Oh man was I jealous yesterday to learn that 710-KIRO colleagues Jane Shannon and Tony Miner had scored an interview with embattled U.S. Attorney General Alberto Gonzales, but I certainly wasn’t disappointed with the result. Jane and Tony lobbed follow-up after follow-up as Gonzales ducked and dodged. Give a listen to the proper way to conduct an interview, no matter how important or uncooperative the interviewee.
Of course, Gonzales knew he was going to be asked these questions, and he had no intention of answering them. The very premise of this PR tour — an educational campaign about online sex predators — was cynically designed to give Gonzales the excuse to evade reporters by accusing them of focusing on the politically trivial, while he was out their focusing on “protecting our children.” So it came as no surprise when Gonzales answered every question by rephrasing it.
Jane: Seattle as you know, is home of former U.S. Attorney John McKay. Mr. Gonzales, why was he fired?
Gonzales: Listen, we made a decision at the department as to the appropriate way forward. And there was nothing improper about the decision here. The president of the United States has the authority to hire and remove political appointees for any reason. Obviously the question here is whether or not, were these political appointees removed for improper reasons?
No… the question here is “Why was McKay fired?” I thought Jane made that pretty damn clear.
Gonzales went on to emphasize that it is “reckless and irresponsible to allege that these decisions were based in any way on improper motives,” an allegation Jane never implied. So she tried to ask the question more specifically:
Jane: Was it a matter of McKay’s performance?
Gonzales: Again, the question is whether or not it was improper. It was not.
And again, no… that was not the question.
Perhaps it was a bad phone connection, so this time Miner steps in and puts the same question another way:
Tony: Mr. Attorney General, as a way to diffuse this controversy now, why not just come out and tell the American people exactly why these prosecutors were fired? What did they do?
Gonzales: Well, of course that’s something we’re engaged with in a dialogue with the Congress.
Yeah… a dialogue they want to have behind closed doors, off the record, and not under oath.
Gonzales: Some of the information is already out there. Some of that information is available in the documents.
And some of the information we’ll never know, because White House and DOJ officials refuse to testify in public, on the record and under oath.
Gonzales: But I want to remind your listeners about one thing, whatever those reasons are, and people have subjective views as to whether that person should go or should that person not go, there may be disagreements about that, but the president has the authority and the discretion to make that decision. And whether or not you agree with it, he has the authority and it is OK for him to do so based on my recommendation.
Well, he may have the legal authority, sure… but, um, once again, that was never the question.
Gonzales: What we should all be concerned about is, whether or not were the firings, the removals, based on improper motives, and I am saying to the American people and to your listeners, that the answer to that is no.
Oh. Well, I guess that answers all our questions. Well, at least that answers the one question Gonzales keeps posing to himself. But wait, there’s more…
Gonzales: And it is irresponsible and reckless to continue to insist that this great Department of Justice was involved in something improper.
Hmm. I think I heard that sound bite somewhere before.
So Jane bravely tries one more time:
Jane: Well you can certainly understand some confusion, sir, when in August of last year one of your deputies recommended McKay for federal judgeship and just a month later McKay’s name was put on a list, basically, of prosecutors to be pushed out. This is according to e-mails obtained from your department. What changed in that short period of time?
Gonzales: Listen, the fact that someone may have had an idea or a discussion, that does not necessarily represent the view of the department or represent my view. These U.S. attorney positions … are on the front lines protecting our kids, they’re out there today talking about this ad campaign that I want to talk with your listeners about with respect of what we can do to further protect our kids from predators. And so this an issue that’s very important for me, and we will continue to focus on the work for the American people, and that’s what I’m focused on as Attorney General.
Translation: “I’m not going to answer your question because I’m busy protecting our children from predators. Hmm. Maybe you’re a sex predator yourself. Are ya Jane? Huh, are ya?”
We all knew Gonzales would show up ready to play dodge ball. Kudos to Jane and Tony for continuing to wing ‘em at his nuts.
[And a special thanks to David Postman. I was halfway through laboriously transcribing the interview, when I discovered that he had already done most of the work. You can read a full transcript over at Dave's place.]
[Update: The AP is reporting:
Attorney General Alberto Gonzales approved plans to fire several U.S. attorneys in a November meeting, according to documents released Friday that contradict earlier claims that he was not closely involved in the dismissals.
That's got to hurt! -- Darryl]