TOPICS > Politics

Alberto Gonzales

July 26, 2005 at 12:00 AM EDT
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JIM LEHRER: Mr. Attorney General, welcome.

On the John Roberts Supreme Court nomination, do you agree with today’s White House decision not to release memorandums and briefs that John Roberts wrote when he was deputy solicitor general in the first Bush administration?

ALBERTO GONZALES: Jim, I’m not aware of any formal requests from the Senate Judiciary Committee for these kinds of documents. I would, however, as attorney general, have serious concerns about the release of these kinds of documents.

We’re talking about the lawyers for the United States of America. And I think it’s very, very important that the lawyers be comfortable being very candid and open about their views on very sensitive issues affecting the United States.

And I think this is a concern not held only by this attorney general and this administration but by previous administrations in connection with the Miguel Estrada nomination; there was a letter signed by –

JIM LEHRER: He was the nominee for –

ALBERTO GONZALES: For the D.C. Circuit.

JIM LEHRER: The D.C. Circuit Court.

ALBERTO GONZALES: There were seven former solicitor generals who signed the letter saying that the release of internal memos when Mr. Estrada served in the SG’s office would be detrimental to the United States, would be detrimental to the efficient operation of that office. And for that reason, I would have very serious concerns as attorney general in releasing that kind of information.

I think what we ought to be focusing on is that we are on path for the release of 75,000 pages of documents in connection with John Roberts’ work in the White House, as in the counselor’s office and as his time working as an assistant in the office of the attorney general.

And so at the end of the day I’m very optimistic that there will be a lot of information that will be disclosed to the Senate so that they can make an informed decision about this well qualified individual.

JIM LEHRER: Senator Leahy, the ranking Democrat on the Senate Judiciary Committee, says — asks the question, “What’s the difference?” In both cases, John Roberts — in all three cases, John Roberts was an employee of the United States of America, the taxpayers — why is the public, why is the Senate not entitled to all of what he did?

ALBERTO GONZALES: But the Congress has made the determination that certain kinds of information can be protected even though the American people may want to have access to information.

There are, for example, exemptions in FOIA in which the government can withhold certain kinds of information, and the courts have recognized that there is certain documentation that do deserve protection, that certain privileges do apply and do deserve protection.

And for that reason, we believe it is legitimate to look very carefully at the release of certain kinds of documentation that may harm the efficient operation of the government. But our objective here is to work with the Congress and to provide the appropriate information that members of the Senate need to make an informed decision here.

JIM LEHRER: For those who may not understand the technical thing about what the solicitor general does, the solicitor general and his deputy, which was what John Roberts’ job was, they appear before the Supreme Court on behalf of the government of the United States, right?

ALBERTO GONZALES: That is correct.

JIM LEHRER: And they technically work for you, don’t they? Don’t they work for the attorney general?

ALBERTO GONZALES: They report up to the attorney general, who — we all report up to the President of the United States. All of us work in the executive branch.

JIM LEHRER: Now the White House said today, in declining to release these, that there was an attorney-client privilege here between the solicitor general and his office and the President of the United States. And that’s what Senator Leahy says how can that be when they work — they don’t work for the president; they work for the government.

ALBERTO GONZALES: Well, there is an attorney-client privilege here that needs to be respected, and it’s a privilege that has been found to be worthy of protection by our courts.

But, again, I want to focus on what we are going to be providing. The government is going to be providing, as I said, over 75,000 pages of documents from his work, from John Roberts’ work in the White House and in the Department of Justice.

And I’m — I feel very confident that that information should be sufficient for the members of the Senate to make an informed decision about John Roberts’ qualifications.

JIM LEHRER: Are you confident that he’s going to be confirmed?

ALBERTO GONZALES: It’s very early in the process. I think early signs are good. There seems to be bipartisan support for Judge Roberts, but I wouldn’t take anything for granted.

We respect the role of the Senate. We respect the authority of the Senate to look at the qualifications of Judge Roberts, and at the end of the day I’m optimistic that if given a fair hearing and a fair opportunity, that he will be confirmed.

JIM LEHRER: In the run-up to the selection of Judge Roberts, critics on the conservative side had some less-than-favorable things to say about you if you had become the nominee, on the grounds that you were not conservative enough. Essentially, that’s shorthand for that. Was that an unfair hit on you?

ALBERTO GONZALES: I’ll leave it to others to try to determine whether or not that was unfair or not. I’m not the nominee. I’m focused on doing a very important job for this president and for the American people, and that’s to serve as attorney general.

And of course one of the things I’m also focused on is getting this well qualified nominee, Judge John Roberts, confirmed as quickly as possible.

