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Alberto Gonzales On Trump And Sessions


Attorney General Jeff Sessions' name is back in the headlines this week and not for reasons he probably likes. There are reports that President Trump asked Sessions to reverse his decision to recuse himself from the Russia investigations. The attorney general refused, according to The New York Times. Now, amid these reports this week, President Trump tweeted that he wishes he had chosen someone else to lead the Justice Department. I want to bring in one of Sessions' predecessors. Alberto Gonzales was President George W. Bush's attorney general, and he joins us on the line.

Judge Gonzales, good morning.


GREENE: So I just want to ask, if President Bush had publicly said he wished he had a different attorney general, how would you have reacted to that?

GONZALES: Well, I had the kind of relationship that I would have asked for a meeting. And I would have sat down with the president and asked him, OK, do you have confidence in me? If not, I'm happy to resign. You serve at the pleasure of the president. And, you know, what I worry about, quite frankly, is the constant criticism of General Sessions has two negative results from my perspective.

One, I think it makes the president look weak. If, in fact, you are so unhappy with one of the Cabinet officials and you allow them to remain in place, you have to wonder, why? It makes the president - I worry it makes the president look weak and indecisive. The other thing that I worry about is the constant criticism of the person at the top of the agency, there's no question that it hurts morale at the Department of Justice. And try as they might, the men and women of the department, in terms of serving the American people, that criticism has got to be demoralizing. So I worry about that.

I think, you know, Cabinet secretaries serve at the pleasure of the president. If this president no longer has pleasure in General Sessions, then he ought to make a change. I'm not suggesting that I would recommend that change. I'm not aware that General Sessions has done anything improper. I think the recusal was proper. But at the end of the day, it doesn't matter. You may have a Cabinet official that has done everything perfectly. If the president does not want you in that position, he can make a change and should make a change as opposed to continued criticism.

GREENE: If he doesn't make the change, if you're Jeff Sessions, why not step down amid all of this? What do you think is keeping him there?

GONZALES: Well, knowing Jeff Sessions as I do, this is probably the dream job for him, as it would be for most attorneys. It's a wonderful opportunity to serve. And his life is about service. And I don't think he wants to leave. I don't think he wants to give up the job. What's amazing to me, that kind of criticism, I mean, I can't imagine that Jeff Sessions wouldn't have gone with the president, given the relationship I think that they have, and asked him, do you want me to step down? So I'm shocked that that conversation has not happened. Maybe it did happen. I don't know what the president may have said. Obviously he didn't say yes, I want you to step down. Otherwise, I think Jeff Sessions would have stepped down.

GREENE: Although he's saying it publicly now some. If I may, I just - getting to the president's reasoning here. I want to play a little audio from South Carolina Republican Congressman Trey Gowdy, who was talking about this on CBS yesterday.


TREY GOWDY: I think what the president is doing is expressing frustration that Attorney General Sessions should have shared these reasons for recusal before he took the job, not afterward. If I were the president and I picked someone to be the country's chief law enforcement officer and they told me later, oh, by the way, I'm not going to be able to participate in the most important case in the office, I would be frustrated too. That's how I read that is, Senator Sessions, why didn't you tell me this before I picked you? There are lots of really good lawyers in the country. He could have picked someone else.

GREENE: Judge Gonzales, is that a fair critique? I mean, could Sessions have told the president he can't oversee an investigation that is potentially so impactful and so important, maybe you should consider someone else for this job?

GONZALES: You know, it's hard to say as to when the conversations were occurring, where the investigation was or potential investigation was. General Sessions may not really have had - may not have known with clarity the scope of the investigation, you know. And so at the end of the day, yes, I can understand the president's frustration. But if he is so frustrated and if he feels that he doesn't have trust and confidence in this attorney general, then he should make a change, quite frankly. And while it may be unfair to General Sessions, sometimes life in Washington isn't fair.

GREENE: Alberto Gonzales served as U.S. attorney general under President George W. Bush. He is also now the dean at Belmont University College of Law.

Judge Gonzales, thanks a lot.

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

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