MR. RUSSERT: Our issues this Sunday: Tough words on Capitol Hill over the firing of eight U.S. attorneys.
SEN. PATRICK LEAHY (D-VT): The Republicans are the ones who don’t want to have the hearings.
MR. RUSSERT: The attorney general’s former chief of staff says Alberto Gonzales did not tell the truth.
MR. KYLE SAMPSON: I don’t think the attorney general’s statement that he was not involved in any discussions about U.S. attorney removals is accurate.
MR. RUSSERT: What now? With us, from the Senate Judiciary Committee, the chairman, Democrat Pat Leahy of Vermont, and a key Republican member, Orrin Hatch of Utah.
Then, the president and House Democrats square off on Iraq.
PRES. GEORGE W. BUSH: If Congress fails to pass a bill to fund our troops on the front lines, the American people will know who to hold responsible.
REP. NANCY PELOSI: Calm down with the threats. There’s a new Congress in town.
MR. RUSSERT: And are 23 million Americans about to have their federal taxes go up? With us, the chairman of the House, Ways and Means Committee and author of “I Haven’t Had a Bad Day Since: From the Streets of Harlem to the Halls of Congress,” Representative Charles B. Rangel of New York.
But first, what now for the attorney general of the United States? The Senate Judiciary Committee is investigating as to why eight sitting U.S. attorneys were replaced by the Bush administration. Joining us, chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee, Democrat Pat Leahy, and a key Republican on that same committee, Orrin Hatch.
Gentlemen, welcome both. Let me show you what we know so far in the public record. This was the attorney general talking to the press and the nation on March 13th.
(Videotape, March 13, 2007)
ATTY. GEN. ALBERTO GONZALES: That is, in essence, what I knew about the process. Was not involved in, 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 discussion about where things stood.
MR. RUSSERT: And then we saw his chief of staff, the attorney general’s chief of staff two weeks later, appearing before the Senate Judiciary Committee, and here was his testimony.
MR. KYLE SAMPSON: I don’t think the attorney general’s statement that he was not involved in any discussions about U.S. attorney removals is accurate. And...
SEN. ARLEN SPECTER: Is what? Is accurate?
MR. SAMPSON: I don’t think it’s accurate. I think he’s recently clarified it, but I remember discussing with him this process of asking certain U.S. attorneys to resign, and I believe that he was present at the meeting on November 27th.
SEN. SPECTER: So he was involved in discussions contrary to the statement he made at his news conference on March 13th?
MR. SAMPSON: I believe—yes, sir.
MR. RUSSERT: Senator Leahy, a very serious question, do you believe the chief law enforcement official in this country, the attorney general, has lied?
SEN. LEAHY: I believe he has not been accurate. I believe—I believe he has not been truthful. In fact, when some of these statements came out, first in the press, which indicated he had not been accurate, he came up to me at a meeting at the U.S. Supreme Court and said, “I, I want to come up and clarify this, have another meeting.” I told him I didn’t want any more of these private meetings where we’re told either half truths or untruths. I said, “Our next meeting will be in public under oath.” Quite frankly, Tim, I’m fed up about it. I really am. Just tell the truth. You know, in the long run, telling the truth is the best thing to do.
MR. RUSSERT: The attorney general is scheduled to appear before your committee on April 17th.
SEN. LEAHY: That’s right.
MR. RUSSERT: Should you wait that long? If the attorney general called you and said, “Could I please come in next week?” would you accommodate him?
SEN. LEAHY: No. In fact, we got a call yesterday afternoon saying, “Could we come earlier.” You know, we had offered a much earlier date to the attorney general, and they flatly turned it down. We offered a number of dates. They flatly turned them down, and they picked the date of April 17th. As a result, we went ahead and did our—planned our other hearings. Of course, the Sampson hearing, we’re doing. We’re, in effect, interrogating a number of people leading up to it. The 17th is now the time. Everybody has set their schedule according to that. It’s the date that the attorney general originally picked. It’s the date the hearing will take place.
MR. RUSSERT: When did he want to come in?
SEN. LEAHY: He, he said he wanted to come in April 17th. We, we had already...
MR. RUSSERT: When he wanted to move it up, how quickly? Next week?
SEN. LEAHY: Well, sometime—no, no, week after next. But we’ll, we’ll keep on that schedule. Senators have planned for that schedule. We have been doing our investigations leading up to that. It’s the date that he originally picked. We’ve accommodated him on that date. He, he declined the dates that we suggested. He picked this date; we’re accommodating him on it. It will not change. The hearing will be April 17th.
MR. RUSSERT: Senator Hatch, let me show you another comment from Kyle Sampson, the attorney general’s chief of staff, at that hearing on Thursday. Let’s watch.
MR. SAMPSON: I remember learning from the attorney general that Mr. Rove had complained to the attorney general about U.S. attorneys in three districts...
UNIDENTIFIED SENATOR: And did you think...
MR. SAMPSON: ...and the substance of the complaint was that they weren’t aggressively pursuing voter fraud cases.
MR. RUSSERT: So now we have the chief of staff saying attorney general talked to Karl Rove about the performance of U.S. attorneys. Do you believe that the attorney general has misled the nation?
