WASHINGTON - Resigning Attorney General Alberto Gonzales left the scandal-scarred Justice Department yesterday, declaring himself hopeful about its mission of ferreting out crime and defending the truth.
Gonzales quit after 2 1/2 years at the department amid investigations into whether he broke the law and lied to Congress. He has denied any wrongdoing.
President Bush is expected to announce a nominee next week to replace his longtime friend and fellow Texan.
In a speech yesterday morning, Gonzales said that his time at the Justice Department made him determined to fight terrorists and sexual predators and crack down on guns, drugs, and gang violence plaguing the nation's neighborhoods.
"Over the past two and a half years, I have seen tyranny, dishonesty, corruption, and depravity of types I never thought possible," Gonzales said at a Hispanic Heritage Month ceremony at Bolling Air Force Base. "I've seen things I didn't know man was incapable of.
"But I will tell you here and now that these things still leave me hopeful," he said. "Because every time I see a glimmer of the evil man can do, I see the defenders of liberty, truth, and justice who stand ready to fight it."
Later, Gonzales was feted at a standing-room-only Justice Department farewell ceremony attended by, among others, Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, Homeland Security Secretary Michael Chertoff, and former White House chief of staff Andy Card. Card's wife, the Rev. Kathleen Card, said a short prayer at the beginning of the ceremony, and former solicitor general Theodore Olson, considered a top contender to replace Gonzales, also was in the audience.
Protesters who for months had dogged Gonzales at congressional hearings and other public appearances blew party horns and shook tambourines outside the Justice Department during the ceremony.
Michael Sullivan, the US attorney in Boston and acting director of the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives, praised Gonzales as a thoughtful man "who lives the law and is deeply patriotic in his convictions."
Gonzales is "an outstanding advocate on behalf of ATF and US attorney offices across the country, and the Department of Justice as a whole," Sullivan told the audience.
It was a furor over the firings of nine US attorneys that marked the beginning of the end of Gonzales' tenure as attorney general.
The midterm firings, planned after the 2004 elections, were unprecedented in the department's recent memory and prompted Democrats to question whether they were politically motivated.
Gonzales' conflicting public statements about the ousters led Democrats and Republicans alike to criticize his honesty.