Gonzales Known for Loyalty, Handling Problems The current woes of Attorney General Alberto Gonzales, whose agency is mired in a scandal of the dismissal of eight U.S. attorneys in 2006, pale when compared to his disadvantaged upbringing. And that, says at least one author, is what binds Gonzales to President Bush.
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Gonzales Known for Loyalty, Handling Problems

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Gonzales Known for Loyalty, Handling Problems

Gonzales Known for Loyalty, Handling Problems

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MICHELE NORRIS, host:

And now more about the man at the center of this controversy, Alberto Gonzales, and for that we turn to Bill Minutaglio, who has written a biography called "The President's Counselor: The Rise to Power of Alberto Gonzales." The book follows his path to Washington beginning in the tiny town of Humble, Texas.

Gonzales was the second of eighth children raised in a home with no telephone and no running water. He was a strong student, joined the military, went to Rice University and Harvard Law School. Then, says Minutaglio, Alberto Gonzales returned to Texas to join the powerhouse Houston law firm Vinson & Elkins.

Mr. BILL MINUTAGLIO (Author, "The President's Counselor: The Rise to Power of Alberto Gonzales"): At that time in the 1980s, if you worked at Vinson & Elkins, which by the way, pejoratively used to be known as Vinson and Enron because their number one client was Enron. You were certainly going to come into contact with the Bush family. They had deep, deep ties to Vinson & Elkins. The elder George Bush noticed this rising Latino star at the law firm, courted him, asked him to come to Washington in his administration, Gonzales turned him down.

The son, the younger George Bush, knew all about this, had met Gonzales and kind of kept him on his radar. And later on when he ascended to a political position, he asked Gonzales to join him.

NORRIS: Now, when the current President Bush did rise to power, became governor of Texas, he turned to Gonzales again and again for key positions. He was general counselor to Governor Bush. Alberto Gonzales served as secretary of state. He was appointed by Bush to serve on the Texas Supreme Court. Why did Bush turn to Gonzales time and time again? What was it that he saw in him?

Mr. MINUTAGLIO: You know, to be honest, a lot of people have said that it was for political reasons. In the 1980s and in 1990s, the Republican Party needed to do more, especially in Texas, to court the Latino vote. And you had this sort of bright rising star in Texas, Alberto Gonzales, and they courted him. They sought him out and Bush made sure that he was appointed to all these key positions.

NORRIS: The book is subtitled "The Rise to Power." Now, beyond Alberto Gonzales current title and his perch within the Bush Cabinet, is he truly a powerful personality?

Mr. MINUTAGLIO: Well, as a personality, no - he's very muted and placid in a sense. I think though, some people have said, you know, he seems to be an interesting figure but not influential. And I think it all depends on how you define influential. A few months into the administration, of course, the tragedy of 9/11, Gonzales finds himself at the very, very center of that room, in the dialogue, talking about how to prosecute the war on terror. I think there has been a mistake in some ways among Gonzales' observers to confuse his somewhat muted personality and suggest that doesn't mean he's influential. He's highly influential.

NORRIS: We now know that on many of these controversial subjects - from the expanse of presidential powers, to the use of torture, to military tribunals -that there was a robust discussion about many of these measures. Based of what you know of Alberto Gonzales and his leadership style, does that suggests that he actually presided over those discussions and those debates, did he actively participate?

Mr. MINUTAGLIO: He actively participated, and if you want to be pejorative and critical, you'd perhaps say that he was an enabler. But what he brought to the table was a fierce loyalty to his client. And he brought to the table a fierce willingness to find, and he would claim within the letter of the law, the loopholes - the legal provisions that will allow the president to expand his authority, and again, as you said, in increasingly controversial ways.

NORRIS: Fierce Loyalty - is a good friend of the president. He's also an attorney. Where you able to find examples in his past or within his current position as attorney general where he actually played the role of counselor, where he gave the president advice that perhaps contradicted the president's policy or told the president something that he didn't want to hear.

Mr. MINUTAGLIO: You know, there's very few examples of that and not many moments where Alberto Gonzales marched into either then Governor Bush's office, or frankly now President Bush's office, and said I am going to completely, you know, recommend that we sail in a different direction. It just wasn't there.

NORRIS: Alberto Gonzales faces quite a bit of pressure right now. Bill, has he ever face this kind of heat before?

someone with a personality as his - someone who's extremely reticent, extremely guarded, extremely loyal - it's got to be really hitting him very hard.

NORRIS: Bill Minutaglio, thanks so much for talking to us.

MINUTAGLIO: Oh, it's been my pleasure.

NORRIS: Bill Minutaglio is the author of "The President's Counselor: The Rise to Power of Alberto Gonzales."

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