SEN. HATCH: I don’t believe he has. My experience with General Gonzales is that (coughs) excuse me—is that he is a very honest man. Now, I think when he was talking about that he hadn’t seen documents, he was talking about the e-mails. With regard to the general matter here, if Kyle Sampson said, in response to my questions, that he had generally apprised the attorney general of these matters, and after The Washington Post article came out, I called the attorney general and I said, “Well, what about this?” And he said, “Well,” he said, “I generally,” he said, “had some knowledge about this,” he said, “but I didn’t get into the details and the specifics.” And he—and he blamed himself for not doing so. I, I don’t think anybody who knows him would accuse him of being a liar. Now, you know, are there contradictions here? Of course. But I believe that that’s—it’s explained by Kyle Sampson saying that he generally explained it to him, and by his comment to me that, “Yes, I had some general knowledge of it, but I was not involved very much in the specifics.”
MR. RUSSERT: You know, it is interesting, however, that one of your colleagues has, in fact, used those exact words, “liar,” to describe the attorney general. Here’s an e-mail from Kyle Sampson which—from November, which lays out a very precise path to get someone in a U.S. attorney position without going through the Senate confirmation process. And that, in fact, got to the Democratic senator from Arkansas, Mark Pryor, who took to the Senate floor and used these exact words. Let’s listen.
(Videotape, March 15, 2007)
SEN. MARK PRYOR (D-AR): The truth is, I was lied to. Because I was told that the attorney general—and he not only said it to me, he said it to the Senate Judiciary Committee, and he said it to the world, the attorney general wanted a Senate-confirmed U.S. attorney in every slot. That is absolutely not true in Arkansas based on this e-mail from the Justice Department.
When the attorney general lies to a United States senator, I think it’s time for that attorney general to go.
MR. RUSSERT: Senator Hatch, that’s one of your colleagues saying he was lied to.
SEN. HATCH: Well, I don’t think he was. I mean, in the case—in that particular case, they—you know, it’s no secret the White House wanted Griffin put in there, a person with prosecutorial experience who the attorney—who the U.S. attorney who was going to be removed said was his right-hand man and one of the best prosecutors he had. The fact of the matter is they wanted to appoint him as an interim U.S. attorney. And by the way, that is—that is done all the time. Interims are appointed while they wait to get a, a permanent vote by the Senate, and, frankly, the question here is whether an interim is appointed by the courts or by the, the Justice Department itself. And frankly, you know, I don’t think—I don’t think anybody should’ve said that the attorney general lied to them. On...
MR. RUSSERT: (To Senator Leahy) You’re nodding.
SEN. HATCH: On that issue. Certainly not on that issue.
MR. RUSSERT: (To Senator Leahy) You’re shaking your head, Senator.
SEN. LEAHY: Well, you almost—you’re almost thinking, the answer—I love Orrin Hatch, an old buddy—but it’s almost like he’s aware of the fact that today’s April 1st. This is not what happened at all. It is not the case of putting someone in with the idea of them having a confirmation. They were very cleverly using an obscure piece of the Patriot Act that was snuck in by the administration, the last Patriot Act. They were using that to suddenly replace all these U.S. attorneys, planning never to go to the Senate for confirmation. It was very clear from the Sampson testimony, very clear from the e-mails we’ve received that’s exactly what they wanted to do. In fact, it is remarkable that, when that came to light, when the United States Senate, by a vote of 94-to-2, we repealed that, even though the White House was opposed to us repealing it, and the House representatives by about a 4-to-1 margin did. How many times, Tim, have you seen, in this city, that kind of bipartisan rejection of an administration’s policy? I think most people are so offended by what has happened, most people feel that the attorney general has not been truthful, and again, that is why I really—I don’t want any more of these closed door meetings, closed door briefings. I want it under oath, before the public. Let both Republican and Democratic senators ask the questions, let the truth come out.
MR. RUSSERT: But if the...
SEN. HATCH: (Unintelligible).
MR. RUSSERT: One second, Senator Hatch.
SEN. HATCH: Yeah.
MR. RUSSERT: But if the president says, “I’m sorry, Senator Leahy, this is executive privilege. I need honest, unfettered advice from my staff. Karl Rove was not confirmed by the U.S. Senate. He’s not going before your committee. You can do whatever you want, he’s not going,” what do you do?
SEN. LEAHY: Well, first, the president hasn’t claimed executive privilege yet, and, according to the testimony, the president was not involved directly in these things, so it wasn’t a question of advice going to the president. It was more of a, a question of orders coming from Karl Rove, Harriet Miers to the attorney general, who seems to act as though he’s still a member of the White House staff instead of being of the attorney general of the United States. Entirely different thing. I, I think the most important thing, especially in light of the fact that in two years we’re going to have a new president, new attorney general, let’s establish exactly what went wrong here. We know a lot of things went wrong. With the idea that at least with the next president, whoever the next president might be, won’t make these mistakes again.
MR. RUSSERT: But what if Mr. Rove refuses to come before your committee?
SEN. LEAHY: Well, let’s see if that happens.
MR. RUSSERT: Do you believe he will?
SEN. LEAHY: Let’s see if that happens.
MR. RUSSERT: Do you have indications he might?
SEN. LEAHY: No, I don’t. No, in fact, they’ve given us a take it or leave it. They said we’ll—the White House said we’ll only allow a discussion behind closed doors with no transcript and a limited agenda and not under oath. Everybody knows that’s a nonstarter. There’ve been so many misstatements back and forth by people within the administration, I want it in public under oath. I want both Republicans and Democrats to be able to ask questions.
