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Bush Answers Gonzales Critics

If anything, some people close to Bush said, the attacks on Gonzales might push Bush closer to choosing him. Some conservatives came to that conclusion in deciding to mute their public comments. "I don't think a lot of these attacks are helpful, and they might backfire," said one conservative activist who opposes Gonzales.

But not all agreed. Manuel A. Miranda, former counsel to Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist (R-Tenn.), forwarded an e-mail message to journalists Wednesday outlining reported Gonzales remarks that called into question his position on Roe v. Wade , the decision establishing a constitutional right to abortion. In further comments distributed by the Free Congress Foundation, a conservative advocacy group, Miranda expanded on his criticism.

"It's not that we have anything personal against Alberto Gonzales, but he has said some things that are very discomforting," Miranda said. Free Congress paraphrased Miranda as saying that Gonzales's comments on various cases "show that he is not a movement conservative" and adding: "We don't know what he really thinks on many, many issues. That is something that conservatives on this nomination cannot tolerate."

Miranda left his Senate post last year after an investigation by the Senate sergeant-at-arms found that he and another GOP staffer had systematically downloaded and leaked thousands of Democratic files dealing with judicial nominations. Miranda denied any illegal actions.

The president's comments about the Supreme Court came during a brief news conference with reporters, his only scheduled public appearance during this international trip. Bush said he is spending much of his time reviewing the backgrounds of possible nominees and talking to staff about the candidates' pros and cons. He plans to meet with senators early next week before interviewing the candidates.

"I will let my legal experts deal with the ramifications of legal opinions," Bush said. "I will try to assess their character, their interests." While Bush initially considered announcing his pick next week, aides said there is talk of delaying the decision to protect the nominee from prolonged attacks from the left or right. Either way, Bush wants the new justice approved by early October.

Bush said the criteria for the job are simple. "I'll pick people who, one, can do the job, people who are honest, people who are bright, and people who will strictly interpret the Constitution and not use the bench to legislate from." Bush was mum on who meets such criteria.

Baker reported from Washington.

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