Hispanic rose above family strife to be President's shield

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The words the surprisingly jaunty Alberto Gonzales used in his farewell press conference were honest and to the point.

His very worst days on the job as one of the more embattled members of the Bush Administration, were "better than my father's best days", in an allusion to the alcoholism and poverty that blighted his Texas childhood.

"Thank you, and God bless America," Mr Gonzales, 52, said before bowing out of a job that no Hispanic has ever been appointed to before.

Mr Gonzales' father was jailed for drink driving five times during his childhood. Pablo Gonzales died in an industrial accident in 1982 while his son was attending Harvard Law School at the beginning of a glittering law career.

Mr Gonzales grandparents probably crossed illegally from Mexico to the USA in the 1900s and, like many undocumented families, they have gone through troubled times ever since. According to the Chicago Tribune, his younger brother, Rene, died in mysterious circumstances in 1980. In 1991, his younger sister, Theresa, pleaded guilty to dealing cocaine and faced similar charges again while Mr Gonzales was on the Texas Supreme Court.

From early on teachers spotted Mr Gonzales's abilities as a student. But he had to overcome considerable prejudice to be accepted as a partner at the Houston law firm of Vinson & Elkins. It was there in 1995 that he developed a close relationship with the then Governor of Texas, George Bush. Mr Bush hired him to be his general counsel.

His fingerprints were soon in evidence across a range of controversies in Mr Bush's early political career. He helped Mr Bush to be excused from jury duty in a drink-driving case, saying that, as Governor of Texas, he might be called upon to pardon the accused in the case.

Texas executed more prisoners than any other state while Mr Gonzales was the top legal counsel. He reviewed all clemency requests and only one death sentence was ever over-turned by Mr Bush.

Over the years Mr Bush has had a tin ear when it came to criticism of his friend. He floated Mr Gonzalesas a possible Supreme Court judge, only to be over-ruled by the Republican right-wing.

When it was announced that he was to replace John Ashcroft as Attorney General, Mr Gonzales was seen as a moderate because he did not oppose abortion rights. That view was short-lived, however, and he quickly became a lightening rod for criticism of the Bush administration.