MR. RUSSERT: Senator Hatch, here’s part of the problem. There was a letter written by the acting assistant attorney general to Senator Schumer, and it said this about the situation in Arkansas: “The Department of Justice is not aware of anyone lobbying for Mr. [Tim] Griffin’s appointment.” That’s the U.S. attorney in Arkansas. “The Department is not aware of Karl Rove playing any role in the decision to appoint Mr. Griffin.” And then e-mail emerged from Kyle Sampson, which said this, in December: “[I] know that getting [Tim Griffin] appointed was important to Harriet” Miers, “Karl” Rove, “etc.”
And so it was then asked why, if Karl Rove was involved, would the Justice Department send a letter to Congress saying he wasn’t involved? And they said, “Well, the White House counsel’s office gave us that information that Mr. Rove wasn’t involved.” Ask the White House why that happened, and here was the answer from the deputy press secretary: “The [February] letter [saying that Rove had no role in the appointment of Tim Griffin] was received here by an associate counsel named Chris Portion. He was new to the White House counsel’s office. He made suggested edits of the letter. He had very limited knowledge of the circumstances surrounding the appointment of Mr. Griffin as U.S. attorney and the prior conversation with his supervisors, who he had only worked for” “I think about a month or two. And he cautioned the Justice Department to make sure the facts were accurate.”
So the White House saying now that the White House counsel who vetted this wasn’t really experienced enough to do that, and, oh, by the way, he said the Justice Department should have taken other precautions. However, when you look at the e-mails, lo and behold, you find this, that same White House associate counsel writing an e-mail to Kyle Sampson back in December about what? The appointment of Tim Griffin as U.S. attorney in Arkansas. “Seems to me” Senator “Pryor and” Senator “Lincoln are taking steps to back the” Department of Justice, the White House “into a corner on Tim Griffin and commit to not commit on him as a nominee. Tim can call himself ‘U.S. Attorney’ rather than ‘interim’ or ‘acting’ and our talkers should avoid referring to him as ‘interim.’ What are your thoughts?” This is a White House counsel familiar with the nomination sending information that was false to the Justice Department, who then sent false information to Congress. Why wouldn’t you want to bring the White House staff before you and find out what happened and why?
SEN. HATCH: Well, first of all, let’s understand something. This was not well-handled. I think anybody with brains would, would admit that, and they are admitting that. And the Justice Department is admitting it, and the White House pretty well has admitted it. Now, the Justice Department has offered to bring in their people under oath. I presume that General Gonzales will be under oath. These are the people who handled it. These are the people who understand it. With regard to the White House, you’re talking about the top advisers to the president. The president has indicated that he’s going to invoke executive privilege. But they have offered to send Rove, and, in fact, they made an offer to send more. The general counsel Fred Fielding made an offer to send even more people than we had asked for on the Judiciary Committee, but they said, “Look, we’ll send them up there, you can get the facts from them. Yes, we want it to be not under oath with a limited number of people, but this is the way to get to the facts.” And, of course, the Democrats on the Judiciary, Judiciary Committee are not satisfied with that. So if they...
SEN. LEAHY: A lot of Republicans aren’t...
SEN. HATCH: ...if they—they’re going to—now, wait a minute.
SEN. LEAHY: A lot of Republicans aren’t satisfied either.
SEN. HATCH: Let me finish. Let me finish, Pat.
SEN. LEAHY: A lot of Republicans aren’t satisfied with it.
SEN. HATCH: Pat, let me finish. I didn’t interrupt you.
SEN. LEAHY: (Unintelligible)...tell the truth.
SEN. HATCH: Pat, I didn’t interrupt you. Now, let me just tell you something. There is not one shred of evidence here that any of these appointments were made to, to use Senator Specter’s words, to, to, to interfere with an ongoing investigation or case. Not one shred of evidence. This is a tempest in a teapot and, and, and the president—everybody admits that the president—these people served at the pleasure of the president. What happened here is, the president’s goals and purposes were to go after immigration smuggling cases, gun cases, so they get tough on the misuse of guns, on pornography cases. And some of these people were not doing that. Now, where they got in problems is they, they said there were performance problems. What they meant, it seemed to me by the so-called word in performance, was that these people were not following up on these cases.
Take Carol Lam, for instance. Carol Lam was raised on your program, Tim, by Schumer. Carol Lam, it’s amazing to me she wasn’t fired earlier because for three years members of the Congress had complained that there had been all kinds of border patrol capture of these people but hardly any prosecutions. She was a former law professor, no prosecutorial experience, and the former campaign manager in Southern California for Clinton, and they’re trying to say that this administration appoints people politically? Of course they do. That’s what these positions are. But politically they’ve appointed people who have been approved by the Justice Department—the Judiciary Committee, in most cases, who have served well, are strong people and, and, frankly, these, these seven were really mishandled.
Griffin, nobody doubts that he’s a good prosecutor. I think the problem is that they’ve tried to make a big tempest out of a tea—tempest in a coffee cup here over some mistakes that were made at the Justice Department when the administration, I think, is cooperating and they’re unwilling to take, take any of the information from the people at the White House in the way that Fred Fielding said he would do it. I was surprised Fielding went that far with people that high in the White House.
MR. RUSSERT: Senator Leahy, let me ask about a comment that Senator Hatch made. Do you have any shred of evidence that any case was interfered with with, with—by the dismissal of these eight U.S. attorneys?
SEN. LEAHY: Well, this is one of the things we’re trying, trying to find out. We know that Carol Lam, who Orrin angrily dismisses, and I’m sorry he has to get so angry so early in the morning, but the—she, of course, had prosecuted a Republican congressman and was investigating other Republicans when, when she was dismissed. That, that we do know for a fact. We also, when they...
