George W. Bush isn’t the only official in the prior administration with writing chops. Former Attorney General Alberto Gonzales is also hard at work on a book that he told TPM will “set the record straight” on his public service and offer a “very candid, very honest” assessment of the people he worked with and decisions he made in the White House and at the Justice Department.
Gonzales also told me that he’s in the midst of reading Bush’s book Decision Points — and while he’s found his former boss’ memoir “insightful,” he remembers some events a bit differently than the former president.
“I would just simply urge your readers [to note] that he and I could observe the same thing and come away with completely different conclusions or memories of what we observed,” said Gonzales. “So the fact that I might observe something or remember something differently than what he writes about in the book is just, I think, the human condition of people remembering something or observing something differently.”
“I’m sure I’m going to write things in my book that he will remember differently, and that’s just the way it is,” Gonzales said. He declined to name any specific events where his recollection diverged with Bush’s account.
Though Bush and Gonzales had a relationship going back to the latter’s days in Texas, Gozales is only mentioned a handful of times in Bush’s Decision Points. Several of the times his name appears in the book are just passing references to his presence at various executive level meetings.
Gonzales said Bush’s book offered an interesting look at the way he made decisions and showed leadership during his time in office that squared with Gonzales’ impressions of Bush’s presidency.
“What I see in the book is what I saw in person, in that President Bush is a person who believed very much that the presidency is about making decisions. He was deliberative and contemplative when he had to be but when he made a decision, he was decisive. Then he moved on,” Gonzales said. “He knew the next big decision was waiting outside the Oval Office door.”
Gonzales presided over the Justice Department during one of the most tumultuous times in recent history. Critics said that the former attorney general, who served as White House counsel before taking over as the nation’s top cop, allowed DOJ to become little more than a political arm of the Bush administration.
Just this week, the Justice Department Inspector General said restoring confidence in DOJ was a top management challenge for the Department. The Obama administration and Attorney General Eric Holder have taken “aggressive steps” to respond to that issue, the Inspector General said, but additional actions were still necessary.
Last time we checked in with Gonzales, the former attorney general was gearing up for his second year as a professor at Texas Tech and had finished about 12 chapters of what he thought would be a 20-chapter book. Since then, the Justice Department closed its investigation into the U.S. Attorney’s hiring scandal, deciding not to pursue charges against the former attorney general. Gonzales says he’s now about 75 percent done with his memoir and thinks he’s settled on an agent, but still hasn’t found a publisher.
“I waited a long time, because I wanted to make sure all the investigations were over before I put pen to paper,” Gonzales said. “But I’ve worked hard on it this semester. My goal had been to finish it this year, but it’s been a very busy fall for me. I hope to get it finished this year, but I’m not sure I’m going to make it.”
Gonzales told TPM he’s “certainly not surprised” by the Justice Department’s decision not to pursue charges in the U.S. attorney firings scandal, but was pleased that the investigators concluded there was no wrongdoing on his part. He previously said he needed to raise money to cover his extensive legal bills from the investigation into the matter, which was launched by former Attorney General Michael Mukasey back in September 2008.
“I’m disappointed that it took so long, likewise disappointed that when in fact the results were announced there was very little publicity about it, as opposed to all the publicity that existed with respect to the allegations of wrongdoing by me,” Gonzales said. “It’s just human nature, I suppose. But yeah, I was pleased with the outcome and ready to move on with the next chapter of my life.”
Could that next chapter include a return to the legal world, in which he had trouble finding a gig due to the controversies during his time in office? Sure, he said, provided the circumstances are right.
“I obviously enjoy being a lawyer. The practice of law was always something I was proud to be a part of,” Gonzales told me. “It’ll just depend what’s the right fit for me, and the right fit for the firm, how I can contribute to the revenue at the firm, and whether or not I continue to be provided the flexibility to do the things that I’m interested in doing.”
“Hopefully now these things are past, and I think with each passing day the judgment of the Bush administration, the decisions by this president, the decisions by me as the AG are looked at in a more favorable light,” he said. “And I think that can only be helpful.”
Gonzales said his book is important due to the “completely inaccurate” record of his public service in the media.
“There’s a lot that needs to be said to set the record straight, and I’m going to be very, very candid, very honest in my assessment about individuals and events that happened during my service,” Gonzales. “I think it is going to be of great interest because I was involved in probably some of the most difficult, controversial decisions made during the Bush administration, so my intention is to explain why those decisions were made, how they were made. And hopefully people have a better understanding of the basis of those decisions and the difficulties of those decisions.”
“Part of the goal of this book is to present another side to my observation, from what I experience, from what I saw, from what I did. Based on facts, not based upon allegations, not based upon fiction,” Gonzales added.