RACHEL MARTIN, HOST:
President Trump is facing two big questions this week. Can he and his party finally repeal and replace the Affordable Care Act? And the second question, will he fire his attorney general?
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PRESIDENT DONALD TRUMP: I told you before, I'm very disappointed with the attorney general. But we will see what happens. Time will tell. Time will tell.
MARTIN: That was the president speaking yesterday during his joint press conference with the Lebanese prime minister. One person who says President Trump should not fire Jeff Sessions is former Republican Speaker of the House Newt Gingrich. He joins us now on the line. Mr. Speaker, thanks for being with us.
NEWT GINGRICH: Oh, I'm delighted to have a chance to talk with you.
MARTIN: I understand you went to the White House yesterday and spoke with President Trump. What is your informed take on this? Is Jeff Sessions in or out?
GINGRICH: Well, I think the president's deeply troubled. And I think that he's legitimately troubled. The Justice Department is a extraordinarily left-wing institution. Ninety-seven percent of its donations went to Hillary Clinton. It has an embedded bureaucracy, which was captured very, very well by Sidney Powell in her book "Licensed To Lie." And I think that he's deeply troubled by the entire way that both Comey and Mueller have operated and the degree to which the attorney general has not exercised any authority over that. So...
MARTIN: Well, let me ask you. The president went as far as to say that if he had known Jeff Sessions was going to recuse himself from the Russia investigation, which is his primary beef, that the president would have picked someone else. But it is not the attorney general's job to protect the president. Does...
GINGRICH: No, no, no...
MARTIN: Does President Trump understand the separation of powers here?
GINGRICH: Of course he does. But I think what you just said is not - you know, has a misleading implication. It is the attorney general's job to enforce the law. Mueller, right now, I mean, it's just - Andy McCarthy, who's a former Department of Justice prosecutor, who prosecuted the 1993 World Trade Center bombings, has said over and over again that there's no evidence of a crime. So what is Mueller investigating? Mueller's engaged in a - in a fishing expedition.
MARTIN: I mean, that is what an investigation is, you are pursuing questions...
GINGRICH: No, that is not true. That's not true. You have no reason for appointing somebody with the power of the government if you know - if you have no evidence of a crime having been committed. It's very clear in the statute which governs these kind of appointments.
MARTIN: So the Justice Department decided that an investigation was warranted, and that included the attorney general himself...
MARTIN: ...Even though he recused. And you're saying the president just thinks the whole investigation shouldn't happen in the first place.
MARTIN: That is suspect. I mean, when you have a president...
GINGRICH: Of course it's suspect to you. But isn't it equally suspect to you that 97 percent of the donations by people employed at Justice went to Hillary Clinton and that, in terms of Mueller's law firm, it was 99.82 percent went to Hillary Clinton. And in terms of the people he's been hiring, these are paid killers. If you read Sidney Powell's book about the Enron case, you will see these names coming up. And these are people who the Supreme Court...
MARTIN: But Jeff...
GINGRICH: ...By a 9-0 vote rebuked.
MARTIN: So Jeff Sessions, though, is not a liberal by any stretch of the imagination.
GINGRICH: No, and...
MARTIN: He's not a Democrat. And he's the leader of that department.
GINGRICH: But no, he's - that's the whole point that Trump is making, is that he stepped aside. And therefore, he's not the leader of the department. A career Justice Department person is the leader of the department. And it's a department whose culture's very liberal - a department whose culture's very anti-Trump. And the...
MARTIN: So you're suggesting that the president hire an attorney general who would plant and insert an entire department full of Republicans? That seems to be anti-thetical to the department's entire raison d'etre, which is to be above partisan politics.
GINGRICH: Yeah, and if you believe that, you live in a fantasy land. If you believe the Justice Department does not have a deep cultural bias and you believe that the average conversation in the Justice Department is not anti-Trump, you're just living in a fantasy land. And that - and that's the president's frustration.
Look, he doesn't expect the attorney general to single-handedly change everything. He doesn't expect the attorney general to, in any way, impede the law. But let me go back to the original thing. I'm personally appalled, as a former speaker of the House, that neither the House nor the Senate judiciary committee have asked Rosenstein, the person who's in charge of this investigation...
MARTIN: He's the deputy attorney general.
GINGRICH: The deputy attorney general - a couple of simple questions. What is the crime which Mueller's investigating? Tell us what the code is that has been violated that he's investigating. Second, why would he hire only anti-Trump lawyers?
MARTIN: I mean, we should say...
GINGRICH: These are legitimate questions that need to be answered.
MARTIN: We should say that it is - you can't demonstrate that these are anti-Trump lawyers. It is...
GINGRICH: Oh, give me a break.
MARTIN: It is true that there are...
GINGRICH: Give me a break.
MARTIN: ...At least a couple who have made donations to Democrats. But Robert Mueller himself has been registered as a Republican.