MR. RUSSERT: But do you have any evidence that this is an ongoing case is...
SEN. HATCH: You have not a shred, not a shred of evidence.
SEN. LEAHY: Well, this is—this is why we are having the interviews we’re having the next two weeks before the attorney general comes up. But we do know, when they talk about the cooperation, one of the key people we asked to come up, you talk about cooperation, employed by the Department of Justice. The attorney general assured us that they would come even without subpoenas. As soon as we asked her to come up, she took the Fifth Amendment. She said, “I won’t testify. I take the Fifth.” And what was the basis of the Fifth? “Because I might get prosecuted later if I lied before the committee.”
MR. RUSSERT: But she’s also said the Democrats are—had already made their opinions known publicly...
SEN. HATCH: That’s exactly right, Tim.
MR. RUSSERT: ...and she didn’t—she didn’t feel she’d get a fair hearing.
SEN. HATCH: That’s exactly right.
SEN. LEAHY: No, no. She had—there’s going to be an almost equal number of Republican senators and Democratic senators asking questions. She’s talking about possibly being prosecuted if she had to lie when she came before the committee. Everybody’s expected to tell the truth when they come before the committee.
MR. RUSSERT: The president does—excuse me.
SEN. LEAHY: ...I—I’ve prosecuted enough criminal cases...
MR. RUSSERT: But senator, the president does have a right to replace these U.S. attorneys if he chooses.
SEN. LEAHY: Absolutely.
MR. HATCH: You’re doggone right.
SEN. LEAHY: Absolutely. I, I hear by the Amen chorus in the background, but the—he has a right to. But what he does not have a right to do is do it in a selective way using an obscure part of the Patriot Act that was never intended that purpose, do it in a way to avoid having Senate confirmation, and do it in a way when it is sent—as, as they said in their own e-mails, “to get loyal Bushies in there who will send those signals to the other.” Now you can’t have—I mean, it’s very similar to the tobacco case where they interfered there. They’re about to get $130 billion verdict, which would’ve gone—which would’ve been—gone to the U.S. Treasury, and then they’re told, “Wait a minute, you can’t do that, these are friends of ours. Lower that 130 to 10.”
MR. RUSSERT: Senator Hatch, you know, two times—wait a minute, Senator Hatch. Senator Hatch...
SEN. HATCH: Let me answer that. That was just crazy.
MR. RUSSERT: Senator Hatch, this is important, though.
SEN. HATCH: Yeah?
MR. RUSSERT: Back in 2005, there was a U.S. attorney in Utah by the name of Paul Warner, and this administration wanted to remove him. One of the people that was promoting himself for that job was Kyle Sampson, the chief of staff to the attorney general, and Orrin Hatch stepped up and said, “You can’t do that.” And he called the people at the White House and Justice Department a bunch of snuffies for trying to do that. And you stopped them from doing it because you didn’t feel it was appropriate. Now, why was...
SEN. HATCH: No, no, that...
MR. RUSSERT: Now, why was—if it was inappropriate to do it in your home state, why wasn’t it inappropriate to do it in these eight other jurisdictions?
SEN. HATCH: Well, it would have been appropriate. If they had wanted to do it, there wasn’t much I could do about it. But Warner, in this case, they wanted to remove him because he had been appointed by President Clinton. What they didn’t realize is that President Clinton had worked with me to get Paul Warner in, and Paul Warner rose to be one of the greatest U.S. attorneys in the country, was recognized all over the country. And I just didn’t want to see somebody who, who did not have prosecutorial experience do that.
But I got to go back to what Pat was saying. He keeps bringing up the Griffin situation, which is the only, the only time that that Patriot Act provision was used, and, and, and Kyle Sampson said he regretted it. If they—if the administration was really misusing that section, they would have appointed a whole raft of other interim U.S. attorneys. They did not do that. So that’s just a pure run-up of the wrong road, like all of this. Let me tell you, are we going to spend our time where there’s not a shred of evidence that impropriety has gone on here in interfering with an ongoing investigation or an ongoing case, are we going to spend our time on this political exercise? Is this what the Senate’s going to do, with all of the problems that we have, where they can’t show any evidence that there’s been any impropriety here other than a bunch of mistakes that the, the Justice Department readily admits, the White House readily admits, but I think can be easily straightened out in—if we all work together and, and did it.
MR. RUSSERT: Senator Hatch, it’s not just Democrats. Arlen Specter, Republican ranking member on the committee...
SEN. HATCH: Oh, I’m upset, too, but that doesn’t...
MR. RUSSERT: But, but let me finish.
SEN. HATCH: Yeah?
MR. RUSSERT: Senator Specter said the Justice Department is “in a state of disrepair, perhaps even dysfunctional.”
SEN. HATCH: I don’t agree with that.
MR. RUSSERT: All right, then let me go on.
SEN. HATCH: I don’t agree.
MR. RUSSERT: The National Review, respected conservative magazine founded by William F. Buckley, this was their editorial on Wednesday.
SEN. HATCH: I understand.
MR. RUSSERT: “Time to Go. We have never seen evidence that [Attorney General Gonzales] has a fine legal mind, good judgment, or managerial ability. Nor has his conduct at any stage of this controversy gained our confidence.
“His claim not to have been involved in the firings suggests that he was either deceptive or inexcusably detached from the operations of his own department. ...
