Along with Secretary Powell, Energy Secretary Spencer Abraham, Agriculture Secretary Ann Veneman and Education Secretary Rod Paige have submitted resignation letters.
They join Attorney General John Ashcroft and Commerce Secretary Don Evans, who resigned last week. In all, six of President Bush’s 15 Cabinet members have resigned. The only replacement named thus far is Alberto Gonzales, the current White House counsel, whom the president tapped to take Ashcroft’s place.
Powell reportedly submitted his resignation to the president on Friday and told senior State Department staff Monday morning.
“I believe that now that the election is over, the time has come for me to step down,” Powell wrote to the president. “I am pleased to have been part of a team that launched the global war against terror, liberated the Afghan and Iraqi people.”
Powell’s resignation comes as the Bush administration is poised to mount a new peace effort in the Middle East, following the death of Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat. Powell is scheduled to travel to the Middle East this month to meet with newly named Palestinian leaders.
The White House said Powell would stay on until a replacement is named.
Powell, the highest ranking member of the president’s Cabinet, was widely considered a political moderate among his solidly conservative Cabinet counterparts and reportedly clashed at times with Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld over how to conduct the war in Iraq.
“Secretary Powell’s departure is a loss to the moderate internationalist voices in the Bush administration,” said New Mexico Gov. Bill Richardson, former U.N. ambassador in the Clinton administration. “Hopefully, his replacement will be a pragmatist rather than an ideologue.”
Before the Iraq war Powell led the U.S. effort to convince the world that Iraqi dictator Saddam Hussein had weapons of mass destruction. He said he spent “four days and four nights” sifting through evidence provided by the CIA before presenting courtroom type presentation, complete with photos and recordings of Iraqi military radio transmissions, to the United Nations General Assembly on Feb. 5, 2003.
“There was a huge intelligence collection effort with all of our agencies working together to come up with the body of knowledge that we took to the U.N. and that we had been presenting before the world for a long period of time,” Powell told the NewsHour in April 2003. Powell said at the time that he was confident U.S. troops in Iraq would find weapons of mass destruction.
In March 2004 Powell told the NewsHour he was surprised that no major weapons stockpiles had been found in Iraq.
“We had solid reason to believe, and when I sat out at the CIA for four days getting ready for the presentation that I was to make at the United Nations, I didn’t just take what was shoved at me,” Powell said. “We had an intense debate for all of those days to make sure that I was comfortable, and the director was again comfortable with the holdings, if I can put it that way, of the intelligence community. It was the same information that was presented to the Congress in a National Intelligence Estimate earlier. That was the belief of the intelligence community, and they had a sound basis for that belief.”
Powell has said that the removal of Saddam Hussein was justified, even if the dictator had no major illegal weapons stockpiles.
“We believe, from everything we have been told by the intelligence community, by 12 years of history with Iraq, by the experience of the U.N. inspectors and by other intelligence agencies in other countries that Saddam Hussein had the intention to develop weapons of mass destruction and to have such weapons, and that was a sound judgment which I still believe to this day because he had had them in the past, he’d used them in the past,” Powell told the NewsHour in March.
Powell spent 35 years in the U.S. Army before becoming secretary of state. He retired from the Army as a four-star general and chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff.
While JCS chairman, Powell planned and directed U.S. military action in the first Gulf War. Powell was the first African American to serve as secretary of state.
The president gave no hint of Powell’s replacement or replacements for the other departing Cabinet members.
As energy secretary, Spencer Abraham served on a controversial task force chaired by Vice President Dick Cheney, which the president convened in order to draft a new national energy policy.
The attendees and business of the task force meetings were kept confidential by the administration.
The secrecy of the meetings was challenged in court by administration critics who said energy industry officials and lobbyists exerted undue influence over the task force.
The Supreme Court sided with the White House, ruling executive branch officials may receive confidential counsel from whomever they wish.
The national energy policy calls for increasing both the output and conservation of key energy sources and the development of new sources. The plan calls for oil drilling in the Alaska National Wildlife Refuge and the development of alternative energy sources such as solar and hydrogen power.
Abraham also pushed for a single U.S. depository of nuclear waste to be based at Yucca Mountain in Nevada. The Yucca Mountain proposal was approved by bipartisan majorities in both houses of Congress but was opposed by the majority of Nevada lawmakers.
With Russian counterparts, Abraham also created a nonproliferation working group aimed at containing and securing nuclear materials.
Education Secretary Rod Paige, the first African American to serve in that post, was best known for championing the president’s No Child Left Behind legislation, which the administration said was designed to hold schools accountable for educating children.
The plan initially received bipartisan support but some Democrats later criticized the president, saying he had not provided enough funding to fully implement it.
Agriculture Secretary Ann Veneman, the first woman to hold the post, oversaw the implementation of new free trade policies, shepherded a major agriculture bill through Congress, and managed foot-and-mouth disease and mad cow disease scares in the United States.