MR. TIM RUSSERT: Our issues this Sunday: the battle over the U.S. attorneys. The Democrats vote to subpoena the White House staff. The president stands by his attorney general.
PRES. GEORGE W. BUSH: He’s got support with me. I support the attorney general.
MR. RUSSERT: This morning, exclusive interviews with two of the U.S. attorneys who lost their jobs, David Iglesias of New Mexico and John McKay of Washington state.
Then, two key members of the Senate Judiciary Committee, the Democrats’ assistant leader, Dick Durbin of Illinois and the Republicans’ ranking committee member, Arlen Specter of Pennsylvania.
And former basketball star and United States Senator Bill Bradley re-enters the political debate with his new book, “The New American Story.”
But first, there’s a robust debate in Washington over why eight Republican U.S. attorneys were replaced by the Bush administration. And joining us this morning are two of those attorneys, David Iglesias and John McKay.
Welcome both. I want to begin our conversation by sharing an e-mail from January of ‘05 from the chief of staff to the attorney general, and it says, “We would like to replace 15” to “20 percent of the current U.S. attorneys—the underperforming ones.
“The vast majority of U.S. attorneys, 80-85 percent, I would guess, are doing a great job, are loyal Bushies, etc., etc.”
Mr. McKay, do you believe that you were replaced because you were not a “loyal Bushie”?
FMR. U.S. ATTY. JOHN McKAY: No, I don’t think that’s, that’s right, Tim. First of all, we all tried to do our jobs in the best way that we can based on the evidence. I think all United States attorneys try to do that. My office had recently received a very outstanding evaluation for the work that the men and women in Seattle do here on behalf of the United States government. So we’re more interested in being loyal to, to where the evidence goes in criminal cases and not in politics.
MR. RUSSERT: Mr. Iglesias, the White House, the counselor Dan Bartlett, was talking about you...
FMR. U.S. ATTY. DAVID IGLESIAS: Mm-hmm.
MR. RUSSERT: ...particularly and personally, and this is what he said, “White House spokesman Dan Bartlett said Iglesias was fired for ‘lack of leadership.’ Bartlett said the government was specifically frustrated when the corruption trial of former state Treasurer Robert Vigil” in New Mexico “ended in a conviction on just one of 23 counts.
“‘It was a devastating loss for the government,’ Bartlett told reporters.”
And yet, the former number two in the attorney general’s office, James Comey, said this, that you were a “fired up guy. David Iglesias was one of our finest and someone I had a lot of confidence in as deputy attorney general.” Why the disparity in views?
MR. IGLESIAS: Well, getting back to the Vigil trial, that was an historic case for my district. We’d never prosecuted a case, a public corruption case of that size. We got four indictments, four convictions. Mr. Vigil, the former state treasurer, is going to do three years in the federal penitentiary. Is that a devastating loss? I don’t think so. Mr. Comey has a better idea of what I was doing because he was my direct supervisor. Mr. Bartlett was never my supervisor.
MR. RUSSERT: What did you think when you heard Mr. Bartlett’s comments?
MR. IGLESIAS: Well, I thought, “He’s out of touch. He doesn’t know what he’s talking about.” He’s looking at talking points. He doesn’t know the facts underlying what we do as U.S. attorneys, and especially in my case.
MR. RUSSERT: The fact that you only got one of 23 counts didn’t disturb you?
MR. IGLESIAS: Well, it was a little bit of a disappointment, but frankly, had he been convicted of 10 out of 23 counts, I doubt he would have done a lot more time.
MR. RUSSERT: You wrote an op-ed piece for The New York Times, and I want to share that with our viewers and come back and talk about it. “Politics entered my life with two phones calls that I received last fall, just before the November election. One came from” Republican “Representative and the other from Senator [Pete] Domenici, both Republicans from my state, New Mexico.
“Ms. Wilson asked me about sealed indictments pertaining to a politically charged corruption case widely reported in the news media involving local Democrats. Her question instantly put me on guard. Prosecutors may not legally talk about indictments, so I was evasive. Shortly after speaking to Ms. Wilson, I received a call from Senator Domenici at my home. The senator wanted to know whether I was going to file corruption charges—the cases Ms. Wilson had been asking about—before November. When I told him that I didn’t think so, he said, ‘I am very sorry to hear that,’ and the line went dead.” He hung up on you?
MR. IGLESIAS: That’s right.
MR. RUSSERT: Did you feel intimidated by those phone calls?
MR. IGLESIAS: Pressured, leaned on, yes, because of the timeline, because of the fact that they were in a—in a—or Congresswoman Wilson was in a tight race at that time. I think she was behind. The, the local press had given significant coverage of this subsequent corruption matter. I couldn’t talk about it to anybody, much less members of Congress.
MR. RUSSERT: Had a congressman or a senator ever called you about a case prior to that?
MR. IGLESIAS: No. I’d received letters identifying that—the constituent, and I responded to those. Those are typically after the fact, people who are unhappy with the sentence. But I’d never gotten any contact regarding a pending matter, much less something that had been widely reported like that.
MR. RUSSERT: When you receive phone calls like that, do you have an obligation to report to your superiors that you received them?
