Alberto gets the hint

It seemed as if Alberto Gonzales was the last person in Washington to realize that his resignation as U.S. attorney general was both inevitable and overdue.

His credibility with Congress was shot and even fellow Republicans made no secret of their relief at his departure. Going back to his days as White House legal counsel, he was associated with a lengthening list of Bush administration legal missteps — the ill-fated military commissions, opting out of the Geneva Conventions, the terror memos, the rationalization of extra-constitutional powers for the president.

His testimony before Congress was legalistic to the point of being misleading when it wasn’t marked by suspicious memory lapses. While at the White House, he was a participant in one of the more bizarre episodes of this administration: A late-night attempt to get then-Attorney General John Ashcroft to sign off on a secret surveillance plan while Ashcroft lay hospitalized. He was only thwarted by the dramatic intervention of Ashcroft’s deputy and the FBI director.

The dismissal of eight U.S. attorneys may have been every bit as legal and innocent as the administration claimed, but Gonzales’ handling of it certainly made the firings look suspicious and it remains an issue for congressional Democrats.

Gonzales waited until almost the last possible minute to resign, just one week before the Labor Day deadline given senior administration officials to leave or commit to staying for the duration of the Bush presidency.

Like many of Bush’s inner circle, he was intensely loyal to the president. And as Gonzales’ tenure at the Justice Department crumbled, Bush’s reciprocal loyalty was all that sustained him in the job.

And Bush was loyal to a fault. In a statement from Texas, where he had had lunch with Gonzales, the president said his attorney general had been treated unfairly and that it was sad such a talented and honorable person had his name dragged through the mud.

But White House officials said the president did not try to talk him out of resigning. Gonzales could have spared both of them by departing a whole lot sooner.