GWEN IFILL: President Bush moved quickly today to replace Attorney General John Ashcroft, who offered his resignation on Election Day.
PRESIDENT GEORGE W. BUSH: With the Senate's approval, Judge Gonzales will succeed another superb public servant, Attorney General John Ashcroft. Attorney General John Ashcroft has served with excellence during a demanding time.
GWEN IFILL: Ashcroft's conservative stands on many issues made him a lightning rod throughout the president's first term. The former senator and two-term Missouri governor drew fire for his support for the USA Patriot Act. That law, enacted after the Sept. 11 attacks, dramatically increased the government's enforcement and surveillance powers.
PRESIDENT GEORGE W. BUSH: In four years, he's reorganized the Department of Justice to meet the new threat of terrorism. He's fairly and forcefully applied the Patriot Act and helped to dismantle terrorist cells inside the United States. During his watch, violent crime has dropped to a 30-year low, and prosecutions of crimes committed with guns have reached an all-time high.
Drug use amongst our students is down. Confidence in the financial markets has been restored because the attorney general aggressively prosecuted corporate fraud. And thanks to John Ashcroft's leadership, America has stepped up its efforts to prosecute the cruel exploitation of children by Internet pornographers. The nation is safer and more just today because John Ashcroft has served our country so well.
GWEN IFILL: The man tapped to replace Ashcroft has long ties to President Bush.
PRESIDENT GEORGE W. BUSH: I'm pleased to announce my nomination of Judge Al Gonzales to be the attorney general of the United States. This is the fifth time I have asked Judge Gonzales to serve his fellow citizens, and I am very grateful he keeps saying yes. Over the past decade, I've also come to know the character of this man. He always gives me his frank opinion. He is a calm and steady voice in times of crisis. He has an unwavering principle of respect for the law.
GWEN IFILL: Gonzales has been White House counsel since 2001, and Mr. Bush previously appointed Gonzales to the Texas Supreme Court. In the mid-1990s, Gonzales also served as Texas secretary of state and as then-Governor Bush's general counsel. A graduate of Rice University and Harvard Law School, the 49 year-old Gonzales would be the first Hispanic attorney general.
ALBERTO GONZALES: I do look forward, if confirmed, to continue to work with my friends and colleagues in the White House in a different capacity on behalf of our president as we move forward to make America better, safer and stronger. As a former judge, I know well that some government positions require a special level of trust and integrity. The American people expect and deserve a Department of Justice guided by the rule of law, and there should be no question regarding the Department's commitment to justice for every American.
On this principle there can be no compromise. Finally, to our president, when I talk to people around the country, I sometimes tell them that within the Hispanic community there is a shared hope for an opportunity to succeed. "Just give me a chance to prove myself." That is the common prayer for those in my community. Mr. President, thank you for that chance.
GWEN IFILL: Gonzales came under fire from human rights groups in 2002 after writing a memo that defined the treatment of prisoners in Afghanistan and Iraq. In the document, President Bush claimed the right to waive anti- torture law and international treaties providing protections to prisoners of war; the document called the Geneva Conventions "quaint." Gonzales must be confirmed by the Senate.