“What little credibility Gonzales had is gone. ... He cannot defend the administration and its policies even when they deserve defense. Alberto Gonzales should resign. The Justice Department needs a fresh start.”
SEN. HATCH: Well...
MR. RUSSERT: Whether or not you agree or disagree that Mr. Gonzales has not told the truth in this situation, the National Review is saying he no longer has the ability to lead the Justice Department. Would you be willing to see him step aside now?
SEN. HATCH: Well, they’re, they’re, they’re allowed to have their own opinion. I work with him virtually every day. I’ve done it when I was chairman, I’ve done it since, and I have to say he’s appeared before the committee, he’s been a very bright guy, he’s done a very good job. They’ve done a tremendous job against crime all over this country. This is one of the problems. I think most of the U.S. attorneys have—almost all of them have done an exceptional job.
You know, I don’t think you can have these high positions without having somebody nitpicking at you all the time and without finding fault. And, yes, this has been badly handled. But it was badly handled by people who, by, I would say, not by Justice—by Judge Gonzales, but by others in, in the Justice Department. Now, people say, “Well, he should have been on top of everything.” There are 130,000 workers in the Justice Department, mostly lawyers. I’ve got to tell you, these are top flight people doing a terrific job, and I’ve—I—I’ve seen, in every administration since—from Carter on, and even before then, but while I’ve been in the Senate, I’ve seen things you could criticize at the Justice Department. All I can say is this, Alberto Gonzales, you know, he’s the first Hispanic-American ever put in this high position. He is an honest man. My experience with him has been extensive. I have never seen him prevaricate, I have never seen him do anything that was wrong. In this particular case, he misstated, there’s no question about it. He was inaccurate, I don’t think there’s any question about it. I think he’ll be the first to tell you that. But you can interpret things various ways, and I would wait until he testifies. He’ll have to answer some of these questions. And let’s give the man a fair—at least some fairness, a fair chance to be able to explain why this happened under his watch and he was not totally prepared to, to handle all the problems that came up. I think...
MR. RUSSERT: Right.
SEN. HATCH: ...if we’re fair, we’ll give the man a chance. But boy, I’ll tell you, I think there ought to at least be some evidence that something was really wrong here, and, and to imply that there was criminal activity. And in the Monica Goodling case, let’s be honest about it...
MR. RUSSERT: OK.
SEN. HATCH: ...her attorney—it was one of the most gutsy letter I—letters I’ve ever seen.
MR. RUSSERT: Right.
SEN. HATCH: He said the atmosphere is so poisoned on the Judiciary Committee, with no real justification, that he’s not going to put her through it because you never know how they would misconstrue what she had to say.
MR. RUSSERT: Senator Hatch, let me ask you a simple question, however. If, in fact, the president decides that Mr. Gonzales should step down, what...
SEN. HATCH: Oh, well, that’s the president’s decision.
MR. RUSSERT: Right. And the president came to you and asked you to be the next attorney general, would you do that?
SEN. HATCH: Well, he’s not going to come to me. But the fact is that...
MR. RUSSERT: Yeah, but if he—if he did, saying you’re easily confirmable by the Senate as a member of that club, a Republican governor in Utah could replace your successor. “Orrin Hatch, we need you to do this.” Would you do it?
SEN. HATCH: Well, I’ve irritated the chairman of the committee just this morning. It’d be really tough for me to get confirmed, I’m sure. But the fact is, of course, anybody would serve this country. I would serve this country any way I could. But, but they’re not going to pick me. But the point is, you know, it’s up to the president.
MR. RUSSERT: Right.
SEN. HATCH: And I personally believe that this man ought to be given an opportunity to continue because he’s done a good job otherwise. Yes, this is a flap that looks bad, but I don’t see any criminal activity at all. I do see how you can misconstrue what he said.
MR. RUSSERT: Right.
SEN. HATCH: And frankly, in order to make that stick, he would have had to have willfully and intentionally lied. This man isn’t capable of doing that. He’s a good man, and yes, it’s been a flap that has been embarrassing to him, to the administration, and to Republicans in general.
MR. RUSSERT: Right.
SEN. HATCH: But if you look at what’s been done by the U.S. attorneys around this country...
MR. RUSSERT: Right.
SEN. HATCH: ...and by the Justice Department, it’s been a pretty doggone good job over the last six years.
MR. RUSSERT: Senator Leahy, do you believe that Alberto Gonzales will resign?
SEN. LEAHY: I don’t know. You know, it’s going to be up to—this is up to the president. If the president feels that Mr. Gonzales sets the highest standard that he wants to show for his administration, then he stays on. If the president feels that this is what he wants as the state of law enforcement is, he’ll stay on. Now, now Senator Hatch says he’s always found him to be truthful. Unfortunately, he was not truthful before the United States Senate, and that is why he’s coming back. Previous administrations have looked for ways to cooperate with the Congress. This administration goes out of its way to find ways not to cooperate, and I think that’s why the stonewalling has come up. When, when you have a key member who takes the Fifth Amendment—Fifth Amendment, not even claiming they did something criminal in the past, but because they might lie when they are there. Now, I’ve prosecuted a lot of—a lot of criminals, I know that they have the right to the Fifth Amendment. I’ll protect that, and obviously if she says, “I’ll take the Fifth.” But I’ve never heard somebody say, “I’ll take the Fifth today for something I might do tomorrow.”
MR. RUSSERT: Would Senator Hatch be an acceptable replacement to Mr. Gonzales?