MR. IGLESIAS: I do. Under the U.S. attorney manual. And I’ve given that up. I, I should have reported it right away.
MR. RUSSERT: Why didn’t you?
MR. IGLESIAS: Well, I felt the tremendous sense of loyalty. I was conflicted, I knew what the requirements were under the U.S. attorney’s manual. And on the other hand, Senator Domenici had been a mentor to me, Heather Wilson has been a friend and an ally, and I felt deeply conflicted.
MR. RUSSERT: Why had you not gone forward with indictments? Was the evidence not there?
MR. IGLESIAS: Well, I can’t even confirm—I’m so bound by the federal rules, I can’t even confirm if there was an investigation pending. So I’ll just have to let it go at that.
MR. RUSSERT: Mr. McKay, there was an article in the Seattle Post-Intelligencer, your hometown paper there, in September of ‘06, and it said this: “The federal prosecutor for Western Washington says his office is ‘stressed to the limit’ because of years of budget cuts that threaten to slow the pace of criminal prosecutions.
“U.S. Attorney John McKay has issued this warning to county prosecutors and special agents in charge of federal agencies, including the FBI, Drug Enforcement Administration and Immigration and Customs: ‘We may not be as responsive as you want us to be on the cases you refer to us.’” And then there was an e-mail within the attorney general’s office about a letter you had written about information sharing from local criminal justice organizations. “I believe McKay is way out of line here. Internal deliberations and policy recommendations should not be shared outside of the Department unless so authorized by the” deputy attorney general. “I don’t know what McKay’s motives are, but this is embarrassing and outrageous.” Do you believe that those two instances—incidents are part of the reason that you were asked to leave?
MR. McKAY: Well, Tim, first of all, I was given no reason for, for my dismissal. Then I was told that there were performance issues. And then I was told there was a disagreement over policy. The Justice Department’s reasons for my dismissal keep changing. All of the actions that I took in information sharing, which was right at the heart of the president’s national security agenda, were authorized at all times. And no one at the Department of Justice ever told me that I was working against policy or that anyone had any disagreement about what I was doing. And so those, those are sort of red herrings. All of us are responsible for dealing with our local media with regard to actions we take as the coordinators of federal law enforcement. We’re the chief federal law enforcement officials in each of our districts. And so it’s important for us, in consultation with, with the Department of Justice, to speak to the media about events affecting our, our district. And at all times I complied with, with policies. I think what’s really happening here is the department has gone back and tried to find a reason to justify their dismissals of us. And, of course, we knew we served at the pleasure of the president. That’s why—that’s why I resigned without comment until they decided to go up to the Hill and, and tell less than the truth.
MR. RUSSERT: Wednesday you gave an interview and quoted as follows on this subject: “When they go back and keep shifting stories it tends to indicate there’s a more nefarious reason that they’re not willing to admit to [the dismissals collectively]. ... That’s the real problem, and in my case it may be true because if they put me on,” the “list because I wasn’t aggressive enough in ensuring that the Republican candidate for governor was elected, then that’s a terrible thing.” Very close race for the governorship in your state, the Democrat won by just a handful of votes. You looked into the case, decided you did not find voter fraud. When you applied for a federal judgeship, that issue was raised with you. Correct?
MR. McKAY: That’s correct. I, I was able to go into the White House in a meeting with Harriet Miers and her deputy Bill Kelly, and the very first question that I was asked was, was in reference to the 2004 governor’s election.
MR. RUSSERT: And did they ask you why you did not go forward with an investigation or with indictments?
MR. McKAY: No, they actually asked me why Republicans in the state of Washington would be angry with me. And, of course, all of the actions taken by the federal government, which were not publicly discussed, were well-known to, to my supervisors and, and those who follow our work in Washington, D.C. So I was a little surprised that they would ask me about that, since our office had carefully reviewed the evidence, and really, in the case of the 2004 governor’s election here, the lack of evidence. And the decision that I made not to go forward was a really unanimous decision with the Seattle division of the FBI. So, so from our standpoint, it wasn’t controversial from an evidentiary standpoint, even though it was very controversial in the state of Washington. And, you know, we expected to be supported by people in Washington, D.C., when we make tough decisions like that. And I think that’s a, a really important problem here that folks who, who raise their hand and take—took the same oath I did to support and defend the Constitution didn’t do the same thing we did, which was focus on the evidence and not allow politics into the work that we do in, in criminal prosecutions.
MR. RUSSERT: When you look at these cases, the situation you’re talking about where there was a close governor’s race in state of Washington, a Democrat won, you looked at it, did not find anything untoward. Mr. Iglesias investigating the activities of Democrats did not act as quickly, perhaps, as some Republican office holders wanted him to. In California, a Republican congressman indicted and convicted, another was under investigation. In each of these districts, a highly controversial, perhaps even explosive political investigation going on. Mr. McKay, what does that tell you in your mind as to why U.S. attorneys were let go?
