CBS's Harry Smith Throws Softballs to Joe Wilson, Grills Alberto Gonzales

Newsbusters reported several times that the mainstream media is pounding the Bush administration for firing eight US attorneys, but ignored the Clinton administration firing 93 US attorneys early in its term. CBS’s Harry Smith was no exception, but also of note was his interview style of partisan Democrat Joe Wilson versus Republican Attorney General Alberto Gonzales.

Tim Graham reported that after the "Scooter" Libby verdict, Smith gave a very soft interview to Ambassador Joe Wilson. One week later, on the March 14 edition of "The Early Show," Smith put Attorney General Gonzales in the hot seat interrupting the attorney general several times, and coming close to echoing Democratic talking points. The CBS anchor seemed concerned about the "perception" the attorneys were fired for political reasons. He was also outraged that Carol Lam, who prosecuted "Duke" Cunningham, was among those eight, as if one case guarantees job security. The transcript is below.

HARRY SMITH: And now to the man at the center of this controversy, Attorney General Alberto Gonzales. Mr. Gonzales good morning.

ATTORNEY GENERAL ALBERTO GONZALES: Good morning, Harry.

SMITH: Did you know the White House was displeased with the performance of some of these US attorneys?

GONZALES: Harry, US attorneys are my representatives in the community. They, they are there--

SMITH: Mr. Gonzales, can you just please answer this question? We know that these attorneys serve at the president's pleasure, but the question is, did you know the White House was displeased with their performance?

GONZALES: Of course, these are political appointees. And from time to time, complaints come into the department with respect to DOJ employees. US Attorneys are DOJ employees. And there were complaints that, that have come in from time to time regarding performance of not just U.S. attorneys but other DOJ employees.

SMITH: Here's the question and the perception is that these US attorneys were fired, not because they were not performing up to performance levels, but because they were not doing a good enough job of carrying out the White House's agenda.

GONZALES: There's nothing, Harry that demonstrates that and that's just not true. I directed my chief of staff to lead an evaluation at the Department of Justice to see where we had districts, where there was dissatisfaction about the performance and wh--

SMITH: And some of those attorneys were evaluated and found to be doing a superlative job.

GONZALES: Harry, there are a number of factors that go into an evaluation of US attorneys. Beyond the annual evaluation reports that some have pointed to, we made a very careful calculation about the performance of these US attorneys. This was a DOJ function. Obviously, there was input from the White House if they received complaints about the performance of the US attorney, obviously those complaints would be considered. In our evaluation, in our recommendation, to the White House as to where changes should be made. The fact that the White House is involved, of course they would be involved. These are political appointees. I do not have the authority to fire US attorneys. I do not recommend who should come in.

SMITH: Well, what's more important, the rule of law or the, or the appetite for change at the White House?

GONZALES: There's no question that the rule of law is the most important. And the rule of law has been respected here. What we focused on was the performance of the US attorneys. And obviously, the role -- if the White House receives complaints through members of Congress, those are going to be shared with the Department of Justice. Those are going to be factored in.

SMITH: Let's look at the US attorney in San Diego for instance. She prosecutes Randy Cunningham. This is one of the worst examples of congressional corruption in recent memory. He's a Republican. What message does that send, that she's one of the ones who gets fired?

GONZALES: We've been very clear about applauding the efforts of Carol Lam and her office in this prosecution. Our record in prosecuting corruption cases is as good as anyone, Harry. I'm very, very proud of that. On the other hand, the U.S. attorney cannot simply focus on public corruption cases. There are other problems in the community that have to be focused on as well. We advised Miss Lam these other priorities, that she has to focus on these other issues as well. And so the U.S. attorneys can't just focus on one particular problem. A U.S. Attorney has to focus on all the needs of the community.

SMITH: A number of Democrats are calling for your resignation. This goes all the way back to your role in the warrantless wiretaps, interpretations of rules with regard to torture. They think this is the straw that breaks the camel's back. They say you should quit.

GONZALES: You know, I didn't become attorney general by quitting. I work for the American people. I serve at the pleasure of the president of the United States. Obviously, my job is easier if I have the confidence of Congress. And I will continue working to maintain that trust and confidence. And I'm going to be focused on serving the needs the American people. Obviously, we have an issue here that has to be addressed. We are working to address that. I'll make sure that it gets corrected. But I also want to focus on the other problems that should be dealt with by the Department of Justice.