GMA’s Stephanopoulos Wants His Scalp: Just When Will Gonzales be Fired?

Friday’s "Good Morning America" featured Democrats talking about Democratic hopes. Anchor Chris Cuomo, the son of liberal Governor Mario Cuomo, and George Stephanopoulos, former White House aide to President Bill Clinton, discussed the firing of eight U.S. Attorneys and pushed the speculative Democratic talking points of whether Attorney General Alberto Gonzales would be fired.

Stephanopoulos, who expressed no awkwardness over the fact that Clinton, his former boss, fired all the U.S. Attorneys upon assuming office, chose not to talk about what is factually known in the case. Instead, he supplied the perspective of Congressional Democrats by repeatedly talking up a Gonzales resignation:

Chris Cuomo: "And straight to the political implication here or the potential one, George. Where can this go when you questioned Alberto Gonzales on this show, he had a little trouble with some of the questions, but he was pretty resolute that he wasn't going anywhere. But now?"

George Stephanopoulos: "He’s- He’s in the fight of his life, as Pierre said. I think it’s going to be very, very difficult for him to survive it....The key political question for the White House right now is, if they -- What will it take to get Republicans defending the White House again? And from all of my reporting, I don't believe that's going to happen until Alberto Gonzales resigns."

Cuomo began the two-part, ten minute segment, which aired at 7:05am on March 16, by introducing reporter Pierre Thomas and speculating about the job security of Gonzales. Interestingly, Clinton’s mass firing was finally mentioned on the ABC program, but not, of course by an anchor or reporter. Rather, White House advisor Karl Rove discussed the subject in a brief clip, the only defense of the Bush administration in the entire piece:

Graphic: "What did Rove and the A.G. Know? Do Emails Provide Evidence?"

Chris Cuomo: "Well, as Sam said, the temperatures may be dropping across much of the country, but for Karl Rove and Attorney General Alberto Gonzales, the heat is on. Mostly thanks to revelations in the firings of the those eight U.S. Attorneys, including newly released e-mail that reveals more about Rove's involvement. Our team is tracking this developing story. We’re going to begin with Pierre Thomas. Good morning, Pierre."

Pierre Thomas: "Chris, those e-mails show that the White House was much more involved than previously known. But today Karl Rove is fighting back. White House advisor Karl Rove is lashing out at Democrats, accusing them of trying to create a scandal, where he says there is none."

Karl Rove: "We're at a point where people want to play politics with it."

Thomas: "Rove said U.S. attorneys can be fired by a president at any time. Period"

Karl Rove: "I would simply ask that everybody who is playing politics with this be asked to comment about what they think about the removal of 123 U.S. Attorneys during the previous administration."

Notice that Rove’s mention of this inconvenient fact is described as "lashing out." Additionally, ABC oddly chose to alter the picture of Rove into a distorted black and white photo. (See above picture.) Undaunted, Thomas ignored Mr. Rove’s point and maintained the focus on the Democratic-friendly topic of bringing down Republicans:

Thomas: "But more and more, Rove himself is at the center of the controversy. Newly released e-mails suggests he was involved in the decision to fire U.S. Attorneys from the very beginning. Kyle Sampson, a senior Justice Department official, wrote, ‘If Karl thinks there would be political will to do it, then so do I.’ The White House maintains the idea originated with former White House counsel Harriet Miers. But Democrats say Rove's fingerprints are everywhere. The Senate Judiciary Committee has announced plans to subpoena senior Justice Department officials and the Democratic Chairman promised to try and force White House officials to testify if necessary."

Senator Patrick Leahy (D-VT): "If I do not get the cooperation, I will subpoena. We will have testimony under oath before this committee."

Thomas: "The Attorney General has been hunkered down with his closest advisors. They know he's in a fight for survival. Chris?"

Anchor Cuomo segued into the next piece by thanking Mr. Thomas "for the facts." Shouldn’t that be speculation? The previously mentioned Stephanopoulos and reporter Jan Greenburg appeared next to discuss when Alberto Gonzales will resign. And just to make the point, the phrase "smoking gun" was used twice (once in a graphic and once by Cuomo).

Graphic: "Are New Emails the smoking Gun? Rove And Gonzales in the Hot Seat"

Chris Cuomo: "All right. Thank you for the facts, Pierre. Now, let's figure out the fall out. We'll be joined by George Stephanopoulos, our chief Washington correspondent and host of ‘This Week,’ of course. And we also have legal correspondent Jan Greenburg. Thank you to both of you for coming here. Jan, let me start with you. It’s always about the time line, right? At first we were hearing that Harriet Miers in 2005 made this potential suggestion. The DOJ said forget it. And that was the end. But now with these e-mails, what do we know?"

Jan Greenburg: "Right. I mean, the White House has insisted that this was some crazy idea by Harriet Miers, That it was hers alone and swiftly rejected. But these most recent e-mails show that there were discussions among top advisors in the White House, Karl Rove, Attorney General Alberto Gonzales, well before Miers even became White House counsel."

Cuomo: "And straight to the political implication here or the potential one, George. Where can this go when you question Alberto Gonzales on this show, he had a little trouble with some of the questions, but he was pretty resolute that he wasn't going anywhere. But now?"

George Stephanopoulos: "He’s- He’s in the fight of his life, as Pierre said. I think it’s going to be very, very difficult for him to survive it. I spoke with a White House official this morning who said he doesn't believe this is going to reach a head today. But this is a very fluid situation, Chris, and here’s what’s happening right now. You've got more Republican Senators calling for Gonzales to go. Senator Gordon smith of Oregon. You also have a Republican congressman Dana Rohrabacher of California saying similar things. Number two, the White House counsel Fred Fielding is supposed to report back to the Congress today on which documents the White House is going to send to the Congress and whether the White House will allow Karl Rove and other White House official to testify. But he does not have a final answer ready on that. As Jan pointed out, the Democrats are outraged about this. They are going to demand, they are going to subpoena Karl Rove. The key political question for the White House right now is, if they -- What will it take to get Republicans defending the White House again? And from all of my reporting, I don't believe that's going to happen until Alberto Gonzales resigns."

Cuomo: "And that's an interesting report, because coming off the Libby decision, you now have Harriet Miers looking to some like a potential scapegoat. Where do they go from here politically in terms of trying to get everyone on the same team?"

Stephanopoulos: "Well, The Democrats are going to continue to keep pushing. They are going to call for more investigations. They are going to call for these documents. They’re going to subpoena White House officials. One of the calculations the White House has to make, if Gonzales goes, will that allow them to circle the wagon around Karl Rove and others and that’s the difficult question they face right now. That may not be enough to stop the Democrats from continuing these investigations."

Cuomo: "All right, and, Jan, let’s button up the potential significance here. When you look at this e-mail, the one from Karl Rove, though it is from him and it does show some discussion, in its substance is it a smoking gun?"

Greenburg: "Well, the White House insists there’s been no conflict here from what they’ve been saying from the beginning, but that is not how, as George suggested, those Senate Democrats, key Senate Democrats think. They believe that this shows evidence the White House has not been truthful on this from the beginning. They want to see Karl Rove get up to the Hill and explain himself. There is discussion going on right now in the White House over that, whether Rove should testify and it looks like White House advisors are leaning against it."

The entire tone of the GMA segment shows that when it comes to this controversy, ABC clearly cares more about what "those key Senate Democrats think."

Scott Whitlock
Scott Whitlock
Scott Whitlock is the senior news analyst for the Media Research Center and a contributing editor for NewsBusters.org