SEN. LEAHY: Well, I, I—the rumor on, on the Hill this week was he was actively running for it, but, you know, I’m going to have to leave...
SEN. HATCH: Oh, come on, Pat.
SEN. LEAHY: I’m going to have to leave that—I’m going to have to leave that to him. And he shouldn’t—he shouldn’t be upset if he thinks he annoyed me today. I mean, he does that every day, but, but we always get along well. In fact, I got a lovely letter from him—handwritten letter for my birthday.
Thank you very much for that, Orrin, that was very nice of you.
SEN. HATCH: You bet.
MR. RUSSERT: But do you think he’s confirmable?
SEN. LEAHY: I think that—let’s take it one step—let’s take it one step at a time. I, I tell you one thing, I’m not eager to have any confirmation hearing for any new attorney general until we finish this investigation. And the reason for that...
MR. RUSSERT: Whoa, whoa, whoa. So if Mr. Rove did not come and testify before your committee under oath, and Mr. Gonzales stepped aside, you would not replace the attorney general position...
SEN. LEAHY: That’s not what I said. I said I want to be able to get enough from this investigation so that if there is a new attorney general, we can ask questions, say, “Can you tell us under oath not to do this?” You know, when they talk about—and also, Senator Hatch talked about, “Well, there’s only this one case down in Arkansas,’ that’s—that unfortunately falls into an amazing overstatement. The fact is that they used the Patriot Act, something that we’ve now repealed, to replace all of these U.S. attorneys.
SEN. HATCH: No, no, no.
SEN. LEAHY: We have about 20 vacancies for U.S. attorneys around the country. I’m waiting to see them send them up. They have not sent any of these people up for confirmation. The one in Arkansas was a former research assistant at the Republican National Committee. He was a protege of Karl Rove, and there’s heavy pressure from Karl Rove to place him in there, replacing one of the best U.S. attorneys in the country.
MR. RUSSERT: To be continued. Pat, Pat Leahy, Orrin Hatch, thank you for a very interesting and lively discussion.
Coming next, the chairman of the powerful House Ways and Means Committee talks taxes, the Iraq war, and his new book, “And I Haven’t Had a Bad Day Since.” The Democratic congressman from Harlem, Charles B. Rangel is next, right here only on MEET THE PRESS.
MR. RUSSERT: House Ways and Means Committee Chairman Charles Rangel on Iraq, taxes, and his new book, “And I Haven’t Had a Bad Day Since” after this brief station break.
MR. RUSSERT: Chairman Rangel, welcome back to MEET THE PRESS. Want to talk about your book in a second, but let me start with the war. The House voted for funding for the war with a date certain, March of ‘08, to begin a withdrawal of U.S. troops. But in that bill was $20 billion of so-called pork, money for cricket infestation, tours of the Capitol, security at the National Convention, peanut crops. Why would the Democrats put that kind of money in such a serious bill?
REP. CHARLES B. RANGEL (D-NY): Because they needed the votes. That bill, we lost so many Democrats, one, because people thought we went too far and others because we didn’t go far enough. And so a lot of things had to go into a bill that certainly those of us who respect great legislation did not want in there. But the real question was, were we doing something to stop this immoral war and what could we do instead of doing nothing except do what the president asks us to do? I think the most important thing and the worst thing that’s ever happened to this country in recent history is getting involved in the Middle East, and I didn’t care what was in that bill if there was anything to slow down, to, to say what the American people said in the last election, “Get out of Iraq!”
MR. RUSSERT: If you want to stop the war, why not just simply cut all the funding off?
REP. RANGEL: Because you don’t have the vote to do it. There’s some people who believe that if you cut all the funding off, you leave our soldiers and, and, and military people exposed, and that they’d have no money and then we’d go back to the scene we had in Vietnam where we’re fleeing by helicopter. And so it’s all compromised. That’s what legislation’s all about, and you have to make the best moral and conscious decision.
MR. RUSSERT: In your book, “And I haven’t Had a Bad Day Since”—we’ll come back and talk about where that title came from—but you write this. “The indifference of the architects of our foreign policy to the sacrifice of our youth outrages me so. The president and his men have neither the personal experience for identification nor a relationship with the communities that send young men to war. I ask people who support the war if they would continue to back it if their kids were eligible for a draft. They all say no.” You want a draft.
REP. RANGEL: I want people to recognize that when a nation goes to war, there should be shared sacrifice. Instead, we give trillions of dollars to the richest and make an appeal to those people who have no future in business as we recruit in the areas of the highest unemployment. That is morally wrong.
MR. RUSSERT: Would you be in favor of a mandatory national service?
REP. RANGEL: Yes! That’s my bill. It’s just that included in that, of course, is a lottery as it relates to the military. But I’m telling you that a mandatory national service first would give us an opportunity to give these kids an education. Why we don’t do it at a time where education is a part of our national security I don’t know. Another thing is patriotism. When you serve and you put that flag on your shoulder, whatever the emblem is, it makes you a better American. It makes you feel that you have a vested interest in the country. Lastly, and most important, is that we need young kids in our schools and our hospitals, at our seaports and our airports, and it gives them a sense that they’re protecting America. We all would feel more secure just seeing them there.
MR. RUSSERT: What happens if the president says, “I’m vetoing this bill because it has a date fixed for withdrawal,” and Congress says, “Well, Mr. President,” then what? You won’t give them the money for the troops?
