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This is MORNING EDITION from NPR News. I'm Renee Montagne.
STEVE INSKEEP, host:
And I'm Steve Inskeep.
In the minds of his critics, Attorney General Alberto Gonzales ceased to be effective long ago. Now he's resigning. An announcement comes later this morning. And as we wait, we'll get the latest from NPR's Cokie Roberts and from a reporter who's covered Gonzales back to his days as a Texas judge.
We begin at the White House, where NPR's Don Gonyea is covering this story. And Don, what are you hearing at the White House today?
DON GONYEA: Well, we got the official confirmation of this surprise announcement this morning, and you get the sense that even though the White House seemed just determined to ride with Gonzales, that he was going to weather anything that he could take, anything that the Congress threw at him in regards to the U.S. attorney controversy and other things, that they were determined to ride it out.
But there seems to have been a calculation made that if the president wants to get anything done, have any kind of a meaningful relationship with the Congress in this last year-plus, that this is something that had to happen.
INSKEEP: You mentioned the firings of U.S. attorneys. There were other controversies involving surveillance programs and whether Gonzales was truthful before Congress. And I have to ask how big a blow it is to the administration that the Democrats and Republicans alike turned against this man?
GONYEA: You can argue that, yeah, that the damage with Gonzales took place well before this today, but that was something that the administration really was very disappointed by, the degree to which that they did not have kind of full, uniform support in the Congress, that key senators, not just Senator Arlen Specter from Pennsylvania, but others were openly calling for Gonzales to resign, going back months now. But again, it's just another sign of where this administration is...
GONYEA: ...on Iraq and other things.
INSKEEP: Don, stay with us for a moment, if you would. I'd like to review who this man is. We're going to go to Wayne Slater. He's a reporter for The Dallas Morning News. He covered George W. Bush as governor of Texas and then as a presidential candidate and then as president.
Wayne, good morning.
Mr. WAYNE SLATER (The Dallas Morning News): Good morning, Steve.
INSKEEP: How close have these two men been - President Bush and Alberto Gonzales?
Mr. SLATER: Very, very close. Unlike Karl Rove, who was sort of the political guru behind the president, Al Gonzales was sort of a person who George Bush thought represented the best in America, in the sense that he had this up-from-the-bootstraps back story, that the child of a very poor family who went to Harvard and went to a bluestocking law firm in Houston. I remember talking to George Bush as governor and how pleased he was to name Al Gonzales, who was then his general counsel, to the Texas Supreme Court. It really in his mind was something that showed the greatness of America.
INSKEEP: You have this man who is now associated with controversial policies, who's been accused of not telling the truth before Congress - a very controversial figure. Was that his image when he was an official in Texas?
Mr. SLATER: Absolutely not. He had a fairly low profile in Texas, but he was seen clearly as a Bush loyalist. Very early on, he represented Bush in those areas in the president's - the governor's office and those areas where a loyalist needed to do what a loyalist needed to do. And what I mean is he represented Bush in a jury case where Bush was called for jury duty in a way that made sure that the governor did not disclose that he had been arrested for drunk driving some years before.
Also, one his key roles was to get good legal advice - politically expedient legal advice on death penalty cases. In every case he was considered a competent, good, effective lawyer. And in an odd way Gonzales is the latest of what I think are all the president's casualties. A whole series of people from Texas went to Washington for the Bush White House and one by one they've all seen - not only they leave - but seen their reputations damaged.
INSKEEP: Wayne Slater, stay with us. I want to pick up on something you said. You mentioned that he had this story of coming from a poor family, of pulling himself up by his bootstraps. It was, of course, a Latino family, and NPR's Cokie Roberts has been thinking about that part of the story. I have to ask, Cokie, what were some of the hopes that President Bush had in elevating this man to the White House and then to the Justice Department?
COKIE ROBERTS: Had tremendous hopes, because the Republican Party and George Bush has been one of the key practitioners of it, as Wayne knows very well, has been trying to reach out to Hispanic voters.
Bush did it very effectively in Texas and somewhat effectively on the national level in his second run for president. And it was - Al Gonzales was the embodiment of that aspiration, the hope that he could be attorney general, that he could be the first Hispanic on the Supreme Court, and thereby bringing the Hispanic community into the Republican Party and broadening the base of the Republican Party.
First, the Supreme Court was put out of reach mainly by conservatives in the Republican Party who thought that Gonzales was not sufficiently conservative, and then of course we've seen this complete unraveling of his term as attorney general. So I think it's a bigger problem for the president than simply losing this man and losing his friend - and he is his friend - but it is a bigger problem for the Republican Party.
INSKEEP: And let's follow up on something else Wayne Slater said about all the president's casualties. Is it significant or is it historically unusual that yet another Texas adviser - yet another close adviser - early adviser of the president - would leave and leave the president still there on office?
ROBERTS: No. It's not historically unusual. But I agree with Wayne that they have left under more difficult circumstances than many people do in presidencies, but at this point in the second term of a president you start to see people going, but they generally go on their own volition because it's time to go, they're tired, it's time to get back to the private sector, the president's not going to be able to do so much for them, things like they want to run for office themselves, things like that.
It's not usually leaving under such a cloud. But it is - it is not unusual to have new people coming in and it's going to be very interesting to see who the new people coming in at the Justice Department are going to be. There are already a lot of new people at the Justice Department. And now we're going to have a new attorney general as well.
INSKEEP: Don Gonyea, NPR White House correspondent, has been listening in, and we should mention that the White House chief of staff spoke of clearing the deck by Labor Day. Anybody who's going to leave the administration should have done so by Labor Day. We know Karl Rove's going, we know Gonzales is going, pretty major deck clearing. But what is one thing that White House realistically hopes to accomplish now?
GONYEA: That's a good question. I mean part of what was implicit in the departure of Karl Rove is that there was a recognition that perhaps he couldn't have any impact anymore, and you can extend that to say that nobody could really truly guide anything politically through the next Congress.
The Gonzales departure sends a different message. It does send a message of hope that perhaps they can mend fences a little bit in this area if they do hope to move forward in some areas. But the reality is the Democratic Congress is going to be very tough on this administration the rest of the way.
INSKEEP: Cokie Roberts.
ROBERTS: And Steve, that, yeah, the president, though, and we're going to see it when Congress comes back, the president still has a lot of power. You should never count out a president. The presidency has a lot of power. And we're going to see it on the question of Iraq, the issue that voters care most about. The president is out using the bully pulpit on that issue right now and seeming to get some traction on it. So you know, he's got the veto, he's got - he does have appointment power, although that's tough. He does - he is not in a position to be counted out.
INSKEEP: Wayne Slater, let's return to you and return to the man who is expected to announce his resignation in the next 10 or 15 minutes or so, Alberto Gonzales. He's been much criticized but may I ask you, do you think that he has an opportunity here to salvage some dignity or some accomplishments as he announces his resignation?
Mr. SLATER: Oh, it's hard to see. And I sure would like to say that that's true. Clearly, he's leaving, he thinks on his own terms, to the extent that you can do these things. I think it was significant that Gonzales, who really has been a dead man walking politically speaking for a couple of months, did not leave at the height of this controversy. He really left at a time when the administration, particularly George Bush, doesn't like to think that the Congress has forced his hand in something; in this case it at least gives the image that he can leave on his own terms.
Mr. SLATER: Which I think we look and think that's not the case.
INSKEEP: Wayne Slater, thanks very much, of The Dallas Morning News. Appreciate your analysis this morning.
We also heard from NPR's Cokie Roberts and NPR's Don Gonyea. The news is that Attorney General Alberto Gonzales is resigning this hour.
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