre-empt Gonzales' statement. The president had Gonzales come to lunch at his ranch on Sunday as a parting gesture.

Gonzales, whom Bush once considered for appointment to the Supreme Court, is the fourth top-ranking administration official to leave since the November 2006 elections, which saw Democrats take control of Congress.

Donald Rumsfeld, an architect of the Iraq war, resigned as defense secretary one day after the election. Paul Wolfowitz, a former deputy defense secretary under Rumsfeld, agreed in May to step down as president of the World Bank after an ethics inquiry.

And top Bush adviser Karl Rove and White House Press Secretary Snow earlier this month announced within days of each other that they, too, were stepping down.

Departure Unlikely to Stop Probes of U.S. Attorney Firings

Reacting to Monday's developments, Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Patrick Leahy (D-Vermont) said that Gonzales' department had "suffered a severe crisis of leadership that allowed our justice system to be corrupted by political influence."

Gonzales could not satisfy critics who said he had lost credibility over the Justice Department's handling of warrantless wiretaps related to the threat of terrorism and the firings of several U.S. attorneys.

As attorney general and earlier as White House counsel, Gonzales pushed for expanded presidential powers, including the eavesdropping authority. He drafted controversial rules for military war tribunals and sought to limit the legal rights of detainees at Guantanamo Bay — prompting lawsuits by civil libertarians who said the government was violating the Constitution in its pursuit of terrorists.

But it was the flap over the fired federal prosecutors that proved to be the final straw for Gonzales, whose truthfulness in testimony to Congress was drawn into question by lawmakers of both parties.

Democrats believe the dismissals of the federal prosecutors appeared to be politically motivated, and some of the fired U.S. attorneys said they felt pressured to investigate Democrats before elections. Gonzales maintained that the dismissals were based the prosecutors' lackluster performance records.

"Alberto Gonzales was never the right man for this job. He lacked independence, he lacked judgment, and he lacked the spine to say no to Karl Rove," said Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nevada). "This resignation is not the end of the story. Congress must get to the bottom of this mess and follow the facts where they lead, into the White House."

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Volume II, Number 43
Monday News Extra Copyright 2007, The Associated Press.
The 'Skeeter Bites Report Copyright 2007, Skeeter Sanders. All rights reserved.


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Statue of Dr. King at His D.C. Memorial to Bear 'Made in China' Label

Three-Story-Tall Granite Statue of Civil Rights Leader That Will Be Unveiled a Year From Now Is Being Made By a Renowned Chinese Sculptor Famous for His Giant Statue of Mao -- But Not Everyone Is Happy About It


Master sculptor Lei Yixin of China works on a scale model of the "Stone of Hope," a piece he has created which will be the centerpiece of the Martin Luther King, Jr. Memorial, which will be dedicated a year from now, on the 45th anniversary of the 1963 March on Washington. The selection of the Chinese sculptor to carve what will be a three-story monument to Dr. King on the National Mall is creating a controversy over just what part of the civil rights icon's legacy should be celebrated. (Photo courtesy MLK National Memorial Foundation via AP)

By Skeeter Sanders

Four and a half decades after making his "I Have a Dream" speech from the steps of the Lincoln Memorial in Washington -- recordings of which still give goosebumps to listeners who are old enough to have heard the speech either in person or on live television -- the visage of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. will return to the nation's capital.

A three-story-tall statue of the civil rights icon will be unveiled as part of ceremonies dedicating the Martin Luther King Memorial. The sculpture is being made in China by a man famous for his giant statue of Mao Tse-tung in Beijing.

The King memorial will be dedicated one year from this week, on the 45th anniversary of the 1963 March on Washington, where Dr. King delivered his soul-stirring speech on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial before more than 200,000 people. Millions more watched the speech on live television.

But not everyone is happy with the thought of the King statue bearing, at least figuratively, the "Made in China" label.

A growing chorus of mostly African American critics are questioning why a black sculptor wasn't commissioned to create the King memorial, which will be located on the National Mall between the Lincoln and Jefferson memorials.

King promoted peace and understanding among all people, these critics acknowledge. His primary fight, however, was to win particular opportunities for African Americans by juxtaposing the plight of an oppressed people against a message of freedom and democracy, they said.

International human-rights activists have joined in the criticism, arguing that the statue should not have been commissioned to a sculptor who hails from a country with a poor human-rights record -- let alone one who's famous for his giant statue of what many anti-communist hard-liners brand "the Butcher of Beijing."

The King statue, dubbed the "Stone of Hope," is being sculpted from a 30-foot block of granite from China's southeastern Fujian province, chosen for its beige color and stability. Coupled with two other granite pieces, the work will weigh a combined 1,000 metric tons and will be transported to the United States by barge.

