President George W. Bush has picked White House legal counsel Alberto Gonzales, a trusted adviser from Texas and prominent Hispanic, as his new attorney general, administration officials say.
If confirmed by the Republican-controlled Senate, Gonzales, 49, would be the first Hispanic-American to become the country’s top law-enforcement official. He would replace Attorney General John Ashcroft, whose resignation was announced on Tuesday night.
Gonzales is a longtime adviser to Bush and a former Texas Supreme Court justice who has been considered a possible Bush nominee to the Supreme Court.
Former Deputy Attorney General Larry Thompson had been considered a candidate for attorney general, but after Bush’s re-election last week he made it clear he wanted to remain general counsel at PepsiCo Inc.
If he is selected, Gonzales’ Senate confirmation hearing would likely delve into what role he played in a legal opinion that defined the treatment of prisoners in Afghanistan and Iraq, which critics said contributed to the abuse of prisoners at Abu Ghraib, a charge denied by the administration.
In classified memos that were released in June, administration lawyers argued that Bush, as commander in chief, was not restricted by prohibitions on torture enshrined in U.S. law and international treaties due to the president’s “complete authority over the conduct of war,” including interrogations.
In other developments in Bush’s second-term Cabinet plans, Treasury Secretary John Snow is expected to stay in the job, possibly for another six to 12 months, to spearhead early efforts to overhaul the tax code, an issue he has pushed within the administration.
Congressional sources say Bush economic adviser Stephen Friedman is looking to move to another post within the administration, possibly trade representative or a top job at Treasury.
Josh Bolten, the White House budget director, is expected to stay in his job and possibly take over for Chief of Staff Andrew Card or Snow if and when they leave. The White House announced on Monday that Card was staying for now, but sources close to the White House have said Bolten might been seen as a successor if Card eventually does leave.