Homesick for Texas; Alberto Gonzales Left a Good Life to Become White House Counsel. amid a Series of Legal Setbacks, He's Wondering Why

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Byline: Daniel Klaidman, With Tamara Lipper

White House counsel Alberto Gonzales loved his old life in Texas. He had a coveted appointment to the state Supreme Court and a nice house in a pretty Austin neighborhood. When George W. Bush went to Washington, Gonzales traded in his robes to be the new president's top lawyer. But now, people close to Gonzales say he wishes he were back home. "He's down, very down," says a close confidant. "He's tired, and longs for his life in Texas."

It's easy to see why. Nearly three and a half years after 9/11, Gonzales is at the center of the legal and political fallout over the administration's handling of the war on terrorism. As the president's legal gatekeeper, Gonzales was responsible for vetting some of the most controversial decisions: the treatment of prisoners, the line between aggressive but legal interrogation and torture, and the rights of "enemy combatants."

The White House, and Gonzales in particular, are now left to explain those decisions in the wake of Abu Ghraib and the steady drip of leaked memos. Last week the Supreme Court delivered another blow. In cases that dealt with prisoners at Guantanamo Bay and suspected terrorists held as enemy combatants, the justices rejected the administration's argument that the president has virtually unlimited power to hold people indefinitely without access to the courts. It was an unwelcome moment for a man who had once been on Bush's shortlist for the high court (a post Gonzales's intimates say he never wanted).

Friends say the White House counsel is "beating himself up" over the mess. Gonzales, they say, fears he may not have served the president as well as he would have liked. Though he stands by the legal reasoning, he wishes he had been more attuned to the possible political consequences and had reined in some of the administration's more extreme voices. Friends say he was particularly stung by press accounts of a draft memo signed by Gonzales that called some of the requirements of the Geneva Conventions "quaint." The memo, first reported in NEWSWEEK, caused an uproar among the administration's critics. …