MR. McKAY: Well, we really don’t—it tells me that, that the Justice Department and, and the administration and the president have a responsibility now to deal with the black cloud that’s hanging over the Department of Justice. The—our former colleagues who were United States attorneys and the career men and women who do the work of the Department of Justice are, are people of great integrity. The last thing they need to deal with is an implication that politics are allowed into the grand jury. You know, when you’re looking at, at the business end of a federal grand jury, chances are someone is going to federal prison. And it’s critical, it’s absolutely critical that no one think that politics enter into that kind of a decision in an—in an individual case. And we work hard as federal prosecutors, and I’m, I’m proud to have served in this position and to know that my colleagues will continue to work very, very hard to make sure politics don’t make the difference, but only evidence does.
MR. RUSSERT: Mr. Iglesias, when you hear Mr. McKay talk about the questions he was asked about the governor’s race in the state of Washington, your own situation, a senator, a congressman calling you, California, the removal of a U.S. attorney there when an investigation began about a Republican congressman, do you connect those dots and say, “My God, we, we were removed for political reasons”?
MR. IGLESIAS: It’s extremely troubling. The United States attorneys have a history, under various administrations, of being independent. We look at the facts, we apply the law. If we have proof beyond a reasonable doubt, we go forward. Politics have historically not played a part. I recall John Ashcroft sitting me in, in his office and saying, “Politics have no part of your job as a U.S. attorney.” So it is troubling connecting those political dots. And I hope when this scandal is over, the tradition is returned to that as United States attorneys keep politics out and just focus on what the evidence is.
MR. RUSSERT: Knowing what you know today, do you have confidence in the leadership and the integrity of the attorney general?
MR. IGLESIAS: Right now I’ve got serious doubts. I really do.
MR. RUSSERT: Is he—does he have the standing to continue in that position?
MR. IGLESIAS: That’s a great question, and I think that’s something that has to be figured out in the scrum between the Justice Department, the White House and Capitol Hill.
MR. RUSSERT: Mr. McKay, do you have confidence in the leadership and integrity of the current attorney general?
MR. McKAY: I think his status is something that’s going to have to be decided by the president and the attorney general. I, I think that there is, as I said, a cloud over the Justice Department, and that is just going to have to be removed.
MR. RUSSERT: What has this done to you in your career, Mr. McKay?
MR. McKAY: Well, I’m going to be fine. I’m, I’m teaching law at Seattle University law school. I had a tremendous five-year run as United States attorney in Seattle. I worked with talented men and women. And, and, Tim, I want to emphasize, these are people who guard their prosecutorial independence very, very jealously. It was a tremendous opportunity for me to serve the country, and I’m very, very grateful for it.
MR. RUSSERT: What has this done for you, Mr. Iglesias?
MR. IGLESIAS: It, it—it’s really hard to say. I’m currently not working. I’ll be taking some time off. Long term, I don’t know. I, I do know that our checks and balances is something that we all learn about in fifth grade civics class. I’m seeing that in play right now. I’m seeing Congress exercising oversight role in a way that’s been absent for six years. I think, ultimately, things’ll work out fine for all of us, but right now it is very troubling to, to see the politicization of the Justice Department.
MR. RUSSERT: When all this started coming down, you e-mailed the chief of staff of the attorney general, seeking his help, in effect.
MR. IGLESIAS: I did.
MR. RUSSERT: You wrote, “Kyle: Hope you’re doing well in this new year. I [was] wondering if you could ask the judge”—Judge Gonzalez, the attorney general—“if I can list him as a reference?” And then the next day, you wrote, “I was asked to resign. I asked (why) and wasn’t given any answers. I ultimately am OK with that. We all take these jobs knowing we serve at the pleasure of the president.” And then you wrote the deputy attorney general, Paul McNulty, “Would you mind if I list you as a reference? Again,” thank you “for your support and prayers. Regards, David. Proberbs 19:25.”
MR. IGLESIAS: Mm-hmm.
MR. RUSSERT: Why were you asking for recommendations for people who you felt had not handled you in a professional way?
MR. IGLESIAS: For the simple reason I wanted to know if the true reason was performance, as stated under oath, or if it was politics. And I figured, very simply, that, if it was performance-related, they would not agree to be listed as a reference. That simple.
MR. RUSSERT: And they both agreed to be references.
MR. IGLESIAS: They did. Yes, sir.
MR. RUSSERT: Proverbs 19:25, it caught my attention and I went to the good book and looked it up. “Smite a scorner, and the simple will beware: and reprove one that hath understanding, and he will understand knowledge.”
Explain why you cited that Proverbs.
MR. IGLESIAS: It’s interesting that you would pick that up. Actually, that’s a typo. I meant to say Proverbs 19:21, which is “Many are the plans in a man’s heart, but it’s the Lord’s purpose that prevails.” In other words, all this mess may seem chaotic and without reason, but ultimately there’s a bigger plan, there’s a providential plan. So I meant to put Proverbs 19:21, not Proverbs 19:25.
MR. RUSSERT: Mr. McKay, if you were on the Senate Judiciary Committee and the attorney general was before you next week, what would you ask him?
MR. McKAY: Well, I think it’s important that the attorney general of the United States understand that his job is not simply to serve as a—as a member of the Cabinet of the president or as a close adviser to the president, but rather to lead a, a very important independent function in the government, and that is the immense power wielded by the prosecutorial capacity of the federal government. I think that the culture of the Justice Department, the tradition of leadership at the Justice Department in almost every case has been that that individual understands their role is distinct from that of the White House. That’s not the impression that the attorney general has given to the people of the United States, and, and I think that, that those questions probably are going to come if he does appear before either the House or Senate judiciary committees.
