Meredith Vieira Tosses Softballs to Barack Obama

NBC Today co-host Meredith Vieira tossed softballs to Barack Obama, in an exclusive interview this morning, as she asked him if Alberto Gonzales should resign over firing of U.S. Attorneys and also allowed him to spout off on the President's Iraq policy. In the 7am half-hour Vieira lobbed this pitch to the Democratic presidential candidate:

Vieira: "Senator let's switch gears now and talk about the firing of those eight U.S. Attorneys. The Attorney General, Alberto Gonzales has admitted that mistakes were made. He wants to right them. He says he wants to stay on the job as well. You opposed his nomination two years ago and this is what you said about the Attorney General on Tuesday, you said, 'He had shown in his role as White House counsel a penchant for subverting justice to serve the President's goals, and I feared that in an Attorney General.' Do you believe, sir, that Mr. Gonzales knowingly subverted justice in this case and do you want him to resign?"

The following is the full interview as it occurred on the March 15th Today show:

Meredith Vieira: "Democratic Senator Barack Obama serves on the Homeland Security committee and he's also running for President. Senator Obama good morning to you sir."

Barack Obama: "Great to talk to you Meredith."

Vieira: "Nice to talk to you. I want to start with this confession from Khalid Shaikh Mohammed. He claims to have masterminded some 48 terrorist attacks including 9/11. What is your reaction?"

Obama: "Well obviously just from the confession we see the scope of planning that was done by al Qaeda and I just think redoubles our need to make sure that we are both securing the homeland, executing the 9/11 commission report and that we are aggressive when it comes to human intelligence and really snuffing out these terrorist networks. Unfortunately we've become so focused on the situation in Iraq that I think we've ended up being distracted, particularly in Afghanistan from dealing with the kind of very real threats that we heard about today."

Vieira: "Senator do you think we are prepared to deal with the kinds of large scale plots that al Qaeda seems to favor?"

Obama: "Well I think it's clear that we're not. Obviously we've made some progress since 9/11 but if you look at what's happening in Afghanistan now you're seeing the Taliban resurgent, you're seeing al Qaeda strengthen itself. We have not followed through on the good start that we made in Afghanistan. Partly because we took so many resources out and, and put them into Iraq. And it's part of the reason why I think it's very important for us to begin a planned redeployment from Iraq including targeting Afghanistan."

Vieira: "Let's talk about that plan because you have co-sponsored a bill that sets a target date of March 2008 for the withdrawal of most troops from Iraq and already Republican Senator John McCain has called that plan, a quote, 'retreat, not a strategy.'"

Obama: "Well I, you know, I respectfully disagree with John on this. He has been somebody who believes that putting in additional troops is the solution in Iraq. I am absolutely certain that we are not gonna see a military solution to the problems of a civil war in Iraq. What's needed is a political accommodation and the only way that we're gonna get the parties in Iraq to start seriously negotiating is if they recognize that the United States is not going to be keeping the lid on a civil war. They're gonna have to arrive at the kinds of accommodations that are necessary to move the country forward and once we start doing that we can begin to put our troops into places like Afghanistan where the kinds of terrorist plots we heard about today have largely been hatched."

Vieira: "Senator let's switch gears now and talk about the firing of those eight U.S. Attorneys. The Attorney General, Alberto Gonzales has admitted that mistakes were made. He wants to right them. He says he wants to stay on the job as well. You opposed his nomination two years ago and this is what you said about the Attorney General on Tuesday, you said, 'He had shown in his role as White House counsel a penchant for subverting justice to serve the President's goals, and I feared that in an Attorney General.' Do you believe, sir, that Mr. Gonzales knowingly subverted justice in this case and do you want him to resign?"

Obama: "You know obviously we don't all have all the facts. What I do know is that Attorney General Gonzales has had a tendency to inject politics into decision-making that should be guided by the public interest. He is close to the President and he considers himself the President's lawyer as opposed to the people's lawyer. I don't think that's an appropriate way to think about the office of the Attorney General but I also think it speaks to a larger problem in this administration and that is politicizing issues that should be guided by competence, practicality, common sense. That's part of what I think the American people really want to see changed in the next president."

Vieira: "He also says that he did not know the extent of what his chief of staff was doing with the, the White House counsel. If that is true what does it say about the Justice Department to you?"

Obama: "Well I think what it says is that we are seeing a continuing process of politicization and a lack of accountability that has been the hallmark of many of this administration's actions. And it's that sort of approach to government that sees this as a perpetual campaign as opposed to a mechanism to actually get things done on behalf of the American people that I think are of deep concern."

Vieira: "And one more question, this one about the presidential campaign. There's been a lot of discussion lately about the marriage factor and how that will play in the race. Rudy Giuliani, John McCain, Newt Gingrich all married multiple times, plus Hillary Clinton has had her marriage troubles as well. Do you think that the personal lives of candidates give us any indication of what kind of leaders they will be?"

Obama: "You know I think ultimately people are gonna make decisions on the basis of their track record, a candidate's track record in the public sphere. You know everybody has personal issues and the, I think ultimately, what people want to know is what are you gonna do on behalf of the American people and, and that's how it should be."

Vieira: "Will you make the personal issues of other candidates an issue in your race?"

Obama: "Absolutely not."

Vieira: "Alright Senator Barack Obama, thanks very much as always."

Geoffrey Dickens
Geoffrey Dickens
Geoffrey Dickens is the Deputy Research Director at the Media Research Center.