First black US Attorney General in the running

US President George Bush arrives at work today knowing he needs to find a new Attorney General after John Ashcroft announced his resignation.

US President George Bush arrives at work today knowing he needs to find a new Attorney General after John Ashcroft announced his resignation.

Mr Ashcroft’s departure from the Justice Department, one week after Mr Bush won a second term in office, came as no surprise in Washington.

Meanwhile, Commerce Secretary Don Evans also announced that he was leaving the administration.

Aides to Mr Ashcroft have said recently that the deeply religious Attorney General was exhausted from his years in government.

Since the September 11 terrorist attacks, he has taken the leading role in tackling terrorism at home.

Mr Ashcroft, 62, has long been a favourite among Bush’s base of religious conservatives.

But he has come in for criticism by some Democrats and civil liberties groups for his anti-terrorism policies, which expanded rules for eavesdropping on the public.

Earlier this year Mr Ashcroft underwent surgery to remove his gall bladder.

Mr Ashcroft said in a hand-written resignation letter that “the demands of justice are both rewarding and depleting”.

He said the Justice Department would be well served “by new leadership and fresh inspiration”.

Mr Evans, considered to be Mr Bush’s best friend, said: “I have concluded with deep regret that it is time for me to return home.”

A White House spokesman said the president had accepted both resignations.

Mr Ashcroft’s former deputy Larry Thompson is widely regarded to be the front runner to head the Justice Department.

If he is appointed he would become the first black Attorney General in the history of the US.

But first, Mr Thompson must be tempted away from the private sector, which is always considerably more lucrative than government.

Former New York mayor Rudolph Giuliani has also been mentioned as a contender, but he too is enjoying success in the private sector.

He may also have his eye on a run for the White House in 2008.

Meanwhile, Marc Racicot, chairman of Mr Bush’s re-election campaign, is also thought to be in the president’s sights for a senior administration job.

The announcement of the resignations came shortly after Mr Bush’s chief of staff, Andy Card, confirmed that he would stay in the role.

The future of Secretary of the State Colin Powell is still unclear. According to some reports he may stay on for a few more months, but he has made it clear to friends that he does not wish to remain for a full second term.

Donald Rumsfeld, the 72-year-old Defence Secretary, is also widely expected to depart before the end of Mr Bush’s second term.

But his immediate future is considered safe and he may remain at the Pentagon for another year.

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