Week in Review: the Attorney General Under Fire

This week Attorney General Alberto Gonzales came in for heavy criticism over the firing of eight United States attorneys, al-Qaida leader Khalid Sheikh Mohammed reportedly confessed to masterminding dozens of terrorist plots and the Congress takes up the issue of Iraq funding.

SCOTT SIMON, host:

This is WEEKEND EDITION from NPR News. I'm Scott Simon.

This week Attorney General Alberto Gonzales and the Whitehouse are under increasing criticism over the firing of eight U. S. attorneys, al-Qaida leader, Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, has reportedly confessed to masterminding dozens of terrorist plots over more than a dozen years and House and Senate take up Iraq funding but disagree on withdrawal.

To talk about those stories and the week's news, NPR senior news analyst, Dan Schorr joins us. Hello, Dan.

DANIEL SCHORR: Hi, Scott.

SIMON: What more has been learned this week about the firing of the U.S. attorneys, specifically, some of the E-mails that were released.

SCHORR: Well, the E-mails indicate that at one point, Harriet Miers, the Whitehouse Counsel, one-time nominee for Supreme Court, at one point talked of replacing all 90-odd U.S. attorneys around the country. We learned also that they had an idea of whom they wanted to replace quite specifically. As for example, there was Karl Rove's former aide and very good friend, Timothy Griffin, and they talked of opening a place for him as U.S. attorney in Arkansas. There's a lot of material there and you can find out almost anything you'd like to know.

SIMON: Tony Snow, the Whitehouse Press Secretary, had a press conference where he said he thought that that kind of analysis was a stretch. He said all that you could really point to was, I believe it has Harriet Miers writing in a single memo, posing it as a hypothetical. Should we ask all U.S. attorneys to resign?

SCHORR: Right.

SIMON: Should we fire all of them? should we keep all of them that - it was all stated rather hypothetically rather than a plan.

SCHORR: Well, Tony does what Tony Snow is supposed to do. He also spoke of hazy memories. That may well join the mistakes that were made as a kind of a slogan du jour.

SIMON: The Attorney General's chief of staff, Kyle Sampson, has resigned, after conceding that he didn't tell the whole story, that he knew two investigators about his communications with the Whitehouse. Now, of course, calls for Attorney General Gonzales himself to resign. Do you see the Attorney General staying?

SCHORR: Well, let me start by saying that one thing that went out the window this week was any chance that he would become the first Hispanic American on the Supreme Court. As to whether he stays as Attorney General, I think that really is a function of how much the Democrats who control both houses of Congress, how much they really, really, want to get rid of him. They could make life just unlivable for him.

And I think that's what we're going to see for a while. They'll start sending subpoenas; they may subpoena Karl Rove. And I think this is going to be kept alive by the Democrats as long as they can. In that case, having this fellow there as a target, probably suits their purpose rather than his going right now.

SIMON: Al-Qaida leader, Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, who has been in U.S. custody for four years, testified, last weekend apparently at one of the closed door tribunals in Guantanamo. The Pentagon released the transcript of that hearing, in which Khalid Sheikh Mohammed claimed responsibility for the 9/11 attacks - I believe his, quote, "was from A to Z."

SCHORR: Right.

SIMON: And a host of other attacks, stretching back 15 years - including, he said, that he personally beheaded Daniel Pearl of the Wall Street Journal.

SCHORR: This story is really quite amazing. And I'll tell you why I consider it to be amazing. One day we're seeing headlines in the papers, the lead story in almost every paper in the country, and it has to do with Gonzales and the mistakes that were made, and how they're going after him. The next day, that was swept off the front page by the story of what, that Sheikh Mohammed has told all, two senators were invited down to watch the proceeding and they say, what, what was that all about? They've had him for four years. He's clearly told them everything that he wanted to tell them.

And so, what was the idea of sort of staging some kind of a hearing in Guantanamo for a couple of senators. Why? You could see the next day. The next day's headlines were no longer Gonzales. The next day's headlines were 9-11 and the man who did it.

SIMON: What about the extent of his claiming responsibility, his admissions?

SCHORR: Well, he clearly intends to take credit or blame, depending on how you look at these things, and it's very hard to know what you can believe. If he is to be believed. He is basically responsible not only for 9/11, but practically every large case of terrorism in the past five or six years. But I'm the last one to ask about the credibility of a terrorist.

SIMON: House and Senate both voted this week on different versions of an Iraq exit plan. House appropriations committee approved a plan to withdraw troops by September 2008. The Senate rejected a measure, 50-48, that would have started the withdrawal of troops in four months.

SCHORR: Well, the House hasn't acted yet. It came out of a committee, and it's going to next Thursday. And I tell you, this is a question of again, Democrats deciding where their interests lie. Do their interest lie in keeping up this pressure and having another resolution one after another, all of them saying, we want to bring the soldiers home, which is what helped them get the election last November - or do they really want to see something happen?

As of now, it looks like Speaker Nancy Pelosi will find one way or another of trying to curtail the stay of our troops over there, while the Republicans stress, we're going to support our troops. And the question is, which is the bigger political advantage.

SIMON: Thanks very much. Senior news analyst, Dan Schorr.

SCHORR: Sure.

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