JIM LEHRER: Didn’t upset you that people were talking about what you might do as a member of the Supreme Court of the United States?

ALBERTO GONZALES: In this job, you’re going to make decisions. You’ll say things that some people are going to love them, some people are going to hate them. It’s just part of the job. And so I respect the right of individuals to have strongly held opinions and to express those opinions in our country.

JIM LEHRER: On the Valerie Plame-Wilson leak investigation, I want to follow up on something you said on television Sunday. You said, as White House counsel, you said you first told White House Chief of Staff Andrew Card about an official investigation that was being launched by the Justice Department of the leak. Why did you tell him first?

ALBERTO GONZALES: Well, first of all, let me say that — let me remind your viewers that I am recused from this investigation, and what I said this weekend is not anything new. This is old information. It’s been out there for several years.

And so I want to be very, very careful about what I — what more I say about this investigation. I did advise the chief of staff of the investigation, and I felt that was the appropriate thing to do as the chief of staff is to let him know that.

JIM LEHRER: And you told him — and you told him first, before you told the staff members who might have been subject to the investigation — a 12-hour lag in there, is that right?

ALBERTO GONZALES: I guess — let me repeat once again –

JIM LEHRER: Right.

ALBERTO GONZALES: I answered this question this weekend; I would prefer not to get into that and provide any additional information.

This is a very highly charged investigation. People are very interested in this, and we’ve got a prosecutor, a very well respected prosecutor who’s been looking at this issue, this investigation for a long time. He has all the facts, or he’s gathering up all the facts. He has all the information relating to what did or did not occur that particular night when I was notified by the Department of Justice.

I have fully cooperated with the investigation and before the grand jury, and I’m quite confident at the end of the day that we’ll know what facts are in this particular case.

JIM LEHRER: Are you quite confident that what you did that night was the proper thing to do?

ALBERTO GONZALES: Oh, absolutely. I’m very, very comfortable with the actions that we took and there are a variety of reasons, which I don’t want to get into now –

JIM LEHRER: Sure.

ALBERTO GONZALES: But I feel very comfortable with the actions that we took. And there’s been no indication, no evidence whatsoever that anyone was advised of the investigation early and that anyone did anything in response to that kind of information.

And if something like that did happen, I’m quite confident that the special prosecutor will look into that.

JIM LEHRER: In a more specific sense, as the Attorney General of the United States — forget your involvement or whatever early on when you were the White House counsel — does it concern you at all that here we sit a couple of three years after this and months of an investigation, grand jury whatever — there’s only one person been punished, and that’s a New York Times reporter, Judith Miller, and she didn’t even write a story?

ALBERTO GONZALES: Well, we don’t know whether or not that she will be the only person that will suffer some consequences for their actions in connection with this investigation.

Mr. Fitzgerald is a well respected prosecutor. I think he’s being very careful, he’s being very meticulous. It’s a very complicated statute to prosecute under, and I think that he’s –

JIM LEHRER: This is the release of a — knowing, intentionally releasing the name of an under-cover CIA operative?

ALBERTO GONZALES: Exactly. And so, you know, I don’t want to prejudge what the outcome of this investigation may be but we’ll just have to wait and see.

JIM LEHRER: What is your own view about the right of reporters to protect a source?

ALBERTO GONZALES: I respect very much the role of the media in our society; I think they can be very, very helpful. They serve as a very useful check, sort of a watchdog over the actions of the government, and I respect that.

But there is a competing interest, and that is the ability of prosecutors to get information that may be absolutely essential to assist them in the investigation of illegal wrongdoing.

And so you’ve got these two competing interests. I believe that the current policy at the Department of Justice reflects a careful balancing of those interests. I would like to remind your viewers that under our current policy, since 1991, I think we’ve solicited information from media sources something like 30 times and gone after confidential sources something like 12 times.

So we have been very, very careful in going after confidential sources for the media because we understand, we respect the role of the media in our system of government. And so that’s sort of my general feeling about it.

JIM LEHRER: You have been in public life in Texas and also here in Washington with the federal government. You’ve dealt with a lot of reporters. When you deal with a reporter, and you tell a reporter this is off the record; do you expect that reporter to be prepared to go to jail, as Judith Miller is, to protect you?

ALBERTO GONZALES: Well, first of all I normally when I talk to a reporter, I assume that it’s on the record. I never assume that –

JIM LEHRER: I left out that phrase — if you talk to a reporter off the record, do you make it very clear it’s off the record?

ALBERTO GONZALES: Do I expect them –

JIM LEHRER: Do you expect that reporter to do what Judith Miller is doing today?

