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The President's Counselor: The Rise to Power of Alberto Gonzales

The President's Counselor: The Rise to Power of Alberto Gonzales

by Bill Minutaglio

The first and only biography of the most controversial u.s. Attorney general in recent memory

In defiance of expectations, statistics, and stereotypes, Alberto Gonzales has risen to become one of the most powerful men in America. Gonzales has been the nexus for key policy points for the Bush administration, and holds inflammatory and very influential positions on


The first and only biography of the most controversial u.s. Attorney general in recent memory

In defiance of expectations, statistics, and stereotypes, Alberto Gonzales has risen to become one of the most powerful men in America. Gonzales has been the nexus for key policy points for the Bush administration, and holds inflammatory and very influential positions on issues that seize and polarize the nation—privacy, capital punishment, and torture.

Gonzales's unyielding loyalty to George W. Bush—during a time when to call his presidency "controversial" would be an understatement of massive proportions—is a fascinating study in the politics of ambition.

From his modest beginnings in Humble, Texas, to his stone-faced refusal to buckle under the pressure of dissenters, The President's Counselor provides never-seen insight into the man whose influence over a very powerful president in very pressing times will undoubtedly impact people here and abroad for years to come.

Editorial Reviews

Jacob Heilbrunn
Minutaglio shrewdly observes that Bush and Rove became emboldened by the lack of any Democratic opposition in Austin, and were determined to exercise the same kind of power in Washington. As White House counsel, Gonzales sought to supply them with the means, whether it was to justify military tribunals or torture. Minutaglio’s fascinating book will surely not be the last word on this sorry tale, but it goes a long way toward removing the veil Gonzales has tried to drape over his career.
— The New York Times
Kirkus Reviews
A revealing biography of the man the sitting president calls "Fredo," and who once insisted, "My job is to make sure we don't make the same mistakes made by previous administrations." George W. Bush has long relied for legal counsel on fellow Texan Alberto Gonzales. Picked from a pool of candidates by Harriet Miers, Gonzales was, writes Austin-based journalist Minutaglio, every bit the token minority member, someone to point to as a Republican born without a silver spoon; what is more, as a partner in a major Houston firm, Gonzales took a substantial pay cut to go into government. Known more as a workhorse than a brilliant legal mind-though, brilliantly, he long managed to hush up Bush's drunk-driving conviction and other indelicacies-Gonzales has been one of the loyal if undistinguished soldiers the president is said to favor; he has backed Bush up on his spree of executions of retarded prisoners in Texas and written policies that defend and even authorize the torture of suspected al-Qaeda members, though his most concentrated project on becoming White House counsel was to put together a "heavily detailed, multiappendix, 160-page-guide" detailing the condition of Clinton staffers' offices when the Bush team moved in, festooned with signs reading "VP's cardiac unit" and with posters of a faked Time magazine cover bearing the headline, "We're Fucked." "We think it unlikely that a reader would attribute the message in question to members of the incoming Administration," he noted for the benefit of the General Accounting Office, the recipient of the report. Gonzales is apparently not well-liked inside the Beltway, shunned by hardcore conservatives as much as civil libertarians andparticularly by military officers saddled with carrying out his tribunals, but he has not yet suffered the fate, metaphorical or real, of his Godfather nickname-sake. Bush apparently adores him, and indeed he may still be in the running for a Supreme Court seat. An eye-opening look at the personal politics behind the present administration.

Product Details

HarperCollins Publishers
Publication date:
Product dimensions:
6.00(w) x 9.00(h) x 1.18(d)

Read an Excerpt

The President's Counselor

The Rise to Power of Alberto Gonzales
By Bill Minutaglio

HarperCollins Publishers, Inc.

Copyright © 2006 Bill Minutaglio
All right reserved.

ISBN: 0061119202

Chapter One

Un Sueno

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 steerinside. 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.


Excerpted from The President's Counselor by Bill Minutaglio Copyright © 2006 by Bill Minutaglio. Excerpted by permission.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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Meet the Author

Bill Minutaglio is an award-winning journalist and author of First Son: George W. Bush and the Bush Family Dynasty and City on Fire. He has written for many publications including Talk, the New York Times, Outside, and Details, among others. His work was featured, along with that of Ernest Hemingway, in Esquire's list of the greatest tales of survival ever written. He lives with his family in Austin, Texas.

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