On Friday’s "Good Morning America," and again on Sunday, ABC anchors eagerly touted the idea that Attorney General Alberto Gonzales could be fired at any second. On July 27, GMA host Chris Cuomo discussed sworn Senate testimony given by Gonzales and wondered if the Attorney General had been "caught in a lie with the whole nation watching?" (An ABC graphic helpfully asked, "Is Atty General lying?")
Mentioning claims that Gonzales testimony has been contradicted by FBI Director Robert Mueller, Cuomo, whose brother is the Democratic Attorney General of New York, asked "This Week" anchor George Stephanopoulos, "...Bottom line, is Alberto Gonzales out of a job at end of business today?"
On Sunday’s GMA, the headhunting continued. Guest host Bill Weir also talked to Stephanopoulos, and while he showed more restraint than Cuomo, no questions about whether Gonzales would be fired by 11:59pm that day, he did continue the resignation drumbeat:
Bill Weir: "Let's switch gears and turn to a domestic issue of the week. Attorney General Alberto Gonzales on the hot seat yet again. Even more calls for his resignation. How, how much support has eroded in just the last few days?"
George Stephanopoulos: "It's hard to imagine it could get any worse for the Attorney General. He has precious little support, zero among Democrats on Capitol Hill, almost none among Republicans, but the President continues to stand by him even though he is now facing these questions of whether or not he lied to the Congress in his testimony last week about this domestic surveillance program. His testimony appeared to be contradicted by the FBI Director, Robert Mueller, certainly no partisan there, but right now the White House is holding on. Attorney General Gonzales is holding on. They're not going to back down."
Curiously not mentioned on Sunday’s GMA was a July 29 report by the New York Times that supports Gonzales’s claims of truthfulness in regard to his Senate testimony on the Terrorist Surveillance Program: [Emphasis added]
The confrontation in 2004 led to a showdown in the hospital room of then Attorney General John Ashcroft, where Mr. Gonzales, the White House counsel at the time, and Andrew H. Card Jr., then the White House chief of staff, tried to get the ailing Mr. Ashcroft to reauthorize the N.S.A. program.
Mr. Gonzales insisted before the Senate this week that the 2004 dispute did not involve the Terrorist Surveillance Program "confirmed" by President Bush, who has acknowledged eavesdropping without warrants but has never acknowledged the data mining.
If the dispute chiefly involved data mining, rather than eavesdropping, Mr. Gonzales’ defenders may maintain that his narrowly crafted answers, while legalistic, were technically correct.
Unlike "Good Morning America" anchor Bill Weir, Stephanopoulos actually managed to mention this fact while interviewing Democratic Senator Chuck Schumer on his own program, ABC's "This Week":
Stephanopoulos: "On this question of the Attorney General, there is a story in "The New York Times" this morning that says that this dispute over whether or not there was dissent and whether or not the Attorney General lied there may be an answer for it. They say the controversy could be about a separate data mining program that was also being discussed at the time and discontinued. So is it possible, do you accept that it's possible that the Attorney General gave technically correct testimony?"
Senator Charles Schumer: "No, I don't believe so, and here's why, first, I'm not on the intelligence committee, so I don't have access to the documents. But many on the intelligence committee, the three who called for the special prosecutor with me, Senators Feingold and Whitehouse and Feinstein are all on the intelligence committee, and it is regarded as one in the same program, and furthermore, at his hearing, this week, I asked Attorney General Gonzales was there just one program that the president confirmed in December which is what one of the issues about him and there are many is all about and he said just one. I said not two. No, he said, just one. So it's just one program. They have other separate parts."
A transcript of the July 27 "Good Morning America" segment follows:
Chris Cuomo: "Now, we turn to the nation's top attorney, Alberto Gonzales, under fire this morning by none other than the head of the FBI, Robert Mueller, who is challenging Gonzales' sworn testimony to Congress and raising the question, has the Attorney General been caught in a lie with the whole nation watching? For the bottom line on this, we're joined by Chief Washington Correspondent George Stephanopoulos. George, thank you very much for joining us."
George Stephanopoulos: "Hey, Chris."
Cuomo: "So, politicians avoiding answering a question. That’s not unusual, but giving false testimony under oath, that’s something different. So with the heads of the FBI, The CIA, the National Intelligence Director all lined up against him, bottom line, is Alberto Gonzales out of a job at end of business today?"
Stephanopoulos: "No, because the most important person in Washington still supports him and that's the President. I just spoke to a White House official who says the President continues to stand behind Alberto Gonzales despite these contradictions that have turned up in the last couple of days. And, you know, most of the Senate Judiciary Committee believes that Alberto Gonzales has not been straight with them in his testimony. The White House hopes he goes farther to clear it up, but, bottom line, right now President Bush still supports him, he's not going anywhere."
Cuomo: "Okay, so President Bush backing his man. But the Democrats now have even more ammunition. They're going to the Solicitor General. They’re asking for a perjury investigation. So, bottom line, can, politically, the administration afford to keep Gonzales in there?"
Stephanopoulos: "I think they've already taken a hit for this. Also, there’s another problem, Chris, if they decide to let Attorney General Gonzales go. Then there would have to be confirmation hearings for a new Attorney General, and the price that Democrats would demand for confirming a new Attorney General would be very, very high. They would say that the White House would have to cave on whether or not people like Karl Rove, the President’s political advisor, will come and testify on the firings. They would have to cave on sending over documents on this domestic surveillance program that has been highly secret and controversial in the Congress. So I think that there is a real risk if Attorney General Gonzales goes from the White House that the confirmation hearings for his successor would be problematic for the White House."
Cuomo: "Strong point. Strong point, so let's look at it just from this political perspective. If Karl Rove, the advisor, is in the same boat, being subpoenaed to testify before Congress on the issue of the U.S. attorney firings and you have the chief of staff also being summoned, how worried is the administration that its legacy gets clouded by these legalities?"
Stephanopoulos: "Right now, they're saying it's just politics, they're saying, the Congress is simply pursuing all these investigations and not doing the business of the people. And they may feel that's their best political ground right now, because the Congress is even more unpopular than the President right now, so they're going to continue to resist. They are not going to back down on this executive privilege fight. They are not going to send the White House Chief of staff and Karl Rove up to testify."
Stephanopoulos: "George, appreciate the bottom line, as always. Look forward to more about this on your show on Sunday. Thank you very much."