Couric Presses Holder from Left on Guns and Probing Bush Crimes

After pounding away at Attorney General Eric Holder over enacting more gun control, as Katie Couric fretted that “Democrats on Capitol Hill are getting increasingly chummy with the NRA,” Couric raised “the issue of the treatment of some of the detainees” at Guantanamo and prompted Holder to denounce former Vice President Dick Cheney.

In the taped interview aired on Wednesday's CBS Evening News, Couric cited “alleged 9/11 mastermind Khalid Sheikh Mohammed. It's been reported that he was water-boarded. You have come out publicly and said water-boarding is torture. So how would that stand up in civilian court?” She also highlighted how “Holder addressed recent criticism” by Cheney, “who said the Obama administration was making choices that will raise the risk of another terrorist attack.” Couric pressed: “Are you implicitly saying that Dick Cheney was inappropriate and off base?”

Couric was most-obsessed with guns, hitting Holder repeatedly from the left:

- “What about reinstating the assault weapons ban and closing the gun show loophole? Do you think that would stop the flow of weapons into Mexico from the U.S.?” 
“While the Attorney General said he supported reinstating the assault weapons ban during his confirmation hearing, he's been silent on the subject since.” Couric became conspiratorial: “Did someone tell you to back off?”

- “It's been reported that Democrats on Capitol Hill are getting increasingly chummy with the NRA and receiving more campaign contributions from that organization than in previous years, and nobody wants to get the NRA riled up...”
- “What about gun shows? In over 30 states, people can simply walk into gun shows and buy a gun, sometimes from unlicensed dealers, without a background check. Would you support closing the gun show loophole?”
CBSNews.com video and transcript of the entire interview, including questions about the Stevens trial which aired on Tuesday's CBS Evening News, as well as portions that didn't air either night.

Two of Couric's queries from the left which didn't make it onto the newscasts:
- Senator Patrick Lahey has suggested a special commission to investigate whether federal crimes were committed when it comes to things like water-boarding. Do you think that's a good idea?

- The state secrets doctrine, developed by Bush administration allows the executive branch to refuse to disclose certain things in court because it could threaten national security. During a recent case in San Francisco involving five people who were part of the Bush administration's extraordinary rendition program, the Obama administration, as you know, used the same argument. Which came as a surprise, frankly, to the judge. Meanwhile, the head of the ACLU said, quote, “Candidate Obama ran on a platform that would reform the abuse of state secrets. But his Justice Department has disappointedly reneged on that important civil liberties issue.” Why?
Couric's tease: “Also tonight, a CBS News exclusive. The Attorney General on the Mexican drug war, closing the gun show loophole, and attacks by the former Vice President. Are you implicitly saying that Dick Cheney was inappropriate and off base?”

The interview excerpts, as aired on the Wednesday, April 8 CBS Evening News, with the closed-captioning corrected against the video by the MRC's Brad Wilmouth:
COURIC: Attorney General Eric Holder had a warning today for federal prosecutors in the wake of the Ted Stevens case. He said their job is not to convict people or to win cases but to do justice. Holder is trying to clean up the tarnished image of the Justice Department he inherited. And in a wide-ranging and exclusive interview, I asked this country's chief law enforcement officer about the many challenges he faces.

He may be the first African-American Attorney General, but he's no stranger to the Justice Department. His first job out of Columbia Law School was in the public integrity division as a trial lawyer, and he later became deputy attorney general during the Clinton administration. He left government in 2001 to go into private practice before being tapped for the top job this past January. The 58-year-old father of three is married to a Washington OBGYN and has been a close friend of the President's since Barack Obama was elected to the Senate, sharing a love of the law and basketball. He recently returned from Mexico where violence between a handful of warring drug cartels fighting over control and supply routes is increasingly threatening this country. So far, 230 U.S. cities have been infiltrated by Mexican drug gangs. Following his visit, he pledged greater U.S. cooperation with Mexican authorities.

COURIC TO HOLDER: How concerned are you, Attorney General Holder, about corruption within the ranks of law enforcement in Mexico?

HOLDER: Oh, that's clearly a problem, and the Attorney General of Mexico will tell you that. When you have that amount of money that's flowing through any country, it has an impact or has a potential to have an impact on society generally, and law enforcement is no different.

COURIC: But that does make cooperation pretty challenging.

HOLDER: Well, it makes it challenging but not impossible, and we've come up with ways in which we are able to share intelligence with those who are with us in these battles against these narco-traffickers.

