Monday, September 10, 2001 Volume 67, Issue 13


 
 









 
Gonzales discusses role as chief legal counselor

By Ken Fountain
Daily Cougar Staff

Alberto Gonzales was born in San Antonio, the son of Mexican migrant workers, and grew up in Houston as one of eight children in a house without
a telephone or hot water. Today he is the chief legal counselor to President George W. Bush.


Katie Streit/The Rice Thresher


White House General Counsel Alberto Gonzales talks about being the chief legal adviser to President George W. Bush at Rice University on Friday
night.


Gonzales spoke "very informally" about his role Friday night at the James Baker Institute for Public Policy at his alma mater, Rice University.

Before being tapped by Bush for the White House General Counsel job, he served on the Texas Supreme Court, and was then-Gov. Bush's general
counsel before that.

"I learned a lot during my two years on the Court," the soft-spoken Gonzales said. "It was a period of great personal and professional growth."

One of the most rewarding aspects of the role of jurist, Gonzales said, was it offered "time for reflection. Now my days are packed with meetings and
phone calls."

Gonzales spent most of his brief talk discussing the various duties he and his staff of 12 lawyers conduct.

One of the major duties is the "vetting," or close examination of the backgrounds, of thousands of potential presidential appointees. Gonzales said
this sometimes becomes "a true test of our diplomatic skills," as when problems arise from the past career of a candidate whom an important official
is supporting.

Another important facet of Gonzales' job is making sure members of the administration are in compliance with federal ethics laws and regulations.

"This has become one of the more popular weapons of choice of opponents of recent administrations," Gonzales said. "We all truly live and work in
a fishbowl, and some people out there would like to see it shatter."

Another duty is determining when the administration should invoke "executive privilege," the right of the president to withhold records or other
information from congressional investigations or Freedom of Information Act requests.

"The Bush administration has been accused of being one of the most secretive in history," Gonazales said. But, he said, it is really a matter of
maintaining the constitutional doctrine of the separation of powers.

Probably the most crucial and publicly watched function of Gonzales' office is the selection of federal judges, U.S. attorneys and U.S. marshals.

Gonzales said the heavy lifting of the vetting of candidates is done by "thousands of lawyers" in the Department of Justice.

He said Bush has made a priority of filling the large number of vacancies on the federal bench. He outlined the administration's criteria in selecting
judges.

"What type of person do you look for? Someone with judicial restraint, who can make decisions based on legal precedent and set aside personal
bias," he said.

Since federal judges are appointed for life, Gonzales said it is important to make "an informed guess" as to what sort of decisions they might make
over decades.

As to whether a candidate for a judgeship is selected based on his or her opinions on controversial issues such as abortion, Gonzales said, "We
consider personal feelings as wholly irrelevant. What's important is that a judge can separate personal feelings from their legal decisions."

Gonzales spoke about the distinction he draws between giving legal advice to Bush personally and professionally.

"I am the lawyer for the presidency. My first obligation is to serve the office, not the man. It's my duty to protect the institution," he said, adding that
sometimes that goal will come into conflict with what Bush as a politician might desire.
 
 
 

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