MR. RUSSERT: What question would you ask the attorney general?
MR. IGLESIAS: I’d want to know if he agrees with the findings of the Congressional Research Service that found that, in the past 25 years, out of 468 U.S. attorneys confirmed by the Senate only 10 left involuntarily. Whether or not he regards what happened to us in December to be a break from the past, and, if so, was it justified. Of those 10, virtually every one of those was due to misconduct. So, in my view, this represents a tremendous departure from historical practice. How does he justify that? That’s a question I would want to know.
MR. RUSSERT: All eight of you were appointed by President Bush.
MR. IGLESIAS: We were.
MR. RUSSERT: You’re all Republicans.
MR. IGLESIAS: We a—I think two are independents, but the rest of us are Republicans.
MR. RUSSERT: And to this day, do you believe you were removed for political reasons?
MR. IGLESIAS: Absolutely, yes.
MR. RUSSERT: Mr. McKay, what have you learned from all this?
MR. McKAY: Well, I think I’m, I’m still trying to learn. I’m—I am learning that the—that the importance of prosecutorial independence, integrity, compassion, fairness, those, those are the issues that guided all of us as federal prosecutors. Our colleagues remain in office, and, and I believe they’re, they’re following the same thing. They—they’re carrying a heavier burden today, and I think they’re up to the task. And I—and I hope that the American people understand that, that federal prosecutions and, and prosecutors do hold these qualities closely to them, notwithstanding all that’s gone on in the last few weeks.
MR. RUSSERT: You said there’s a black cloud over this. What must the president do to remove that cloud?
MR. McKAY: I think the first steps have been taken, and, and they’re very important ones, and those are to turn this over as an investigation to the inspector general of the Department of Justice. I also understand that the Office of Professional Responsibility will be conducting an investigation. I think that what happened here, because the stories have changed so frequently, what happened here has to be investigated. Those who either acted unprofessionally or even illegally have to be held accountable for what they did.
MR. RUSSERT: Including the attorney general, if the facts show that?
MR. McKAY: Of, of course—of course. The attorney general is not above the law, and he heads the agency and so he should be held accountable.
MR. RUSSERT: What have—what have you learned from this?
MR. IGLESIAS: I’ve learned a lot about checks and balances, the fact that the Senate does have an important oversight role and that the rule of law means exactly that. The rule of law means that applies to everybody from the attorney general on down through his staff, that this is an important issue. You can’t treat United States attorneys like they’re a farm club. We do important things. We take people’s live away, we take their property away, and you can’t treat us like any other presidential person or—and I think that was something that was lost sight of. But like John, I’m learning through all this. I’m sure in years to come I’ll reflect back, and, and I’ll have some other things that, that I’ve learned throughout this scandal.
MR. RUSSERT: The president did say he was sorry that your names were raised in all this, and he said, “This is—these are the ways of Washington.” Was that a sufficient apology for you?
MR. IGLESIAS: It’s a step in the—in the right direction. What, what I seek is a written retraction from the Justice Department stating that performance had nothing to do with our terminations.
MR. RUSSERT: Have you gotten that?
MR. IGLESIAS: Not yet.
MR. RUSSERT: Do you think you will?
MR. IGLESIAS: Possible. I’m not going to hold my breath, but it—but it is possible.
MR. RUSSERT: David Iglesias, John McKay, we thank you very much for joining us and sharing your story and your views.
Coming next, there will be hearings before the United States Judiciary Committee, and two key members of that panel are with us this morning: Democrat Dick Durbin of Illinois, Republican Arlen Specter of Pennsylvania.
Then, one-time Democratic presidential candidate, United States senator and basketball star Bill Bradley is back with his new book, “The New American Story.” All coming up right here on MEET THE PRESS.
MR. RUSSERT: The debate over the dismissal of eight U.S. attorneys continues: two key members of the Senate Judiciary Committee, Durbin and Specter. Then, Senator Bill Bradley, after this station break.
MR. RUSSERT: And we’re back.
Senator Durbin and Senator Specter, welcome both. Let me share with you the latest e-mail that has been obtained, released by the Department of Justice. Here’s the headlines in the newspapers about it. It says in The New York Times headline: “Gonzales Met With Advisers on Dismissals. Record Seems at Odds With Past Comments.”
And here is the e-mail. It’s from Kyle Simpson, the attorney general’s chief of staff. It talks about a meeting for next Monday, meeting November 27th, 2006, the attorney general, “me, Monica,” deputy attorney general, others, one hour in the attorney general’s conference room. Thanks.
A meeting on this very subject. And yet, 12 days ago, the attorney general of the United States met with the press and spoke to the nation and said this:
(Videotape, March 13, 2007)
ATTY. GEN. ALBERTO GONZALES: That is, in essence, what I knew about the process; was not involved in seeing any memos, was not involved in any discussions about what was going on. That’s basically what I knew, as the attorney general.
I never saw documents, we never had a discussion about where things stood.