COURIC: What about reinstating the assault weapons ban and closing the gun show loophole? Do you think that would stop the flow of weapons into Mexico from the U.S.?

HOLDER: Well, I think the thing that we need to do is come up with those things that we can do right away. And we're going to be moving 100 ATF agents to the border, about 26 DEA agents to the border, and that will happen over the course of the next 30 days or so. And I think that will have a pretty dramatic impact on reducing the flow of weapons into Mexico.

COURIC: But another major issue is guns being purchased and used in this country given a recent series of mass shootings – from southern Alabama to upstate New York – have killed 57 people. While the Attorney General said he supported reinstating the assault weapons ban during his confirmation hearing, he's been silent on the subject since.

COURIC TO HOLDER: Did someone tell you to back off?

HOLDER: No. No one's told me to back off. I understand the Second Amendment, I respect the Second Amendment. I think we need to use common sense tools to keep the American people safe.

COURIC: It's been reported that Democrats on Capitol Hill are getting increasingly chummy with the NRA and receiving more campaign contributions from that organization than in previous years, and nobody wants to get the NRA riled up. So has this become political at all?

HOLDER: No, I don't think it has. In fact, I look forward to working with the NRA to come up with ways in which we can use common sense approaches to reduce the level of violence that we see in our streets and make the American people as safe as they possibly can be.

COURIC: What about gun shows? In over 30 states, people can simply walk into gun shows and buy a gun, sometimes from unlicensed dealers, without a background check. Would you support closing the gun show loophole?

HOLDER: Well, again, these are issues that we'll have to discuss. The President will be the one who will ultimately set policy, things that are politically salable and things that will ultimately be affected.

COURIC: Does closing the gun show loophole fall into those categories?

HOLDER: That will be one of the things I'll talk about with the President.

COURIC: Another thorny issue on the AG's plate, where to put the approximately 250 detainees currently being held in Guantanamo. Among them, five who have been charged as co-conspirators in planning 9/11.

COURIC TO HOLDER: Is there any chance that some of the high-value detainees -- I believe there are 14 of them currently in custody -- will be transferred to U.S. prisons?

HOLDER: It's hard to say. At this point, we are, again, making these individualized determinations, and it's not clear where any of the detainees will ultimately end up. But what we will make sure we do is that the American people will be safe with regard to whatever decisions that we make.

COURIC: Many of the cases are complicated by the fact they involve classified information that could compromise national security if discussed in open court. Despite that, for the first time, Holder said Article III or federal courts will likely handle a number of high-profile, politically sensitive trials.

HOLDER: We will bring, I think, a substantial number of those people who we decide to charge in Article III courts. Others might be taken to military courts, others perhaps to these military tribunals with some enhanced measures.

COURIC: There is also the issue of the treatment of some of the detainees. For example, alleged 9/11 mastermind Khalid Sheikh Mohammed. It's been reported that he was water-boarded. You have come out publicly and said water-boarding is torture. So how would that stand up in civilian court?

HOLDER: Well, that's one of the issues that we have to deal with, to try to figure out exactly what we can do with detainees who have been subjected to these enhanced interrogation techniques and whether that poses a problem in bringing tryable cases.

COURIC: Attorney General Holder also addressed recent criticism by former Vice President Cheney, who said the Obama administration was making choices that will raise the risk of another terrorist attack.

HOLDER: Well, I think that's totally false. It's inconsistent with the facts. If you look at what the President is doing, what this administration is doing in Afghanistan, what we're doing with regard to Guantanamo, I think the former Vice President's remarks are way off the mark.

COURIC: What do you think of him making those remarks to begin with?

HOLDER: Well, I would just say that I respect former President Bush and former Secretary of State Rice who indicated that for at least some period of time, a period of silence and letting this administration try to determine what steps it's going to take is appropriate.

COURIC: Are you implicitly saying that Dick Cheney was inappropriate and off base making those comments?

HOLDER: I'll let other people decide that.

COURIC: Since Holder and the President are such good friends, I asked the Attorney General how he'll maintain his independence. He told me he's a hard-headed lawyer, and he expects to clash with the President at times. But, Holder said, the President understands how important it is for the Justice Department to operate without White House interference.
Brent Baker
Brent Baker
Brent Baker is the Steven P.J. Wood Senior Fellow and VP for Research and Publications at the Media Research Center