REP. RANGEL: Oh no. Ultimately, politically, we have to give him money. But we will constantly remind him that no president in these great United States can continue a war that the people do not support. It’s not going to happen. And so as long as he send back bills, we’ve got to send him back bills.
MR. RUSSERT: Let me ask about the alternative minimum tax, and here’s an article from The Washington Post that describes it. “The Democratic leaders vowed to make the alternative minimum tax a centerpiece of [the] budget debate, saying the levy threatens to unfairly increase tax bills for millions of middle-class families by the end of the decade.”
“The complex and expensive tax was designed to prevent the super rich from using deductions, credits,” “other shelters to avoid paying the” IRS. “But because of rising incomes, the tax” “expected to expand to more than 30 million taxpayers in 2010”—three years—“from 3.8” “mostly well-off households in” last year.
“In simple terms, the” alternative minimum tax “is sort of a flat tax with two brackets, 26 and 28 percent, and few” “deductions.
“By 2010, ‘the tax will become the de facto tax system for filers in the $200,000 to $500,000 income bracket range, 94 percent of whom will face the tax.’” “Half of tax filers making” between $75,000 and $100,000 “will have to pay the tax.”
“Getting rid of the tax altogether would” even be “more expensive. More than” a trillion dollars “over the next decade. Budget experts doubt that Democrats can do it without reneging on their promise to reduce the budget deficit or winning an agreement from Republicans to raise taxes elsewhere.” If you want to eliminate that tax—and you said you did—you admitted that you have to either raise taxes or cut programs. Will that fly?
REP. RANGEL: You got 30 million people that’s affected. If you put them right in the tax code and say that you’re eliminating that burden of $1 trillion over 10 years, you can find the money within the tax code. That’s not increasing taxes, unless you’re talking about getting rid of fat, getting rid of credits that shouldn’t be there, getting rid of loopholes. There’s supposed to be some $345 billion as a gap between taxes owed and taxes paid. That could be a part of it.
But I think the catchy political part is that there are a million people that have enjoyed some $2 trillion in tax cuts. It would seem to me if you admit that 30 million people are paying taxes that they should not be paying and one million are getting $1 trillion in taxes that they didn’t request, that you could rearrange the rates and come out without a tax increase and more equity in the system.
MR. RUSSERT: So roll back the tax cuts...
REP. RANGEL: Don’t say “roll back.” Let’s say readjust the rates. After all, we’re talking about one tax code, and if you have 30 million people receiving a dramatic decrease in taxes, someone has to pay for it.
MR. RUSSERT: Let me turn to presidential politics. You encouraged Barack Obama, the senator from Illinois, to run from president. Why?
REP. RANGEL: Because he was a young, attractive minority candidate that had so much wind under his wings that I told him if he didn’t run, he’d spend the rest of his life regretting it. I don’t think that he will be there for the final rounds, but he’s a young candidate, and he’s got a bright future in the Senate, and he gets another chance at it in eight years.
MR. RUSSERT: You’re supporting Hillary Clinton over Barack Obama. Why?
REP. RANGEL: Well, first of all, she’s an exciting, qualified candidate with eight years experience in the White House, she’s my junior senator from New York, and she’s our favorite daughter. And, and quite frankly, I don’t think anyone comes near to her qualifications to be a great president.
MR. RUSSERT: You don’t think Senator Obama is as qualified as Hillary Clinton?
REP. RANGEL: You don’t mean qualified, of course not. But he’s exciting, and he’s catching on in terms of popularity. But in terms of qualification and background, I don’t think anyone says that he has it now. But it doesn’t mean that bright people can’t acquire the talents that’re necessary. But at this point in time, I think it’s fair to say he’s eloquent, he’s bright, and not as qualified as Hillary Clinton.
MR. RUSSERT: In your book, you talk about Hillary Clinton and how you encouraged her to run for the Senate. But after you went through that process, you realized perhaps she was a bit more receptive than you had originally thought. Let’s read what you wrote in your book. “What I knew was that Hillary Clinton for Senate from New York wasn’t about my madness, it was about her method. Whenever I think of it, I always remember that I went steady with my wife for seven years before we tied the knot, and to this day she has” convinced me “it was all my idea. So it was with Hillary; I knew when I drove up that she was ready to be asked to the prom. I knew my job would” would “be to go out and get people to say which side they were on and bring the information back, the way a dutiful prom date fetches glasses of punch.”
REP. RANGEL: I would be extremely naive to believe that a chat with the first lady in Chicago would cause her to say “Wow, Congressman Rangel, you think I can be a United States senator?” No, she—it—there’s no question that being the senior congressional delegation leader in New York, that having me on board would make it a realistic venture. And it turned out to be that way, and she’s done remarkably well.
MR. RUSSERT: And when she decided to run for the Senate, did you have any doubt that she would then run for the presidency?
REP. RANGEL: Of course I did. It never—I never connected the dots that she would be running for the president.
MR. RUSSERT: Really?
REP. RANGEL: No, no, not at the time. Listen, I’m good, but it’s one step at a time, Tim. I mean, I never looked at her and said, “This is going to be our Democratic president one day,” no.
MR. RUSSERT: Do you think she connected the dots?
REP. RANGEL: I think it would be hard living with Bill Clinton and not connect the dots.
MR. RUSSERT: Let me go to your book, “And I Haven’t Had a Bad Day Since,” and go back to November 30th, 1950. Tell us where you were and what happened, and the promise, the pledge you made to the Almighty.
