Ashcroft likely to leave post

WASHINGTON – Attorney General John Ashcroft is likely to leave his post before the start of President Bush’s second term, senior aides said Thursday.

Ashcroft, 62, is described as exhausted from leading the Justice Department in fighting the domestic war on terrorism since the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks. Stress was a factor in Ashcroft’s health problems earlier this year that resulted in removal of his gall bladder.

Ashcroft is expected to resign before Bush’s Jan. 20 inauguration, said aides who spoke only on condition of anonymity. They said there is a small chance he would stay on, at least for a short time, if Bush asked him.

The attorney general has not officially informed his staff of his future plans, spokesman Mark Corallo said.

At a news conference, Bush said he hasn’t made any decisions about his Cabinet.

Ashcroft, a former two-term governor and senator from Missouri, has long been a favorite among Bush’s base of religious conservatives. He also is a lightning rod for Democrats and other critics on issues ranging from the anti-terrorism Patriot Act, which expanded rules for eavesdropping, to abortion rights and gun control.

Names that have been floated in recent weeks as a possible replacement include Ashcroft’s former deputy, Larry Thompson, who would become the first black attorney general. Others include Marc Racicot, who was Bush’s campaign manager, and White House general counsel Alberto Gonzales, who would give Bush a notable Hispanic appointment.

Also sometimes mentioned is former New York Mayor Rudolph Giuliani, but his spokeswoman said he’s not interested. “Rudy Giuliani is not taking John Ashcroft’s job,” Sunny Mindel said.

Mindel said Giuliani is committed to the success of his business and government consulting firm.

Giuliani, a former prosecutor, is considered a possible presidential contender in 2008. Those political aspirations could be hampered by the controversies inherent in the top Justice Department job.