The President's CounselorThe Rise to Power of Alberto Gonzales
HarperCollins Publishers, Inc.Copyright © 2006 Bill Minutaglio
All right reserved.ISBN: 0061119202
Monsignor Paul Procella, a priest from a small parish in Texas that happens to be named after a flame-haired harlot, is ambling down the carpeted, hushed hallways of the most important floor in the U.S. Department of Justice. It is the first Thursday in February 2005. He is on a private tour of one of the most heavily guarded buildings in America, because he knows someone who knows someone. The priest, a beloved fixture at his tight-knit church in a city named Humble, has come to Washington in the dead of winter because the son of one of his parishioners is being sworn into high office.
There is a secretary sitting at a desk in one hallway.
A sign on the desk reads "Office of the Attorney General."
Never shy, the priest approaches the secretary.
"Is it okay if we just walk around?"
She raises her head: "Oh yeah. It's open today for anyone who wants to." So the priest, who presides over Saint Mary Magdalene's Church, strides deeper into the inner sanctum of America's Justice Department, the headquarters for the nation's battles against terrorism and crime. Ahead there is a large conference room area—burnished, beautiful—and the priest decides to steer inside. The room is anchored by a large table with chairs around it. The room, and the way it is appointed, suggests a clear heaviness, an intense gravity. This is where the aching nightmares of 9/11, the bloody war on terrorism, and the toxic CIA leaks would be analyzed, pondered, debated.
And then Monsignor Procella suddenly notices that there is someone in the room. There is a small, frail, seventy-two-year-old lady sitting by herself in a chair. She is not at the big table. She is off to one side as if she wouldn't deign to take her place at the center of the room. She is quietly staring and is very much alone—the smallest figure in the U.S. Department of Justice's conference room. That day, all over Washington and on the editorial pages around the country, the elected, the appointed, and the self-anointed seers of politics and power are immersed in their versions of what they consider to be the great issues. And that day the white-hot flashpoint—The One Great Issue of The Day—concerns the old woman's son. He is The Issue.
Not far from where she is sitting, her first son is being accused of torturing people with the power of his pen—but also being lauded for his loyalty, his clear thinking. He is being labeled a traitor to his culture—but also as an inspiring role model for young people, for immigrants, in pursuit of the American Dream. He is being vilified for embodying the most hideous tendencies of the United States—and he is being praised for embodying this country's unparalleled, boundless opportunities. The priest looks down at the unlikely woman occupying the Department of Justice room. The emptiness and silence are even more dramatic when weighed against the fiery events and statements searing her son up and down the corridors of power in Washington.
"Maria," gently asks the priest, "what are you doing?"
The old lady, who had once been a migrant worker in Texas, who had once stooped over in hot, dusty fields and picked cotton, who had never gone beyond a sixth-grade education, realizes she is not alone.
The priest and the mother of the new attorney general of the United States look at each other. It is 1,416 miles from Maria Gonzales's $35,600 wooden home on narrow Roberta Lane in Humble, Texas.
And not much has changed at the house since she and her late husband helped to build it in 1958. The neighborhood still has no sidewalks, no curbs. Every front yard still has a weed-riddled ditch to carry away the scummy mosquito-infested sludge that always accumulates in that dank part of southeast Texas. Directly across the street from her home, one of the other old wooden houses in the neighborhood has literally fallen down—it looks as if it just sighed one day, gave up, and simply collapsed into a Gordian knot of beat-up boards, rusted wires, and jagged glass.
"Well, I just got tired of walking and so I just sat down," the old lady finally says to the priest. She was glad her parish priest had also come to Washington to see her son sworn in. "I'm going to sit in here and rest a while."
The priest marveled at her. He once thought he knew pretty much all that there was to know about the Gonzales family and their world on Roberta Lane. The widow Maria is beyond faithful at Santa María Magdalena. She is at the church three, sometimes four, times a week. She is omnipresent inside the ever-growing Mexican-American congregation: there are thirty-five hundred families in the church; about a thousand of them are Hispanic; about three hundred of those families speak mostly Spanish, and sometimes Maria is the only one they talk to. She is one of those short, calm, older Mexican-American women who seem to always, well, to always just be there. Maria speaks only when spoken to. She is never openly questioning—never. Her loyalty is never articulated—it is just so damned evident.
"She's involved in various groups, but she's not a leader of any of them. She would not do that. Everything she does is in a support role," the priest tells people.