HIS LEGACY

Bush Loyalist Helped Shape Signature Anti-Terror Policies

Attorney General Alberto R. Gonzales's congressional testimony often drew angry reactions from senators. One told him,
Attorney General Alberto R. Gonzales's congressional testimony often drew angry reactions from senators. One told him, "I don't trust you." (By Melina Mara -- The Washington Post)

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By Michael A. Fletcher and R. Jeffrey Smith
Washington Post Staff Writers
Tuesday, August 28, 2007

The resignation of Attorney General Alberto R. Gonzales ends one of President Bush's closest and longest professional relationships, one in which an unflappable son of migrant workers served the president loyally through a period of escalating controversy over the legality of U.S. policies in the fight against terrorism.

As White House counsel and later as attorney general, Gonzales, 52, approved the framework that guided the administration's anti-terrorism efforts. He supported positions that were strongly backed by Vice President Cheney and other conservatives, but they were partly overturned by the courts and assailed by many scholars and human rights advocates.

"I remain by your side," Gonzales signed his note Sunday to the man who appointed him to state office in Texas, then gave him the nation's premier legal job and made him one of the most influential Hispanic officials in the United States.

Throughout their years together, Bush stuck by Gonzales as loyally as Gonzales supported Bush's policies. "Why would I hold somebody accountable who has done nothing wrong?" Bush asked on Aug. 9. But during the more than six years in Washington in which he interpreted the law to match his boss's wishes, Gonzales did not expand his base of support beyond the president and his inner circle.

"He had very much a one-to-one relationship with the president," said David Frum, a former Bush speechwriter. "That is where he started, and that is where he finished."

Gonzales finally succumbed to damaging publicity and withering criticism from Republican as well as Democratic lawmakers over his mishandling of the firings of nine U.S. attorneys and a series of controversial remarks during congressional hearings.

In April, he repeatedly insisted that he could not recall key events in the prosecutor dismissals, including a meeting he held with the president and Bush adviser Karl Rove. In February 2006, he said no internal Justice Department disagreement had erupted over a domestic surveillance program, even though top Justice and FBI officials had judged it illegal and threatened to resign until it was altered.

Critics regarded Gonzales's statements as marks of loyalty to Bush but not the truth, and several Democrats called for perjury investigations. During a particularly hostile Senate hearing July 24, Sen. Patrick J. Leahy (D-Vt.) told Gonzales bluntly, "I don't trust you."

Justice Department investigators disclosed in June that they were examining whether Gonzales sought to improperly influence the testimony of a former senior aide, Monica M. Goodling, a probe that could lead to a criminal referral if there is evidence of a crime.

As the controversy swirled, conservatives questioned both Gonzales's legal acumen and his ability to manage the sprawling Justice Department. "We have never seen evidence that he has a fine legal mind, good judgment, or managerial ability," read an editorial in National Review in late March. "Nor has his conduct at any stage of this controversy gained our confidence."

Conservatives were always wary of Gonzales because of his moderate positions on social issues such as abortion and affirmative action. When he became a possible candidate for the Supreme Court in 2005, some said Bush could make history by appointing the court's first Hispanic. But right-wing activists promised to oppose him.

Described by friends and former colleagues as reserved and often inscrutable in meetings, Gonzales preferred to operate in private. "He would listen and ask just a few questions. Usually, you would go to a meeting with him and not know where he stood," said John Yoo, a former Justice Department lawyer who worked closely with Gonzales in shaping counterterrorism strategy.


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