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Former AG On Eric Holder Contempt Vote


I'm Michel Martin and this is TELL ME MORE from NPR News. Coming up, we're going to take a look at elections in Mexico, but first, we're going to continue our conversation on some of the big news in this country.

Still with us, former Attorney General Alberto Gonzales. Judge Gonzales, thanks so much for continuing with us here. I do want to ask you about some of the very harsh criticism being directed by some quarters toward the chief justice, John Roberts, because of this decision. I mean one extremely right wing talk show host said that this was due to cognitive problems because the chief justice takes medication to treat his epilepsy.

And I just wanted to ask - do you share any of those feelings? Do you feel that the chief justice decided this wrongly or that he is somehow a traitor to the values that brought him to the bench?

ALBERTO GONZALES: Absolutely no to the accusation that he's a traitor, and the many of the criticisms come from people who are not lawyers, don't understand how these judges are supposed to discharge their responsibilities. The good news is, is that our framers in their wisdom gave our Supreme Court justices or all federal judges lifetime tenure so that they can make their decisions based on what they believe that their oath of office requires without fear of losing their job.

I mean when you're a judge, you're going to - there are winners and losers with every decision. Some people are going to be happy. Some people are going to be unhappy, but your job is to do your job, and I have every confidence in Chief Justice Roberts. I stand behind my recommendation to President Bush regarding his elevation as chief justice to the Supreme Court.

I think when it's all said and done, both his service and the service of Justice Sam Alito will be reflected as probably the most lasting and brightest legacy of President George W. Bush.

MARTIN: I'd like to ask about the current attorney general now, Eric Holder, being held in contempt of Congress. Several Republicans have demanded that he turn over files related to Fast and Furious. That was a so-called gun-walking investigation that went wrong, resulting apparently in a number of civilian deaths. The attorney general says he can't and won't. President Obama invoked executive privilege over these documents. This was apparently the first time he has done so.

I just wanted to ask your take on this. I mean Democrats are furious about this to the point where a number of them walked out of the House chamber and they're calling this political theater and so forth. And what's your assessment of this, if I can ask?

GONZALES: Well, I'll just say this, that I'm going to limit my comments here because it does involved an ongoing investigation. It also involves a review of the work of the attorney general, and I want to be considerate of the sitting attorney general, having sat in that seat.

A couple of observations that I have made publicly is that we're in a political season and sometimes there are, you know, political motivations behind decisions that occur in Washington. I'll also say that there was a federal agent who died here and I think the Congress has a right - in fact, the obligation - to find out exactly why. And I think that that same obligation exists upon the executive branch, including the Department of Justice and the White House.

And I'm not saying that they don't understand that and that they aren't doing their very best to fulfill that obligation, but what's somewhat unusual here is typically - and by the way, there's always a fight between the executive branch and legislative branch in every administration with respect to access to information as Congress tries to discharge its oversight responsibilities.

MARTIN: Well, for example, when you were going through - when Chief Justice John Roberts - the current chief justice we were just talking about - was going through his confirmation process, there were some papers related to his time as solicitor general that the White House...

GONZALES: Exactly.

MARTIN: ...refused to release to the Senate at the time and at the time you said you agreed with that. Are these situations analogous?

GONZALES: Well, what happen is typically an accommodation can be reached, depending upon the contents of the papers that are being demanded. You typically have a conversation with the Congress, try to negotiate some kind of accommodation. Either provide written summaries, provide oral briefings, sometimes, quite frankly, you can back off the Congress. They lose interest. And so it's very unusual that it ever comes down to this and in this particular case, you know, the president has asserted executive privilege, which is an extraordinary act.

MARTIN: But do you think that the Congress has gone too far or not? Or do you think this is warranted?

GONZALES: I can't say that. Without knowing what's in the documents that have been provided and without knowing what's in the documents that are being withheld, I think no one can say that, quite frankly. What I do know is that a federal agent has died. I also know that the Congress does have oversight responsibility, but I also know that we're in a - you know, we're in a presidential cycle and firsthand I know that sometimes things happen in Washington that are purely political. I'm not suggesting that's what's going on here, but that's been my experience.

MARTIN: Alberto Gonzales is the former Attorney General of the United States. He also served as White House counsel in the administration of President George W. Bush. He's currently of counsel with the Waller Law Firm, and he joined us from Nashville, where he teaches law at Belmont University.

Judge Gonzales, thank you so much for speaking with once again.

GONZALES: Thanks for having me, Michel. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.