Former Attorney General Alberto Gonzales On Comey's Firing And The FBI
DAVID GREENE, HOST:
And let's continue this conversation with someone who knows the FBI and knows the Justice Department very well. It is former U.S. Attorney General Alberto Gonzales. He served as attorney general under George W. Bush's administration. He's currently the dean at Belmont University College of Law. Judge Gonzales, good morning to you.
ALBERTO GONZALES: Good morning.
GREENE: Did Director Comey deserve to be fired?
GONZALES: Well, you know, I'm not sure that I'm in a position to give you a definitive answer. I don't believe that the firing was handled in the way that it should have been, quite frankly. The White House should have been prepared for the reaction and should have been prepared to give an explanation as to why now. The timing is certainly very curious. I also have an issue with the way that it was actually done. If, in fact, the reporting is true that Jim Comey learned of this through, you know, TV reporting while in Los Angeles, that...
GREENE: While giving a speech to his employees, yeah.
GONZALES: Exactly. But that - that also - I mean, everyone in that position deserves better treatment, quite frankly. And so there are many things that trouble me. Obviously, if Jim Comey was fired in order to interfere or block an investigation as to possible collusion between this White House and Russia - and I'm not suggesting that there was or is - then that would have been wrong. That is wrong. You cannot do that. And not only that - not only would it be wrong, it would be foolhardy in that I don't believe - and I really believe this to be true - that it would stop the investigation.
If, in fact, there was wrongdoing in connection with the election and there was collusion, it's going to come out. It's going to come up because the FBI is going to continue the investigation. It's going to come out because Congress is going to continue its investigation. It's going to come out in front of the media.
GREENE: You're confident that that...
GONZALES: The media...
GREENE: You're confident - go ahead.
GONZALES: Yes, I am confident. It's going to come out. Listen, Nixon fired the attorney general, the deputy attorney general. And what happened to Nixon? It all came out. And I just think that this really just raises the stakes in terms of trying, you know - if they're trying to hide something, it's going to be unsuccessful. So...
GREENE: You are comparing this - I don't mean to interrupt you. Forgive me. But you're comparing this to the so-called Saturday Night Massacre when Nixon...
GONZALES: I - no, I'm not. I'm not - interestingly, I saw John Dean, who was the White House counsel and actually served prison time in connection with the cover-up. And he said this is not even close to Watergate. So I'm not going to - he would know. And I'm not going to suggest that it is close. But obviously, it shakes confidence. And there are a lot of unanswered questions here. Again, I think the timing is something. If in fact there's a reason for why now, I think the White House needs to come out very, very quickly and give an explanation as to why now.
GREENE: Well, I mean, President Trump, in terms of the why, said one thing he wants to do is restore public trust in the FBI. And I'm wondering if you can give us a window into this relationship. I mean, my colleague Mary Louise Kelly mentioned March 20, when Comey seemed to contradict - directly contradict the president of the United States and suggest that he was not telling the truth when he said he had been wiretapped.
Does a president have the right to fire an FBI director if he feels like he's being openly contradicted?
GONZALES: I don't believe that would be a sufficient reason. If in fact there is a legitimate question as to whether or not there is confidence in the FBI director and leading that agency, that, in my judgment, is a legitimate reason. And, you know, when there's a lot of controversy and politics and swirl around the director and about the director's actions and the director's statements, that generally is not a good thing for a department or an agency, quite frankly.
And you didn't see Bob Mueller doing these - you know, this much public discussion and statements about ongoing investigations. As a general rule, the FBI does its work quietly. Nothing is said with respect to the investigation till its conclusion. And typically nothing is said other than, the investigation has concluded. But there's a not a discussion about what they found. Go ahead.
GREENE: If I may - isn't that one of the criticisms of Comey, that he was too public when it came to some of these investigations?
GONZALES: I think that it was fairly unusual in the amount of public statements that he made about ongoing investigations. It's not - certainly not consistent with the tradition of the Department of Justice if not, you know, inconsistent with department policies.
GREENE: So just to be clear, I mean, you worked with Comey. He was deputy attorney general when you were the attorney general. I mean, you see some things about his style that you're not necessarily in favor of.
GONZALES: Jim is a dedicated public servant, extremely talented. Where I think Jim gets into trouble sometimes is he's a man of deep conviction. And when he's right, that's what you want. But when he's wrong, it's impossible to move him. For example, when he made the announcement last July that no reasonable prosecutor would bring an indictment against Hillary Clinton, I know a lot of great prosecutors who I believe to be very reasonable that disagree with him. But the notion that if you disagree with me, you're unreasonable - I have a - I think that's very symbolic of Jim Comey.
GREENE: And just in a few seconds, who would you like to see replace him?
GONZALES: Someone that can restore the integrity and trust of the American people in that agency.
GREENE: And do you see any names out there?
GONZALES: No, I'm not prepared to - that'll be up for the president and the Senate to decide.
GREENE: OK. Speaking with former U.S. Attorney General Alberto Gonzales, who served under President George W. Bush. He is now the dean at Belmont University College of Law. He's also the author of "True Faith And Allegiance: A Story Of Service And Sacrifice In War And Peace."
Judge Gonzales, thanks so much for taking the time this morning.
GONZALES: Thank you.
NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by an NPR contractor. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.