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
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
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
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
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
"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
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
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.