(CNSNews.com) - President Bush on Wednesday nominated White House counsel Alberto Gonzales to replace John Ashcroft as attorney general, calling Gonzales a "calm and steady voice in times of crisis." If confirmed, he would be the first Hispanic attorney general.
Gonzales served alongside Bush when the president was governor of Texas. Gonzales was Bush's general counsel then and went on to serve as Texas Secretary of State and as a Texas Supreme Court justice.
"My confidence in Al was high to begin with. It has only grown with time," Bush said, adding that Gonzales "has an unwavering principle of respect for the law" and "always gives me his frank opinion."
Gonzales has served with "skill and integrity" in his role as White House counsel, Bush said. "I have counted on Al Gonzales to help select the best nominees for the federal courts, one of the president's most important responsibilities.
"His sharp intellect and sound judgment have helped shape our policies in the war on terror, policies designed to protect the security of all Americans while protecting the rights of all Americans. As the top legal official on the White House staff, he has led a superb team of lawyers and has upheld the highest standards of government ethics," Bush said.
The president also praised Ashcroft for serving "with excellence during a demanding time." Bush rattled off a list of the attorney general's accomplishments, saying in four years, he has reorganized the Justice Department "to meet the new threat of terrorism."
Ashcroft also "fairly and forcefully applied the Patriot Act and helped to dismantle terrorist cells inside the United States," Bush said. "During his watch, violent crime has dropped to a 30-year low and prosecutions for crimes committed with guns have reached an all-time high."
During Ashcroft's time in office, drug use among students dropped and "confidence in the financial markets has been restored" because he "aggressively prosecuted corporate fraud," Bush said.
"And thanks to John Ashcroft's leadership, America has stepped up its efforts to prosecute the cruel exploitation of children by internet pornographers. The nation is safer and more just today, because John Ashcroft has served our country so well," Bush added.
Ashcroft's resignation was announced Tuesday, along with that of Commerce Secretary Don Evans. No word yet on Evans' replacement.
"This has been a day of conflicting emotions" for Gonzales, because he said if confirmed, he'll "no longer drive to work every day to the White House nor interact as closely" with colleagues like White House Chief of Staff Andrew Card.
"As a former judge, I know well that some government positions require a special level of trust and integrity. The American people expect and deserve a Department of Justice guided by the rule of law, and there should be no question regarding the department's commitment to justice for every American. On this principle, there can be no compromise," Gonzales said.
"Finally to our president, when I talk to people around the country, I sometimes tell them that within the Hispanic community, there is a shared hope for an opportunity to succeed," he added.
"'Just give me a chance to prove myself' - that is a common prayer for those in my community. Mr. President, thank you for that chance," Gonzales concluded, adding that he would do his "best to fulfill the confidence and trust reflected in this nomination."
"Alberto Gonzales is an outstanding attorney who has worked closely with President Bush by serving as White House counsel," Jay Sekulow, chief counsel of the American Center for Law and Justice, which specializes in constitutional law, said in a statement.
"Gonzales will bring a wealth of experience to the post and a keen understanding of the law that will enable him to excel as the nation's chief law enforcement officer. Gonzales has been with the President for many years and served on the Texas Supreme Court," said Sekulow.
"He will be an Attorney General who will work diligently to protect America, the constitution, and the rule of law. During this dangerous time for our nation, Gonzales is the perfect person for this demanding job," he added.
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