(End of videotape)
MR. RUSSERT: Senator Durbin, reading that memo and hearing those comments, what do you conclude?
SEN. DICK DURBIN (D-IL): Tim, there’s a standing rule in Washington that if you have bad news, you want to release it as late as you can on Friday, hoping people will miss it. And that’s when this information was released. Frankly, it is the third contradiction now that comes from the attorney general. First he said the White House was not involved. We’ve seen from the e-mails that they were. Second, he said these men were dismissed—I should say these U.S. attorneys were dismissed because of performance. Now we find out there were political considerations, starting with Karl Rove and others. And now the attorney general’s statement of just a few days ago has been contradicted by the fact he was involved in a meeting where this was discussed, and it wasn’t the only meeting he’s been involved in. It really raises a question about credibility, and I think that’s why we need to have the most important players before the Senate Judiciary Committee, under oath, with a transcript, telling the whole truth.
MR. RUSSERT: Senator Specter, when you hear the attorney general say that he was not involved in any discussions about what was going on, and he never had a discussion about thing—where things stood, and you read that e-mail of an hour meeting in his conference room on this very subject, what do you conclude?
SEN. ARLEN SPECTER (R-PA): Well, I think that there’s a second, very critical element in this matter, and that is whether the attorney general has been candid. And this, on top of the underlying question as to whether the Department of Justice acted properly or improperly in asking for the resignations, makes it very important that the Judiciary Committee get to the bottom of it. I’m doing more—I’m more interested, Tim, than connecting the dots, I want to find out what the facts are. And we’re going to have Kyle Sampson in next Thursday. We’re going to have the attorney general in the Tuesday after we come back from recess, and I think Attorney General Gonzales’ testimony will be a make or break situation for him. There are a lot of questions to be answered beyond credibility. There’s no doubt that what has happened has had a very chilling effect on the United States attorneys across the country.
Listen, they serve at the pleasure of the president, and President Clinton discharged, in one fell swoop, all 93. So that the president can discharge without a reason, but I think they cannot be discharged for a bad reason. There are conflicting stories as to what happened with these eight U.S. attorneys, and I think the Judiciary Committee has to have a very intense investigation to find out what the facts were.
MR. RUSSERT: Do you believe that the attorney general has been candid, Senator Specter?
SEN. SPECTER: Well, on the appearance, he’s got questions to answer. I’m not going to make a judgment based upon newspaper stories. I talked to the attorney general yesterday, and I told him that he would have an opportunity, as far as I was concerned, to present his case, but that he was going to have to have an explanation as to why he said he wasn’t involved in discussions—that’s the key word—and now you have these e-mails which appear to contradict that. Look, we have to have an attorney general who is candid, truthful. And if we find he has not been candid and truthful, that’s a, a very compelling reason for him not to stay on.
MR. RUSSERT: Senator Durbin, in the USA Today on March 7th, the attorney general wrote this: “To be clear, it was for reasons related to policy, priorities and management—what have been referred to broadly as ‘performance-related’ reasons. ...
“While I am grateful for the public service of those U.S. attorneys, they simply lost my confidence. I hope that this episode ultimately will be recognized for what it is: an overblown personnel matter.”
If the attorney general is saying that these attorney—U.S. attorneys lost his confidence because of their performance-related reasons, then he obviously reviewed the cases, reviewed their situations, reviewed their work records and came out with this reason for their dismissal. That means he was intimately involved.
SEN. DURBIN: Tim, there were so many contradictions in what the attorney general’s already told us. And your viewers have just got to meet two of these dismissed U.S. attorneys on a more personal basis. John McKay and Mr. Iglesias come off as very good, professional prosecutors, and it’s very clear what has happened here. They fell out of favor politically. The e-mails now tell us that story. As Senator Specter said, each new president gets to put in a new team of U.S. attorneys. But, as Mr. Iglesias noted, over the last 25 years, only two out of the 486 U.S. attorneys had been removed for something other than cause, something other than criminal misconduct. And here, in one fell swoop, there were eight U.S. attorneys that were dismissed. We know there was politics behind it.
The reason why it’s so significant is that a U.S. attorney, in many respects, has more power than many people in the federal government. And we have to make certain that, that U.S. attorneys’ credibility is protected.
One thing I’ll tell you is that I left a restaurant in Chicago the other night, stopped by a fellow at the door who said, gave me his name and he says, “I’m an assistant U.S. attorney here in the northern district of Illinois. Please get to the bottom of this. I’ve given my life to this. This shadow, this cloud over the U.S. attorneys’ offices across America has got to be lifted.” And that’s why these hearings are so important.
MR. RUSSERT: Do you believe, Senator Durbin, that the current attorney general has the independence and integrity to continue in that office?
SEN. DURBIN: I don’t believe he enjoys the confidence of the American people or of Congress. You’ll find more and more Republican members expressing doubt about whether or not he can continue, and, as you notice, the president more frequently is now saying that he’s standing behind him. It’s an indication of the problems that he’s facing. It would be so refreshing to bring a real prosecutor in there, someone independent to clean up the Department of Justice to restore the integrity and credibility, what that important agency needs.
MR. RUSSERT: Senator Specter, again, another USA Today article. This one is a fixed, a fired—“3 fired prosecutors were in top 10 for convictions, federal data show.”
