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Commerce secretary resigns following seizure incident

Published June 21, 2012 9:41 am

Statement • John Bryson says June 9 seizure "could be a distraction from my performance as secretary."
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Commerce Secretary John Bryson said Thursday he is resigning from the Obama administration after suffering a seizure earlier this month in the Los Angeles area.

President Barack Obama said in a statement that he had accepted the resignation and thanked Bryson for the "invaluable experience and expertise" he brought to the administration.

Bryson, a 68-year-old former utility executive, served as a member of Obama's economic team and has advised the president on energy issues. He made his resignation official in a letter to Obama, dated Wednesday, and said it was a "consequence of a recent seizure and a medical leave of absence."

"I have concluded that the seizure I suffered on June 9th could be a distraction from my performance as secretary, and that our country would be better served by a change in leadership," Bryson wrote.

His resignation followed a series of traffic incidents in California earlier this month. Authorities said Bryson was driving alone in a Lexus near Los Angeles when he struck a vehicle that had stopped for a passing train. He spoke briefly with the three occupants, and then hit their car again as he departed.

The secretary then struck a second car in a nearby city, where he was later found unconscious in his car. Bryson took a Breathalyzer test that didn't detect any alcohol, authorities said.

Commerce officials said Bryson had not suffered a seizure previously and had "limited recall of the event" involved in the crashes.

In a separate message to Commerce Department employees on Thursday morning, Bryson said their efforts to help American businesses "build our economy and create jobs is more important now than ever." Obama is in the midst of an intense re-election race that will largely be determined by the fate of the economy.

The White House said Obama would meet with Bryson Thursday afternoon in the Oval Office to thank him for his service.

Bryson said he would keep supporting Obama in a "personal capacity." The White House statement did not immediately offer details about Obama's plan to find a permanent successor.

Earlier this month, Bryson transferred his functions and duties as secretary to Deputy Secretary Rebecca Blank, who is now acting commerce secretary. The president expressed confidence in Blank's ability to run the department, saying the staff would continue "putting forward policies that help our workers and businesses compete."

Shortly after word of the resignation Thursday, Los Angeles County district attorney's spokeswoman Jane Robison said that the district attorney's office has not been presented any case for review. She said the incident remains under investigation by the original law enforcement agency, the San Gabriel Police Department.

The commerce secretary post, typically a low-profile cabinet position, has been problematic for Obama since his first weeks in office.

Obama's first pick to run the department, former New Mexico Gov. Bill Richardson, withdrew from consideration because of a federal investigation into how his political donors won contracts in the state. Obama then nominated New Hampshire Republican Sen. Judd Gregg, but he also withdrew, saying he realized he had "irresolvable conflicts" with the president's economic policies.

The president finally found success with Gary Locke, the former Washington state governor. Locke served as secretary until 2011, when Obama asked him to move to China to become the U.S. ambassador. Obama then tapped Bryson to fill the post.

Associated Press writer John Antczak in Los Angeles contributed to this report.