(AP) - Former U.S. Attorney for Minnesota Tom Heffelfinger, who wound up on a list of U.S. attorneys considered for dismissal, said Monday he had mixed emotions about Attorney General Alberto Gonzales' resignation.
"The big question is which will be harder on the Department of Justice," Heffelfinger said in a telephone interview. "Staying with an attorney general who is under constant fire, vs. not having an embattled attorney general, but now having to go through a confirmation fight and a search."
Gonzales announced his resignation on Monday, ending a long battle with members of Congress over his honesty and competence.
Both Minnesota senators, Republican Norm Coleman and Democrat Amy Klobuchar, had called on the attorney general to step down.
Heffelfinger said he thinks it will be difficult to find a replacement. Until one is found, Solicitor General Paul Clement will be acting attorney general.
In May, the department's former White House liaison, Monica Goodling, testified that the department had concerns that Heffelfinger was spending too much time on American Indian issues, particularly as head of a Native American subcommittee.
Heffelfinger has expressed outrage at that rationale, but in the interview he said those Justice Department concerns were likely from subordinates rather than Gonzales himself.
"I had dealings with him for about a year on Native American issues," Heffelfinger said. "He seemed to be sensitive to those issues. I don't know that people underneath him were."
Heffelfinger also didn't blame Gonzales for his placement on the list, saying he didn't think the attorney general compiled it.
Heffelfinger said he liked Gonzales personally, calling him a "a nice man."
But asked if Gonzales was a good attorney general, he responded, "That's a value judgment I'm not going to go into."
Heffelfinger said he was surprised that Gonzales would resign this late into President Bush's second term.
(Copyright 2007 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)