“Three of the eight federal prosecutors ousted by the Justice Department as poor performers ranked in the top 10 for prosecutions and convictions by the nation’s 93 U.S. attorneys, an analysis of court records” show. Paul Charlton in Arizona; David Iglesias, who was just on, was number four; Carol Lam in California was number seven. What does this tell you?
SEN. SPECTER: Well, it tells me that the attorney general has a lot of explaining to do. The factors that you have cited are important, but there are other factors. I was district attorney of Philadelphia for eight years and have some substantial familiarity with a prosecutor’s role. There, there are—there are lots of facets involved. But I’m not going to convict anybody from what appears in the newspapers or on television. And, as I say, the attorney general is going to—due before the Judiciary Committee. I’ve asked him tough questions in the past, and I will again. And if he can’t respond to establish that he had a reason for what was done, I will be the first to say so.
MR. RUSSERT: Do you believe, as of now, he has the independence, the integrity and the candor to continue in his position?
SEN. SPECTER: Well, the integrity? Let’s hear what he has to say. We’ve read about it in the newspapers, we’ve heard about it on TV. Let’s go eyeball to eyeball with the man and see what his integrity is. As to his independence, there’s a real question that he has allied himself a little too closely with the president when the attorney general has broader responsibilities than most other Cabinet officers.
But I want to ask him those questions. The decision on asking for resignations really ought to be the attorney general, not the president. The appointment of new people, that’s the president’s constitutional authority. So I want to hear from him directly what he did vis-a-vis the White House, what kind of independence he showed, if any.
MR. RUSSERT: Senator Durbin, as you know, the judiciary committee has voted to issue subpoenas for White House officials to testify before your committee, including Karl Rove. There’s a whole issue of executive privilege, whether or not those officials should have to come before Congress under oath. And I want to talk about some comments you made to the Chicago Sun-Times, and here they are. “If and when Rove is sworn in as a witness, Durbin said it would be, ‘reasonable,’ to ‘go beyond the eight who were dismissed’ and ask about his relationship with those who were retained, whether any political pressure was put on U.S. attorneys who did not lose their jobs. Added, Durbin, ‘What else was Karl Rove doing when it came to other activities, departments of the government?’”
Do you believe that if Mr. Rove comes before your committee, you can ask him about his involvement in any department in government? Is it—isn’t that a fishing expedition?
SEN. DURBIN: Well, I don’t want to go too far, and I think you’re right. We should restrict our, our inquiry in the judiciary committee to this question of the Department of Justice. But sadly, what has happened here has raised a question about those others who are serving as U.S. attorneys today who were not dismissed. If they dropped eight people from the team because they didn’t play ball, how many others did play ball? We have to ask those questions now. I’m sorry that we do. But on—reasonable inquiry would take us to that point of asking Mr. Rove, as well as the attorney general, “Well, how many other U.S. attorneys were contacted, either by members of Congress or by higher-ups in the administration and urged to prosecute matters that had a political side to them before an election.” It’s a—it’s a question which has to be asked at this point to clear the air. I have confidence that the overwhelming majority of U.S. attorneys are professional people, doing a good job and not political. But we really have to ask Rove and others these important questions.
MR. RUSSERT: The president is concerned about a “show trial,” Senator Durbin. If Mr. Rove agreed to come before your committee in a closed session, but did testify, not under oath, but misleading Congress in itself is punishable, would you accept that?
SEN. DURBIN: Now, that’s a point that’s been made by Senator Specter, and I respect that point, but, you know, look at the premise here. The White House says, “We have nothing to hide, but we’ll only testify behind closed doors. We want to get to the truth, but we won’t speak under oath. We want the American people to know what actually happened, but we don’t want a transcript.” These things are inconsistent. It’s time to follow the orderly process, the traditional process, and Chairman Leahy suggested it. Bring these witnesses before the Senate Judiciary Committee. They’ll be protected by both sides to make sure that the questions are reasonable, but they really ought to speak to the American people under oath and tell the whole story.
MR. RUSSERT: How about a closed session with a transcript which you then can compare and contrast with other comments?
SEN. DURBIN: Well, of course, if we had a closed session with a transcript, and it was unsatisfactory, then we could consider going forward. But why do we need the interim step? Why don’t we at least open this with a public hearing so that we can get to the bottom of it as quickly as possible.
MR. RUSSERT: Senator Specter, is there an accommodation that can be reached between your committee and the White House?
SEN. SPECTER: I think so, and I’m working to accomplish this to—just that. If there’s a confrontation here on executive privilege for the president and oversight by the Congress, it’s going to take a long time to decide. The last matter took more than two years, so we’d be in the term of another president before the courts had ruled. This matter is so important to the day in and day out functioning of the Department of Justice that the air has to be cleared.
I talked to Fred Fielding late last week and made a number of suggestions. I think the president is wrong when he refuses to have a transcript. If you don’t have a transcript, senators are going to walk out and, in good faith, have different versions as to—as to what occurred. When you talk about oath, that’d be fine, but the individuals who make false official statements are subjected to the same penalty, five years as for perjury. You had the number two man in the Interior pleading guilty to that charge. When it comes to the issue of having the individuals appear before both bodies, I think we can streamline that, have one proceeding with a, a reasonable number of members from the House and Senate.