For Some, a 'Slap in the Face' of the African American Creative Community

"They keep saying King was for everyone," Gilbert Young, an Atlanta-based African American artist, told The Associated Press. "I keep telling people, 'No, King wasn't for everyone. King was for fairness and justice.'

"I believe that black artists have the right to interpret ourselves first," Young continued. "If nobody steps up to the plate to do that, then certainly pass it along to someone else." Young has launched a Web site and a petition drive aimed at having the statue made by someone else -- preferably an African American sculptor.

The MLK National Memorial Foundation committee that selected Lei to sculpt the statue -- ten of whose 12 members are black -- appears to have been taken aback by the criticism. They said that the overall project is being conducted by a black-owned construction company and that two African American sculptors are working with Lei on the statue's design.

'Dr. King Would Never Condone China's Human-Rights Policies'

The choice of Lei as the sculptor has also come under fire from human-rights and pro-democracy advocates.

Ann Lau, a human-rights activist who was born and raised in China but who now lives in the United States, reacted with outrage over the choice of Lei for the King statue, telling The AP that Dr. King "would never condone" Beijing's policies.

"The granite used for the statue is probably being mined by workers laboring in unsafe and unfair conditions," she said. "The whole thing is wrong. We are going to be permanently connecting Dr. King with someone whose ideology is totally opposed to Dr. King's ideology."

While Lau, Young and other critics acknowledge that the King Memorial, which carries a $100 million price tag, has been financed entirely with private donations, they argue that the public should have a say in who is working on the project, on the grounds that it is being constructed on publicly-owned, taxpayer-supported land and will ultimately be maintained by the National Park Service.

King's Speech an Inspiration Even to the Communist Party, Lei Says

"Martin Luther King belonged to the whole world," Lei said during an interview in May with the French news agency Agence France-Presse in his studio in central China's Hunan province. "His spirit, his ideas and his influence do not belong to one country alone. They are worldwide."

Lei said he first heard of Dr. King as a middle-school student in the 1960s when the Communist Party had students read his "I Have a Dream" speech, which the Beijing government viewed as "an eloquent summation of the social equality" the party espoused, according to the sculptor. "I was very moved," he said.

Famous for his towering statue of Mao, with his arm outstretched overlooking Beijing -- and which remains one of Beijing's most popular tourist attractions -- the 53-year-old Lei is considered one of China's greatest sculptors. He was designated a master sculptor by the Chinese government and is one of nine artists in the field who are considered national treasures in China.

Even the North Koreans paid an imitation-is-the-sincerest-form-of-flattery tribute to Lei by erecting a giant statue of its late "Great Leader," Kim Il-sung, in the same pose as the Mao sculpture, overlooking the North Korean capital, Pyongyang.

Lei admits being "humbled" by the King project. "This is the most important project I've ever done," he said. The walls of Lei's studio are covered with dozens of photographs of King to help him soak up the civil rights leader's image.

While Lei said he was "greatly honored" to be commissioned to sculpt the King statue, he acknowledged the controversy over his selection. "I deeply understand [the furor] because Martin Luther King is a hero for black Americans," Lei told The AP by telephone on Friday.

But, he added, "Martin Luther King hoped that everyone would be brothers and sisters, no matter the color of their skin or their social status, that they would all enjoy the same opportunities and rights. ... I want my sculpture to show that Martin Luther King fought for democracy."

Lei's Selection 'Almost By Accident'

According to Ed Jackson, Jr., the chief architect of the King Memorial, it was only by chance that officials of the MLK National Memorial Foundation found Lei in June of last year when they attended an international granite-carving festival in Minnesota to seek top sculptors interested in the job.

"Obviously, they [the sculptors at the festival] all said yes," said Jackson. "But to our surprise, they all said 'you should talk to that guy over there,' and pointed to Mr. Lei," who was under a tree, taking his customary afternoon nap after finishing his festival sculpture ahead of everyone else.

Jackson credits Lei's "genius and vision" for making important changes to the King sculpture's planned design. The monument is scheduled to be completed in 2009.

Dr. King Looked Beyond Race -- And So Should Us All, Says Head of Memorial

The MLK National Memorial Foundation reacted to the criticism by pointing to a quotation by Dr. King that to achieve peace, human beings must "transcend race, our tribe, our class, and our nation; and this means we must develop a world perspective."

That quotation will be among many made by Dr, King that will be sculpted into the monument.

"The bottom line is Dr. King's message that we should judge a person not by the color of his skin but by the content of his character," said Harry Johnson, the foundation's president and CEO. "In this situation, we're talking about the artistic character."

Johnson asked why the foundation should hold Lei accountable for the Chinese government's actions on human rights. "I think you have to take this away from the [Beijing] government," he said. "We didn't question Lei about his politics or his ideology. We questioned him about whether he could do the work."

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Volume II, Number 42
Copyright 2007, Skeeter Sanders. All rights Reserved.


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