Updated from 6:48 p.m. EST

Attorney General John Ashcroft and Commerce Secretary Donald Evans have tendered their resignations to President Bush, the White House announced Tuesday.

White House press secretary Scott McClellan said the president, who was re-elected to a second term a week ago, had accepted the Cabinet resignations, which had been widely expected.

Ashcroft, 62, headed up the Justice Department and was instrumental in the application of the Patriot Act, legislation passed after the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks that became a lightning rod for critics of the government's war on terror.

In a handwritten letter to the president, Ashcroft stated: "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. I believe that my energies and talents should be directed toward other challenging horizons."

Ashcroft, a former Missouri governor and senator, had been hospitalized earlier this year before undergoing gall bladder surgery.

Evans, 58, a native Houstonian and close friend of Bush who once was an oil industry CEO, said in a letter to the president that "while the promise of your second term shines bright, I have concluded with deep regret that it is time for me to return home."

Larry Thompson, who recently took a job as general counsel at

PepsiCo

, has been rumored as a possible successor to Ashcroft,

The Associated Press

reported. If appointed, Thompson would be the nation's first black attorney general.

Others mentioned as possible attorney general candidates are former New York City Mayor and federal prosecutor Rudolph Giuliani; Marc Racicot, a former Montana governor and 2004 Bush campaign chairman; and White House general counsel Alberto Gonzales. Giuliani issued a statement Tuesday, however, saying he was content with running his consulting firm.

The New York Times

reported that other prospects are James B. Comey Jr., who succeeded Thompson as deputy attorney general; former Oklahoma Gov. Frank Keating, who also was a candidate in 2000; and former Missouri senator John Danforth.

A possible candidate to succeed Evans is Mercer Reynolds, the national finance chairman for the Bush campaign, the

AP

reported.