updated 7/5/2005 9:34:46 AM ET 2005-07-05T13:34:46

President Bush on Monday defended Attorney General Alberto Gonzales, who is the target of conservative critics seeking a hard-liner for the Supreme Court, USA Today reported.

The president said he will interview prospects himself after he sorts through candidates over the next few weeks to replace Justice Sandra Day O’Connor, the newspaper said in a story posted late Monday on its Web site.

“Al Gonzales is a great friend of mine,” Bush told USA Today. “When a friend gets attacked, I don’t like it.”

The president appealed to special interest groups running ads and mobilizing supporters for the anticipated fight over the Supreme Court nominee to “tone down the heated rhetoric.”

Some congressional Republicans were cautioning against Gonzales, a close friend of Bush whom they believe isn’t steadfastly conservative on issues like affirmative action and abortion.

Asked whether women and minorities are on his list, Bush said he is reviewing “a diverse group of citizens.”

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