The president said, ”His sharp intellect and sound judgment have helped — shaped our policies in the war on terror, policies designed to protect the security of all Americans while protecting the rights of all Americans.”
The president added that Gonzales has been “a calm and steady voice in times of crisis.”
The president also thanked outgoing Attorney General John Ashcroft for his nearly four years of service to the nation.
“During his four years at the Department of Justice, John has transformed the department to make combating terrorism the top priority, including making sure our law enforcement officials have the tools they need to disrupt and prevent attacks,” Mr. Bush said. “In doing so, he has made sure that the rights of Americans are respected and protected.”
Gonzales, 49, said he welcomed the president’s decision and looked forward to serving the nation.
“‘Just give me a chance to prove myself,’ that is a common prayer for those in my community,” said Gonzales. “Mr. President, thank you for that chance.”
If approved, Gonzales would be the first Latino to hold the position of attorney general. He had also been repeatedly mentioned as a potential candidate for the U.S. Supreme Court, if a spot should open.
Even before the formal announcement, one Senate Democrat welcomed the appointment, telling the Associated Press he was glad to have “someone less polarizing” in the position.
“We will have to review his record very carefully, but I can tell you already he’s a better candidate than John Ashcroft,” said Sen. Charles Schumer, D-N.Y., a member of the Judiciary Committee.
The president stressed Gonzales’ humble roots during Wednesday’s announcement.
“My newest Cabinet nominee grew up in a two-bedroom house in Texas with his parents and seven siblings,” Mr. Bush said. “Al’s mother and dad, Pablo and Maria, were migrant workers who never finished elementary school, but they worked hard to educate their children and to instill the values of reverence and integrity and personal responsibility.”
A product of public schools in San Antonio, Gonzales served in the Air Force from 1973 to 1975, then attended the U.S. Air Force Academy from 1975 to 1977.
After his military service, he attended Rice University, graduating in 1979. An excellent student, Gonzales moved straight to Harvard University Law School.
He returned to Texas and worked in the private firm of Vinson & Elkins in Houston, eventually becoming a partner in the firm.
Gonzales left the firm in 1994 to join the administration of then Gov. George W. Bush, serving as the governor’s general counsel.
During this time he advised Mr. Bush on legal matters, including dozens of death penalty cases. Some of this work has come under fire from journalists and liberal legal analysts who say he did not supply the governor with thorough legal counsel, but Gonzales and his supporters have flatly rejected the criticism.
After three years as the governor’s general counsel, Gonzales was appointed Texas secretary of state in late 1997. In that role he continued to work as a senior adviser to Governor Bush, chief elections officer, and the governor’s lead liaison on Mexican and border issues.
His legal ascent continued in 1999 when the governor appointed Gonzales to the Texas Supreme Court. He was a justice until January 2001, when President Bush invited him to join his administration as White House counsel.
During the first term, Gonzales remained largely out of the public eye, outlining legal policies for the administration and defending decisions that at times drew political fire.
He also built a reputation of loyalty to the president, fighting sometimes difficult legal battles. He blocked attempts by Congress to make public details of Vice President Dick Cheney’s energy commission meetings.
He also defended the Bush administration’s right to detain terrorism suspects indefinitely without formal charges and to try suspects before military tribunals.
During one of his rare media interviews, Gonzales told the NewsHour’s Jim Lehrer, “We of course are in an extraordinary time, Jim. And these call for different kinds of measures.
“But I can assure you that we have looked at everything that’s been done by the administration carefully, from a legal perspective; everything that has been done, I think is well within the requirements of the constitution and the laws passed by Congress,” he said in the November 2001 appearance.
Months later, Gonzales also authored a controversial legal opinion that argued that the importance of gaining information about possible future terror attacks from people suspected of links to terrorist groups “renders obsolete Geneva’s strict limitations on questioning of enemy prisoners.”
When the memo became public in the wake of the Abu Ghraib prison scandal, some Democrats and others said the Bush administration had created the atmosphere for the abuse to take place.
These issues, and others, will be scrutinized when the Senate Judiciary Committee takes up the nomination in the coming weeks.