Former Attorney General Alberto Gonzales, fresh off his first academic year as a visiting professor and administrator at Texas Tech University, told Main Justice Thursday that he is glad to be back in “Bush country,” and said he has enjoyed the teaching experience.
Gonzales also said he has made a lot of progress on a book about his experiences in the White House and the Justice Department, but has not yet found a publisher.
“It’s good to be back in Texas. This part of the state is very much Bush country. They are very pro-military, and very appreciative of what the Bush administration did in securing our safety, so you know it’s been a very good experience,” said Gonzales.
Gonzales said his family is leasing a home in Lubbock, Texas, because they were unable to sell their McLean, Va., home, which they are now renting out. He indicated he hopes to return to Texas Tech next semester and is in talks with the university about coming back for a second year. He has been teaching a course called “Contemporary Issues in the Executive Branch.”
“We’re in discussions right now about doing it again for another year,” Gonzales said. “I really have enjoyed my experience here, and I think I’ve contributed to the Tech mission. I think the students have enjoyed my presence here, and you know it’s been a good experience. So yeah, it’s something that I’m looking very seriously at, and we’ll see what happens.”
Gonzales, 54, was serving as White House counsel when President George W. Bush nominated him to be the 80th Attorney General of the United States. Gonzales was sworn in on Feb. 14, 2005, and announced his resignation on Aug. 27, 2007.
Gonzales’ tenure as Attorney General was one of the most tumultuous in recent memory. Democrats and some Republicans in Congress rebuked him for inept and disengaged management of the Justice Department and his harshest critics said Gonzales had allowed the agency to become little more than a political arm of the White House under his stewardship.
The criticism ignited into a furor of complaint after the December 2006 dismissal of seven U.S. Attorneys came to light. Nine prosecutors were eventually fired, leading to congressional hearings exploring the rationale for their removal, which in some cases seemed to have been carried out primarily to make room for political favorites.
Gonzales’s testimony left lawmakers expressing doubts about his ability to manage the Justice Department, and led to his resignation. A Justice Department Inspector General report found that the dismissal process had been “fundamentally flawed.”
After reportedly having trouble finding a job at a law firm, Gonzales was hired by Texas Tech last summer at a reported salary of $100,000 a year. Gonzales said he also continues to give paid speeches and take consulting jobs.
He is also working on a memoir. So far, Gonzales has written about 12 chapters of what he expects will be a 20-chapter book. While Gonzales said he thinks there will be interest in his biography, he hasn’t yet found a publisher.
“Given all the decisions that I was a part of, the decisions I witnessed, and the decisions I made, I think it will be something that will be of interest and I hope it will be a useful contribution to the historic record of the Bush legacy,” Gonzales said.
In compiling his book, which will also cover his work on the state level with then-Gov. Bush in Texas, Gonzales said he looked back at “a few, but not many” notes he kept during his time in the Justice Department and at the White House.
“A lot of the things that I worked on were classified and of that nature, so I’ve had to be careful about that. But I’ve been looking at articles, trying to reconstruct my schedule, things of that nature,” Gonzales said.
“And of course there were many things, significant events, that I remember, that I just know about, that I can just write about,” added Gonzales, who played a role in many of the administration’s most controversial policy and law enforcement decisions including warrantless wiretapping of U.S. citizens, waterboarding of terrorism suspects, and the invasion of Iraq.
“Writing is a difficult thing … and sometimes I get tired of it,” he continued. “But I enjoy it because it reminds me again of the challenges we had to face, and it just reconfirms in my mind all the good things we did for our country.”
Gonzales also said he needs to raise additional funds to cover his extensive legal bills. Then-Attorney General Michael Mukasey appointed then-acting U.S. Attorney Nora Dannehy of Connecticut in September 2008 as a special prosecutor to look into the U.S. Attorney firings. That investigation remains ongoing.
“We need to do a better effort raising additional money, and so we’re going to try to do that as soon as the last investigation [ends],” said Gonzales. “That investigation has been out there going on forever. I’m not sure what’s going on there, but we’re waiting for that to be completed. And once that’s completed — I have confidence that again [there was] no wrong-doing by me — that will again raise some interest in raising additional money.”
He wouldn’t say if he thought the investigation had gone on for too long. “All I will say is that I wish it would get wrapped up,” said Gonzales.
Gonzales said his students are very interested about his time in Washington.
“We talk about Guantanamo, we talk about surveillance, we talk about choosing Supreme Court Justices, we talk about how the White House deals with scandal or crisis,” he said.
Gonzales didn’t give the 15 students in his “Contemporary Issues in the Executive Branch”class an exam. Instead, he had each student make a presentation and write a paper about issues discussed in the class. “I try to encourage very candid discussions, and personal interaction with students is very important for me, so it’s been a good experience.”
Gonzales also said he’s proud of his work to increase diversity at Texas Tech.
“The administration here is very focused on increasing the diversity of the student body, which is one of the reasons I came here. It’s something that I have always viewed as important,” Gonzales said. “They began an initiative to try to attract more first generation students, whatever your skin color. If you’re the first person to go to college in your family, we want to have you.”
While Bush called him when he started his job at Texas Tech, Gonzales said he hasn’t spoken with the former president in several months.
“The last time I spoke with him, he said he’s doing fine,” Gonzales said. “There’s a period of decompression, I’m sure even more so for someone like him. You look back and you take pride in your service, knowing that you did the very best you could under extraordinary circumstances, and I’m sure that’s the way he feels.”
“I’m very confident that with the passage of time, views about his administration are going to look quite different, I’m sure there going to look a lot more positive,” Gonzales added. (On Thursday Bush gave a speech in Michigan defending his decision to authorize waterboarding, which critics have called torture, against self-proclaimed 9/11 mastermind Khalid Sheikh Mohammed.)
Gonzales said he was not surprised that Attorney General Eric Holder was having trouble closing the prison at Guantanamo Bay.
“This is a very difficult issue, and we tried for years to find a solution,” he said. “President Bush wasn’t interested in being a world jailer, or keeping open Guantanamo except for the fact that it was necessary. We knew that there was a public image problem, but it was a necessity, and it’s a necessity that continues, and that’s why Guantanamo is still open today.”
Gonzales declined to comment on the attacks on Justice Department lawyers who previously represented Guantanamo detainees.
While he is enjoying his time in Texas, there are things he misses about D.C., Gonzales said.
“Obviously I miss working day in and day out with the career people at the department. I miss that very much, and I know how dedicated they are to serving the American people,” said Gonzales. “I’m always going to treasure my experience as the Attorney General and I’m grateful for the opportunity to be invited by President Bush to serve in that capacity.”