I would vastly prefer to have the situation public because there is a great public concern here. But it’s time we worked to end stalemate. It’s time we worked to find out what happened here, what the facts are. And if we’re dissatisfied with an accommodation, we can always issue subpoenas and fight it out in court, but that’s not in the interest of the American people to find the facts and let us move on to eliminate this chilling effect which now affects and infects the judicial system.
MR. RUSSERT: So you’re confident that Karl Rove and other White House officials will testify under some format?
SEN. SPECTER: Well, I think it can be worked out. I’ve said from the start that these White House officials ought to testify. The Washington Post has 73 examples that they cite in today’s paper, and Condoleezza Rice, when she was national security counselor, appeared and testified under oath before the 9/11 Commission. And I think, if we work at it, we can find an accommodation in the public interest. The bickering’s gone on long enough in too many quarters in Washington, and I’m, I’m going to work very hard with both Senator Leahy, who’s the chairman, and with White House counsel Fred Fielding to try to find that accommodation.
MR. RUSSERT: Senator Arlen Specter, Senator Dick Durbin, we thank you for joining us and sharing your views.
Coming next, “The New American Story” according to Bill Bradley. He ran for the Democratic presidential nomination for president in 2000 against Al Gore. He now offers his views on the issues confronting our country and the world, right here on MEET THE PRESS.
MR. RUSSERT: And we’re back. Welcome back to MEET THE PRESS.
Senator Bill Bradley, what is “The New American Story”?
FMR. SEN. BILL BRADLEY (D-NJ): Well, Tim, “The New American Story” says that we can solve our problems—whether it’s health care, education, there’s reforming democracy—if we put country ahead of party and we tell people the truth, and that a—if, if, if you have bold solutions, you can solve our problems. And a leader who’s bold enough to tell the people the truth will find an audience ready for bold solutions.
And at the core of it is something I call the ethic of connectedness. And I guess you can sense that when you see the picture of the earth from space. It’s pretty easy when you see that picture to realize that we’re all connected because we have one ecology. But if you talk about tax policy, health, education, in America today, you have conflicting ethics. The ethic of responsibility, which is individual action, associated with Republicans; the ethic of caring, collective action, associated with Democrats. The reality is the ethic of connection says we need both individual action and collective action, both universal health insurance and we need individuals who take care of themselves to solve our problems.
MR. RUSSERT: You write candidly as a Democrat about the eight Democratic curses, the perceptions of the Democratic Party that have arisen in our politics. Here’s the first four. You write of the fear of thinking big, soft on defense, waste people’s hard-earned tax dollars, closed-minded devotion to the secular.
Defense. You, yourself, call for cutting defense by $50 billion. Wouldn’t the Republicans say, “Bradley, soft on defense”?
FMR. SEN. BRADLEY: No. I think back to Harry Truman, who was a very strong president on defense, but also, as a senator, made sure that every dollar was spent, of the American people’s taxpayer dollars, was spent wisely. For example, we just finished the F-22 aircraft fighter. It was about 42 percent above budget and 20 months late, and the companies that did that got $849 million bonus. Democrats should say, “No performance, no bonus.” I don’t think that that’s soft, I think that’s hard. I think that’s looking at things realistically, and I think that the military deserves a, a party and a government that’s going to be candid with them, understand what the problems are, and challenge them.
MR. RUSSERT: How about tax dollars? Bill Bradley says consider raising the gasoline tax a dollar. Imagine what the Republicans would do with that.
FMR. SEN. BRADLEY: Well, if you take that isolated, but let me draw the whole picture, all right? The whole picture. We now import a lot of oil, and if we had mileage for our cars, the same mileage as Europeans have, which is about 44 miles a gallon, we would import no oil—repeat, no oil from OPEC. If we gave people a subsidy to buy fuel-efficient cars and paid for that with a fee on fuels that were inefficient, that would make the transition clearer and faster. If we then put a dollar gasoline tax on, the tax wouldn’t be used for spending, you’d take a dollar gasoline tax, you’d take every dollar and reduce taxes on work, Social Security, unemployment and Medicare. It seems to me we want to tax things we don’t like, like pollution or oil or whatever, and we want to cut taxes on things that we do like, such as work. And it seems to me that those, as a total package, would essentially give us the assurance we wouldn’t be fighting yet another war, as we have fought two in the last 15 years, in part because of oil.
MR. RUSSERT: Iraq in part because of oil?
FMR. SEN. BRADLEY: Absolutely.
MR. RUSSERT: You talk about closed-minded devotion to the secular. Do you think the Democrats have been reluctant to talk about faith?
FMR. SEN. BRADLEY: I think that the Democrats—some people in the Democratic Party have been reluctant to talk about faith, and not so much just in a religious sense, but in terms of how it informs our public life. I mean, I don’t think the Democrats should shy away from the morality of our views, that everybody in America have a right to health care, that you shouldn’t lie to the American people, that war should be a last resort, that stewardship of the land and water of our country is good policy and it’s consistent with a sense of morality. I think that those are the kind of things that we need to get across to the American people.