ALBERTO GONZALES: I respect what Ms. Miller is doing today, but I also respect what the special prosecutor is trying to do, and that is we’ve got a very high profile case; there’s a lot of pressure being placed upon this prosecutor to find out what happened, and he’s doing the very best he can to do so under the laws that — under the tools that permit under our laws.

JIM LEHRER: On the terrorist attacks in London and Egypt, do you believe based on the information that you have gathered as Attorney General of the United States that those acts are related in some way and part of some kind of international plan?

ALBERTO GONZALES: It really is too early to tell. We do know this is a very serious issue, very serious matter. Our hearts and prayers go out to the people in London and in Egypt. We’re very concerned about it. We are providing our expertise to aid in the investigation in London. We’re going back and looking at our — at old intelligence to see whether or not there’s anything there that may be tied to what happened in London.

We’re also looking very carefully and watching and learning about the events in London because we want to take what we learn there and transplant those lessons here in the United States to ensure that we’re doing everything we can do to prevent a similar attack from occurring here.

JIM LEHRER: Does that — because of what happened in London and Egypt — heighten the possibility of suicide bombings here in the United States in your professional opinion?

ALBERTO GONZALES: Well, it makes me — it confirms in me the belief that I’ve long held, and that is we have an enemy that is still out there, a very patient, a very diabolical enemy, and constitutes a very serious threat to the United States.

And, yes, am I worried about additional attacks in this country? Of course I’m worried about it. We expect the American people to go on living their lives as normally as possible. But it is a post-9/11 world, and the United States government is doing everything we can do to ensure that another terrorist attack does not occur here in this country.

JIM LEHRER: Do you think that what the New York City government is doing in inspecting backpacks and other packages and valises and that sort of thing going in and out of subways and train stations is a good thing?

ALBERTO GONZALES: I think that, you know, state and local governments play a critical role in the protection of this country and the protection of certain systems like our mass transit system. And we share information daily with our state and local officials.

I think it’s one of the reasons that we are safer today and I have every confidence that, in developing its policies, that the New York transit authorities have considered the legal considerations they should be considering in making these kinds of decisions and in formulating this policy.

JIM LEHRER: You don’t — there’s some people have raised a question about whether or not these random searches are constitutional; any question in your mind about it?

ALBERTO GONZALES: Again, I don’t know the specifics. I have not had any discussions with the New York authorities, but I know they’re professionals; they’re very careful in what they do, and I have every expectation that they’ve taken these kind of considerations into account in developing their policy.

JIM LEHRER: Finally, Mr. Attorney General, on another subject entirely, you made a speech a few days about what you’d call the epidemic — a meth epidemic in this country. Tell us what you’re talking about and the extent of this and how — because you said it was a very, very serious problem that people aren’t paying much attention to. Tell us about it.

ALBERTO GONZALES: It’s not a problem that’s been identified by me as a serious problem. We know that, in talking to state and local officials, they have identified this as a number one drug problem that they are confronting because it’s not a problem that’s related to just the user.

It’s highly addictive and destroys lives, but also in developing meth, these mom and pop labs that we’re seeing springing up all over the country, these are very toxic and so it pollutes the home in which these labs are constructed. Oftentimes there are children and they’re exposed to hazardous materials. It creates a toxic waste site in the neighborhood. And so they are very, very dangerous.

And I think that we’re seeing local officials respond to this threat by the passage of laws in various states to deal with it. And there’s ongoing a debate now whether or not, should there be national legislation to deal with it; and I think — I haven’t made up my own mind yet — I don’t think the administration has developed a policy yet.

But certainly at the state level, the local level, they recognize that this is a serious problem, and we’re doing everything we can today even without national legislation to provide resources and to learn what we can from the various states to see what works effectively.

JIM LEHRER: I was stunned to read what you said in your speech about the extent of the use. There’s more meth being used than all of the other — heroin, cocaine and all the other problem drugs combined.

ALBERTO GONZALES: It’s very — it’s a very, very serious problem, and we’re focused on it in the Department of Justice. I gave that speech to let the state and local officials know that we understand their problem and that we’re there to try to work with them and help them deal with this.

JIM LEHRER: But you don’t think it’s a national problem yet?

ALBERTO GONZALES: Well, it’s a national problem to the extent that it’s not limited to one state; it’s not limited to one region of the country. As to whether or not it requires a national solution, I’m not sure we’re there yet, but that’s something that’s certainly being debated on the Hill; it’s certainly something that we’re discussing within the administration and that will continue.

JIM LEHRER: Mr. Attorney General, thank you very much.

ALBERTO GONZALES: Thank you.