Sheldon Whitehouse was on Hardball with Chris Matthews yesterday, discussing the crazy situation at Ashcroft’s hospital bed, the mysterious Rove emails, and the possibility that the Bush Administration will simply “brass this one out.” Here is a link to the video. The transcript of the show is as follows:
MATTHEWS: Joining me is Senator Sheldon Whitehouse. He’s a Democrat from Rhode Island. He sits on both the Judiciary Committee and the Select Intelligence Committee. Heâ€˜s also a former Rhode Island attorney general.
Senator Whitehouse, what do you make of this caper? It does look like â€œThe Godfather.â€? It looks like the hospital scene in â€œThe Godfather.â€?
SEN. SHELDON WHITEHOUSE (D-RI), INTELLIGENCE COMMITTEE, JUDICIARY COMMITTEE: It is unbelievable, Chris. It has to be one of the most astounding episodes in the Department of Justice history, all the way back to the Saturday night massacre. And the mental images that it leaves you with are just indelible ones. I mean, a deputy attorney general of the United States at a dead run up the hospital stairs in order to beat Alberto Gonzales to a sick attorney general to prevent something nefarious from happening? The director of the FBI having to instruct his agents not to throw Comey out of the room because theyâ€˜re afraid, evidently, that had Gonzales gotten over there, he would have had the deputy attorney general of the United States thrown out by FBI agents in order to get a signature from a sick attorney general? Itâ€˜s unbelievable.
MATTHEWS: So what does it tell you about Gonzales?
WHITEHOUSE: Well, you know, I think, once again, it makes his continued tenure as attorney general hopeless from any objective perspective. Seen from the point of view of the Bush administration, if what youâ€˜re looking for is an attorney general who isnâ€˜t going to look in any unfortunate corners too hard, maybe heâ€˜s their idea of an ideal candidate. But if youâ€˜re interested in the fair administration of justice and if youâ€˜re interested in the wellbeing of the Justice Department, this kind of thing is lethal.
MATTHEWS: is he a presidential retainerâ€”in other words, a sort of a functionary, a stafferâ€”or is he actually serving as attorney general, an independent member of the cabinet who speaks to the president as a colleague, or is he simply somebody who does the presidentâ€˜s bidding every moment of the day?
WHITEHOUSE: Sadly, the evidence is that he is much more somebody whoâ€˜s over there to do the presidentâ€˜s bidding and to watch the presidentâ€˜s back than somebody who is prepared to stand up and make the tough calls that attorney generals often have to, often against the people who put them in power.
MATTHEWS: Well, letâ€˜s go back over this case here of the attorney general, John Ashcroft, in hospital bed, just having had his gallbladder taken out the day before after six days of intensive care. Someone details the chief of staff to the president and Gonzales over there to tell him to sign some letter that the president wants sign. Now, I have to tell you, having watched this White House for seven years now, that seems more like a vice-presidential mission than a presidential mission. Have you people on the committee been able to determine whose orders these people were following, Gonzales and Car, at that moment?
WHITEHOUSE: No, not as of yet. The other thing that we need to look into further is the whole question of the internal investigation by the Office of Professional Responsibility into this, into misconduct in the Department of Justice, including the attorney general, that was shut down when the White House refused to allow the OPR investigators, I think for the first time in the departmentâ€˜s history, the necessary security clearances. So thereâ€˜s a lot still to look into in this matter.
MATTHEWS: Let me ask you about the question of Karl Rove. Heâ€˜s always the focus of attention in this city. Karl Rove apparently had a number of e-mails back and forth with regard to the Justice Department decision to fire those U.S. attorneys. Do we know if those e-mails exist? And two, do you know if youâ€˜re ever going to get them?
WHITEHOUSE: Not at this point. Not at this point. As time goes by, they get harder and harder to retrieve and recover. Obviously, I hope that we recover as many as possible because I think itâ€˜s a critical part of this puzzle, and the puzzle is critically important to our country. I mean, the Department of Justice is a great and noble institution, and it should never be in the situation it is right now. And I think itâ€˜s a matter of real urgency to get it back on its feet and get people who care about it, like James Comey, back in charge again.
MATTHEWS: I get the message from the White House that theyâ€˜re very confident that they donâ€˜t have ever turn those e-mails over. Is that your sense, that theyâ€˜re just going to be able to stonewall this? You can subpoena them all you want, youâ€˜re not going to get Karl Roveâ€˜s e-mails.
WHITEHOUSE: Well, the problem is that if you go the subpoena route and then you pursue it into court to pursue the contempt of the subpoena, by the time the delays and the lawyers and everything have taken place, theyâ€˜re getting pretty close to the end of President Bushâ€˜s term. So he may be able to just brass this one out.
MATTHEWS: Let me ask you about another question. Paul Wolfowitz over at the World Bankâ€”it looks from all the outside press thatâ€˜s been leaking out, and maybe theyâ€˜re doing it on purpose, that Bob Bennett, his attorney, figures the best he can get for Paul Wolfowitz at this point is a clean bill of health on his way out the door. Is that the way that you read it?
WHITEHOUSE: I donâ€˜t know any more about it than you do, Chris. I really canâ€˜t be very helpful there.
MATTHEWS: Well, letâ€˜s go back to the attorney general case. Where is this going to end, Senator? Youâ€˜re on Judiciary. You canâ€˜t remove an attorney general. What can you do to make this case and in a clear-cut fashionâ€”in other words, his removal from office?
WHITEHOUSE: There may be other ways to get our hands on some of the e-mails. They may have turned up, for instance, in the Fitzpatrick investigation. We may be able to get them from other sources. Those e-mails are going to be critical. The Office of Inspector General is looking into the whole U.S. attorneys firings. Theyâ€˜re going to have a lot of access. They can do this full-time. I think people in the department probably trust them, probably even want to reach out to them to try to get this situation off their backs so they can stand tall again and be rid of this attorney general. So I think that OIG report is likely to be very thorough. Thatâ€˜s going to be another enormous blow, I suspect, to the attorney general. So there will be continued interest in this. Weâ€˜re going to continue to press it as hard as we can. You know, I want our Department of Justice back and…
MATTHEWS: Well, thereâ€˜s no way you get it back if the president says he wants to keep it in the hands of his friend, Alberto Gonzales, is there? Thereâ€˜s no constitutional means to remove this man, I guess unless you impeach him.
WHITEHOUSE: That I think is the only legal means. But I think if we continue to put the pressure on, it may get to the point where even if the presidentâ€˜s highest purpose is to get his administration out of Washington without further indictment, itâ€˜s still not worth it to carry the weight of Attorney General Gonzales and his incompetent and very unprincipled administration of the Department of Justice.
MATTHEWS: You mention the weight. Do you have enough weight to impeach and convict him and remove him from office?
WHITEHOUSE: You know, after the run that the Republicans took at President Clinton, I think thereâ€˜s a real bad odor in the publicâ€˜s mind about that. It is the one device that is at our disposal. Itâ€˜s been used in the past, for secretaries of war back in the Civil War. But I think right now, everybodyâ€˜s focus is on really trying to get to the bottom of this and find out for once and for all what happened.
MATTHEWS: And you would tell the president to fire him, if you could.
WHITEHOUSE: It would be in the interests of America. It would be in the interests of the Department of Justice. I think, frankly, it would be even in the interests of the president, at least the proper interests of the president.
MATTHEWS: OK, thank you very much, U.S. Senator Sheldon Whitehouse.