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.
Both Ashcroft and Evans have served in Bush's Cabinet from the start of the administration. Evans, a close friend of Bush's from Texas, wrote, "While the promise of your second term shines bright, I have concluded with deep regret that it is time for me to return home."
The resignations were announced by White House press secretary Scott McClellan, who said Bush had accepted the decisions of both secretaries. 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, a Texas friend of the president, 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.