President Bush nominated White House counsel Alberto R. Gonzales as attorney general, choosing his top lawyer and longtime friend to guide the war on terrorism and lead the federal government's largest law enforcement agency.

If confirmed by the Senate, Gonzales would replace John D. Ashcroft, whose anti-terrorism policies made him the focus of a fierce national debate over civil liberties.

Both Ashcroft, 62, and Commerce Secretary Donald L. Evans, 58, one of Bush's closest friends, resigned following the president's reelection. Administration sources said Education Secretary Rod Paige, 71, is stepping down, too.

The departure of Ashcroft marks the exit of one of the most controversial and influential figures of Bush's first term. Ashcroft provided reliable fodder for Democrats on the campaign trail and served as a visible representative of the evangelical Christians who played a crucial role in reelecting the president. Ashcroft -- aware of the controversy he has provoked and, according to friends, exhausted after pancreatitis in March -- preemptively offered his letter before the White House initiated a formal discussion about his future.

Gonzales, 49, would become the first Hispanic attorney general in U.S. history and place the Justice Department in the hands of a loyal Bush confidant who helped craft some of the administration's most controversial anti-terrorism strategies.

Unlike Ashcroft, however, Gonzales is viewed with some suspicion by the Republican right. By choosing loyalty over ideology in the first major personnel decision after his reelection, Bush signaled a desire for calmer and quieter times at Justice, officials said.

Evans is eager to return to Texas to rejoin family members.

-- Dan Eggen and Mike Allen

White House counsel Alberto R. Gonzales speaks to reporters Wednesday after President Bush nominated him to be the nation's first Hispanic attorney general.