REP. RANGEL: We got to Korea. We were the first United States forces there to repel the North Koreans after they had, in June of 1950, forced the North Koreans all the way down to the end of the peninsula. We went up and, with MacArthur landing, we pushed the North Korean to the border of North Korea and China. And then one of the coolest things happened, and that is our intelligence, for what it was, did not tell us that our complete 8th Army was surrounded by the People’s Volunteer Army. They actually crossed the river and surrounded us. My outfit had close to 90 percent casualties. For three days they blew the bugles. It was sub-degree, under freezing weather. I saw officers actually leaving by helicopter. We were scared as hell. We didn’t know what was going to go on.
MR. RUSSERT: You were in the 2nd Infantry, a black division.
REP. RANGEL: No, it was a white division. I was in a black outfit—you know, they talk about integration...
MR. RUSSERT: A black outfit was in the division.
REP. RANGEL: Exactly.
MR. RUSSERT: With white officers.
REP. RANGEL: Exactly. And some of the white officers had left us, had abandoned us, really. And so the Chinese would have the loudspeakers and say, “What are you negroes doing there? You can’t even go to the pools in sunny Florida. This is a civil war, you shouldn’t be here.” And we were all scared. Well, finally they hit, and I was thrown off of a ammunition tractor into the air. All I saw was a ball of orange fire. And I ended up in a ditch. And I could hear the bugles blowing, I could see my comrades being led away with their hands over their head. At one point I wanted to play dead, but I thought that the loudness of my heart could be heard by those that was around me, that I was so scared. But anyway, I had been an altar boy, and I knew prayers in Latin as well as in English. And I knew I was going to die, but I just gave it one shot, and I said, “Jesus, if you ever get me out of this, if you could just consider sparing me, you’re not going to have any problems with Charlie Rangel ever, ever, ever, ever, ever.” And I think so many people have had bad experiences that, once they get out of it, they forget it. Something clicked, Tim, that I’ve never forgotten it, and I haven’t had a bad day since. No matter what has happened, something automatically says, or I imagine that Jesus says, “Is that you, Rangel, complaining?” I say, “No, it must be Tim or someone around me, but I’m OK.” And I’ve always been OK.
Some people have said, “How can you say that? You lost your brother, you lost your mother, and that wasn’t a bad day?” I said, “It’s really strange because first I curse the darkness, and then I say how many people have enjoyed having a beautiful mother for 94 years?” And my mother, her mother died in childbirth, so she never had a mother. And with my brother, he was my father, my best friend, my campaign man, it’s—he was everything to me. And we used to joke about, first, people who didn’t have brothers, but worse than that, people who had brothers and never—but never stayed in touch with them. We talked every day except when he was in the military in World War II and I was in Korea. Other than that, every day we talked.
MR. RUSSERT: High school dropout, Charlie Rangel joins the Army, went to Korea, returned home Sergeant Rangel, injured, decorated, and yet faced indignity back home. How does a black American in the ‘50s who goes and fights a war and comes home and doesn’t have the full civil rights that our country stands for, how do you deal with that?
REP. RANGEL: With great difficulty, because the Army pumps you up—those sergeant stripes, those medals, the self-esteem you have for yourself. And when you get out here, they didn’t—they didn’t miss you, they didn’t know where you were, they didn’t know where Korea was. And I had so much ego that I was giving general education development tests, high school tests to people, I forgot completely that I had not graduated from high school. But when I got out, I learned fast.
MR. RUSSERT: You were on Sixth and 36th Street with a push cart.
REP. RANGEL: That’s where I’d started before I went in the Army.
MR. RUSSERT: And that fell over on a rainy day, and you said, “This is not right.”
REP. RANGEL: The cops cussed me out. Staff Sergeant Rangel, was being cussed out. I just marched to the V.A. and said, “You got to do better than this.”
MR. RUSSERT: “I deserve better than this.”
REP. RANGEL: That’s right.
MR. RUSSERT: And you finished school, and you went to St. John’s University and then on to St. John’s Law School.
REP. RANGEL: No, at NYU.
MR. RUSSERT: NYU. And then to New York State Assembly and the Congress.
And now you’re chairman of the House Ways and Means Committee.
REP. RANGEL: And I haven’t had a bad day since.
MR. RUSSERT: And when you have that gavel in your hand, you deal with tax policy and budget policy and vote on the war, is there something back in your mind that takes you back to those days in Harlem that said, “You know what? I have a bigger responsibility here to the people in my neighborhood and my community?”
REP. RANGEL: No, but the people in the community feel such a sense of pride, and they wondered how I would be accepted since all my life down there’s been civil rights and education and, and health care. But I am convinced now that what had been bad before is even worse now, and it’s a threat to our national security. So there’s no issue that comes before me that I don’t see the strength of our country being the most important thing. If it’s taxes, we got to have an equitable tax system where everyone believes that it’s fair. If it’s trade, the traders and the multinationals have to recognize that jobs in the United States are just as important to profits for their shareholders. If it’s Social Security, we go to sleep at night knowing it’s not going to be wiped out. And if it’s Medicare, what could be more important than saying, “Our old folks are entitled to decent health care.” So it’s community, but, to me, these issues have now become national issues, including affordable housing. But the war, the war, the war, the war, the war is sapping the strength and confidence away from government, and this is, to me, is my reason for being.
MR. RUSSERT: Charles Rangel, we thank you very much for joining us again.
The book, “I Haven’t Had a Bad Day Since.” Thank you.
REP. RANGEL: Thank you, Tim.
MR. RUSSERT: And we’ll be right back.
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