WASHINGTON – Commerce Secretary John E. Bryson has resigned, WTOP has learned, but will continue serving in an advisory role to the president.
In a letter to President Barack Obama, Bryson, 68, says he chose to give up his cabinet position following a “recent seizure and medical leave of absence.”
The secretary was involved in two traffic accidents in the Los Angeles area in early June as a result of a seizure, the government said.
“I have concluded the seizure that 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 the leadership of the Department,” Bryson wrote in the letter to the president.
Bryson, a former utility executive, told Commerce staff in a department letter that Rebecca Blank, under secretary of Commerce for Economic Affairs, will continue her role as acting secretary. She assumed that position following reports of Bryson’s June seizures.
In a written statement, Obama thanked Bryson for his service, and said he would remain a member of the President’s Export Council, the chief national advisory committee for international trade.
“John has proven himself an effective and distinguished leader throughout his career in both the public and private sectors, from his success in the business world to his work leading on issues in the renewable energy industry,” Obama said.
“I am grateful that he brought that invaluable experience and expertise to my administration,” he said, “and am pleased that he has agreed to continue supporting our efforts to strengthen the economy and create good jobs by serving as a member of my Export Council going forward.”
In the letter to the Commerce Department, Bryson said he plans to “continue to do everything I can to support the President and America’s businesses as they continue to advance innovation, U.S. competitiveness, and prosperity for our people in the months and years ahead.”
Commerce’s efforts to “build our economy and create jobs is more important now than ever,” he wrote.
Bryson began a leave of absence for medical leave following the Los Angeles accidents, which left him injured and unconscious. 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.
He had not experienced a seizure before, and had “limited recall of the event,” Commerce officials said.
The Commerce Department said Bryson was taken to the hospital for examination and remained overnight for observation. He was released and returned to Washington, spokeswoman Jennifer Friedman said.
A Commerce Department official said Bryson was on personal time and did not have any security detail at the time of the accidents. He was driving his own vehicle and was given medication to treat the seizure. Bryson was cited for a felony hit- and-run tied to two Los Angeles-area traffic crashes, although he has not been formally charged.
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.
This story will update. Stay with WTOP for more.
WTOP’s Paul D. Shinkman contributed to this report. Follow Paul and WTOP on Twitter.
(Copyright 2012 by WTOP and the Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)