MR. RUSSERT: Let’s look at the remaining curses of the Democrats, in terms of wealth bashing, special friends, ceased to take a strong stand on principle, hypnotized by charisma.
Wealth bashing meaning class warfare?
FMR. SEN. BRADLEY: Well, yeah, it means essentially saying that people who’ve succeeded in America are a problem. I don’t think that’s the case. That doesn’t mean the wealthy shouldn’t pay more as their patriotic duty, but it means that, when you say to someone, you—it’s the language that’s the problem here. When you attack people because they’ve succeeded, what you’re saying is, to everyone out there who wants to be a major league player, wants to start a new company, wants to do whatever, that their aspirations are in question. The Democratic Party should be the party of aspirations, and that means not only encouraging people to work and encouraging people to succeed and rewarding them when they succeed, but it also means making sure that everybody has health insurance, making people—making sure people have secure pensions, and making sure the education system in America is delivering on its promise.
MR. RUSSERT: Hypnotized by charisma. What does that mean?
FMR. SEN. BRADLEY: That means that the party has, has tended to look for a knight on a shining—on a white horse to solve all our problems. Republican Party, over 30 years, has invested in structure. At the top of that structure, meaning first you have the—you have the money, the money goes into ideas, think tanks, and then that bubbles up to political operatives, who find the language, that boils up to the media, some elements of the media, they’re repeated over and over. At the top of that is the presidential candidate. Democrats invert the pyramid. Every Democratic candidate for president has to invent that whole pyramid. And I’m saying that we’re looking for people who have charisma. I think, just take a look at the example of Bill Clinton. Clearly a fine person, great talent, had a lot of charisma. But the reality is, after eight years of Democratic presidency, we had fewer Democratic senators, fewer Democratic congressmen, fewer Democratic governors, fewer Democratic state legislators and a party in debt. That’s not to criticize President Clinton; it’s simply to say that charisma did not translate into structure. And if you’re going to be there for the long term, you need to build structure. That means structure of local parties, that means structure of ideas, that means structures of service. So that when people think of a party, they can feel that they can do all of those things. And I guess the main point I’m trying to make here, Tim, is that we can do all these things, that we can control our destiny as, as a country, and that it only takes a few people who are dedicated to making real change to actually make it happen. The people just have to believe that it’s possible. I believe it’s possible. I believe we can have a rebirth of idealism in this country.
MR. RUSSERT: Looking at the field of the Democratic Party in the 2008 election, does anyone stand out to you?
FMR. SEN. BRADLEY: Not right now. I think it’s still early. I think John Edwards has been very specific on health care plan, and I think that’s the most significant thing in terms of substance that’s happened in the presidential campaign so far. I think, ultimately, people are going to want to know, “Well, what are you going to do for me?” I mean, if you look at—I mean, all this talk about red and blue, I mean, I think it’s really exaggerated. I mean, when you’re next to—at your kid’s little league baseball game, you don’t look at the parent next to you and say, “Is that person red or blue?” But that seems to be the way the politics is. But people are—all Americans want to have a good life for their family. All Americans want to be proud of their country, and see that it lives up to its ideals. All Americans want to have a good job at good pay, want to have health care for their family, want to have a good education for their kids and want a secure pension and retirement. Those are the things that politics should focus on in America. Not a lot of other peripheral issues, but those issues, because that’s what 70 percent of the American people care about and are interested in. And I believe it’s the obligation of the political process to address those issues that are most fundamental to giving a good life for people.
MR. RUSSERT: Do you think Barack Obama is someone who has tapped into idealism in our country?
FMR. SEN. BRADLEY: There’s no question about it. He’s kind of on a sky rocket right now. I mean, he gets 20,000 people at a speech. He has touched into the yearning for people to believe in a better day. That’s what I tried to do in 2000. He’s doing a heck of a lot better job than I did. But I think that that’s a very positive thing that’s happening out there. I think the key thing for Barack is not simply to take that trajectory and just be a rock star, but at some point he’s got to say, “OK, what are the programs, what are the specific things I want to accomplish?” And then he has the opportunity to do what very few politicians have. When the light is shined on you by the public, as it is now being shown on him, a great leader shines it back on the public and empowers them to take actions they never thought they could take. So, while I’m impressed with 20,000 people at a speech, I’d be more impressed with 5,000 meet-ups with 100 people at a meet-up.
MR. RUSSERT: Before we go, the Final Four. Who do you like?
FMR. SEN. BRADLEY: Well, I—my heart—well, I don’t know. I don’t know.
MR. RUSSERT: Come on, you’re not running anymore.
FMR. SEN. BRADLEY: No, no, no, no. I, I think I’d probably—I don’t know.
MR. RUSSERT: Who’s your heart with?
FMR. SEN. BRADLEY: Georgetown’s my heart, you know.
MR. RUSSERT: There it is. We got it out of him.
FMR. SEN. BRADLEY: Georgetown’s my heart. My heart’s with Georgetown.
MR. RUSSERT: Bill Bradley. The book, “The New American Story.” We thank you for joining us.
That’s all for today. We’ll be back next week. If it’s Sunday, it’s MEET THE PRESS.