GINGRICH: Yes, and then worked in a law firm which gave 99.82 percent of its donations to Hillary. But let me give you an example. One of the first people they hired had worked for the Clinton Foundation - I love this because it's so ironic - worked for the Clinton Foundation, fighting against Freedom of Information Act requests. Now, would you say that a lawyer who worked for the Clinton Foundation, trying to cut off FOIA, which I would assume NPR normally is very much in favor of Freedom of Information Act requests - would you say that person's suspect?
MARTIN: So let me...
GINGRICH: Do you think they probably have a bias?
MARTIN: Let me ask you this. President Trump admitted that he fired former FBI Director James Comey because of the Russia investigation. He's called the investigation a witch hunt. He's now suggesting the attorney general isn't protecting him enough. So if he has nothing to hide, then why is he acting like he does?
GINGRICH: Well, now, (inaudible) history of Comey's last independent counsel, Patrick Fitzgerald, who Comey got appointed after they knew there was no crime and after they knew who had leaked the CIA agent's name and they told the person who leaked to shut up, and they then went after Scooter Libby, who was Dick Cheney's chief of staff because they wanted to get Cheney - and they then locked up a New York Times reporter for 85 days to get her to testify - and you looked at that record, you would assume automatically Mueller's going to get somebody.
And there's no question in my mind. Mueller's brought in killers. Those killers are going to go out and find somebody. These are not the kind of lawyers who are inclined to be neutral. And again, I just suggest to my listeners, if you read Sidney Powell's book "Licensed To Lie" and you look at the Enron case and then you look at Weinstein, who's one of the first lawyers he hired, this is a guy who the Supreme Court...
MARTIN: I take...
GINGRICH: ...Nine to zero said destroyed Arthur Andersen with - on a - in a legal basis.
MARTIN: I take your point. You believe the Justice Department is acting in a political way. I - but...
MARTIN: Getting back to the Sessions issue, do you think the president should keep Jeff Sessions - and why, if he's publicly maligning him?
GINGRICH: Well, I think he should keep Jeff Sessions. And I think he ought to quit publicly maligning him. I think that Jeff Sessions, in fact, was one of his earliest and most loyal supporters. I think Jeff Sessions is a solid conservative. I think, yeah, you can argue either way. I mean, even a guy like Rudy Giuliani, who's very pro-Trump, said he would have recused himself.
So I think you - but I understand the president's frustration. But I think it's not helpful to the president. And I think Sessions should be the attorney general. I don't think the president's likely to get this Congress to accept anybody. I mean, and anybody he tried to name to replace Sessions would have to go through such a deep pledge of noninvolvement that they probably would have an even more limited role than Sessions does.
MARTIN: Sessions was...
GINGRICH: So I think Sessions should stay.
MARTIN: I - he was a loyal supporter of Trump from the very beginning.
MARTIN: Do you think he deserves this kind of public shaming?
GINGRICH: No, I don't. But I think that this - I think this is not one of the president's better moments.
MARTIN: Former Speaker of the House Newt Gingrich is the author of "Understanding Trump." He joined us on the line this morning. Mr. Speaker, thank you so much for your time.
GINGRICH: Thank you.
MARTIN: On the line now, NPR's Domenico Montanaro. Domenico, there's a lot to unpack in that conversation. What did you hear from the speaker - former speaker of the House there?
DOMENICO MONTANARO, BYLINE: Well, if you believe Newt Gingrich, you would believe that there's a conspiracy against Donald Trump within all levels of government, in particular at the Justice Department, which he called very liberal or having a culture that is very liberal. You know, I think most Republicans on Capitol Hill would probably disagree with him, especially when it comes to Robert Mueller. As you pointed out, Robert Mueller has been a registered Republican.
But donations themselves don't necessarily equate to an ethical conflict of interest. And they aren't even donations from Mueller himself. There were donations from people that Mueller worked with. But that's how conspiracies work. You sort of have guilt by association when it comes to whether or not you see conflict or at least try to muddy the waters. I think, you know, in addition to our audience, his other audience for Newt Gingrich was President Trump and for somebody trying to sell books, to be perfectly honest.
MARTIN: So what does happen with Jeff Sessions? It was hard to discern there. I mean, clearly Newt Gingrich thinks that he should stay. He even went so far as to say this isn't the president's greatest moment when it comes to his attacks on Jeff Sessions. How does this attorney general stay in his job effectively at this point?
MONTANARO: It's interesting because you've seen Jeff Sessions and some reporting about Jeff Sessions saying that he is going to dig in, that he's not going to resign. You know, things in Washington can change on a dime. And the problem for President Trump is what's next. You know, you push this domino down. It does a lot of other things. And it's not necessarily clear how he can influence what he wants to influence, whether it's this Russia investigation or something else within the Justice Department. Even if he removes Jeff Sessions, who do you put in place to make things the way Trump wants?
MARTIN: NPR's Domenico Montanaro, senior editor on our politics desk. Thank you so much for talking with us.
MONTANARO: Oh, you're welcome, Rachel.
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