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Ashcroft, Evans resign from Bush Cabinet

November 09, 2004

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

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.

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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 terror, especially the detention of terror suspects.

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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