Week in Review: U.S. Attorneys, Iraq Withdrawal The United States attorneys controversy held Washington's attention this week. But the Congress also took on the issue of setting a deadline for the withdrawal of U.S. troops from Iraq.
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Week in Review: U.S. Attorneys, Iraq Withdrawal

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Week in Review: U.S. Attorneys, Iraq Withdrawal

Week in Review: U.S. Attorneys, Iraq Withdrawal

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

This has been another week of confrontation between the White House and congressional Democrats. Lawmakers heard from Kyle Sampson, a former aide to Attorney General Gonzales, in their ongoing investigation of the firing of eight U.S. attorneys, and Congressional spending bills that had a timetable for Iraq troop withdrawal despite the threat of a presidential veto.

NPR's senior news analyst Dan Schorr joins us. Hello, Dan.


SIMON: And let's get directly at the U.S. attorneys story. Because as we mentioned, Mr. Sampson, who was the former chief of staff for Attorney General Gonzales, testified this week. Take a step back for a moment. There are now charges that this is a political investigation that's enabled by the Democrats' control in Congress. And how is this, when all is said and done, different from the Clinton administrations, changing, I believe, it was 93 U.S. attorneys when they came in, or the Reagan administration before that, changing...

SCHORR: Well, yes, the Clinton administration, and as far back as the Reagan administration, perhaps more, it has been a custom. When you get a new president of the other party coming in, the first thing they do is sweep away a lot of people who are appointed by the president, including the U.S. attorneys.

What's different in this case, in the first place, it's not at the beginning of his tenure but six years into it, when you'd assumed that they had the people that they wanted. And in the second place is the way they handled it that apparently had made a very bad impression in Congress and elsewhere, and the result of that is that they are now having to themselves explain what they hadn't been able to explain before.

I mean Sampson comes in and says that the attorney general is inaccurate when he said that this was the reason for it. That you have a former aide of yours testifying that you are inaccurate, I think you're in terrible trouble.

SIMON: How do you read the significance of the fact that it was reported this week that Monica Goodling, who was the Justice Department liaison at the White House, apparently, when appearing before this committee, intends to plead the Fifth Amendment?

SCHORR: I think it's weird when any official of the Department of Justice of our country feels the need to invoke the Fifth Amendment against self-incrimination. I don't know what to say about that. It's simply weird.

SIMON: There have been a number of Republican voices raised this week expressing doubts about whether or not Attorney General Gonzales should stay in office. And then some have been quite blunt in saying what he says doesn't add up as far as they're concerned.

SCHORR: I think he is already losing the support of the president. The president says he has a lot of work to do up there. When the president is saying that he has work to do, I think he's in trouble with the one person who can tell him to go.

SIMON: Another confrontation, obviously, continuing with the president and the Congress, on the issue of war funding. This week the House of Representatives, which has the power of the purse, passed a supplemental appropriation bill for wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. Last week the Senate passed their version of the bill. They both contain deadlines for withdrawing troops from Iraq.

SCHORR: Right. And so the White House said, yeah, you go ahead and you pass this. When the Senate has finished passing its version of it together in conference, and they'll work out the differences between them, and then they will have a bill, and they will send it to the president, and the president says as soon as I get it I'm going to veto it. And there we are, or there we will be.

SIMON: The president said that soldiers in Iraq will suffer if Congress doesn't send him a spending bill that he can sign into a law by April 15th. What happens if we reach that standoff?

SCHORR: Well, they say that what happens is that you lose money for the troops. I mean, the idea that it's $120 billion there to cover the war in Afghanistan and in Iraq, and the president says that if I don't have a bill I can sign, I won't sign it. What happens then, of course, is you face - at least theoretical and maybe not theoretical - possibility that you can't pay for the vehicles that you need to ride around in in Iraq. I mean, you lose me after a while on some of these things.

SIMON: Does this risk mutual finger-pointing, where the Democrats are saying don't blame us for not supporting the troops, the president could sign the bill that gives them the money any time he wanted to; he just has to accept our timetable.

SCHORR: That's right. But he doesn't want to accept the timetable. And he still has the ability to veto that timetable. And I guess he's going to do it, at least until April 15th; then stay tuned for what may happen next.

SIMON: An incident that's been gathering over the past few days - of course 15 British sailors were seized by elements of Iran's Revolutionary Guards during their second week of detention in Iran. What do you make of the circumstances as we know and the possible impact?

SCHORR: Well, you have to understand, which I don't, what goes on internally in Iran. You have a prime minister who is not universally popular and he tries to make an impression and show that we can do things, not against the United States so much, but surely against the British. We can seize a few things. All they want is an apology. The British say there's nothing to apologize for. And so it goes on; until how long, who knows.

SIMON: Finally this. A man named Mel Kay, founder and chairman and president of the Golden State Fence Company...


SIMON: ...and his manager, Michael MacLaughlin, have plead guilty in federal court to - well, I don't want to tell the whole story. Their company was one of the contractors that was hired to build the fence across the United States and Mexico...

SCHORR: That's right. And they're called the Golden Gate Fence Company, and they specialize in it. And they got the contract with the government to build a section of the fence which is going to keep all the Mexicans out, except it turns out that they did it with the help of immigrant Mexican labor that they hired. That didn't make a good impression. And so the head of the company was sentenced to six months - however that he can serve at home. But there again, we see virtue triumphing.

SIMON: Thanks very much, Dan Schorr.

SCHORR: Sure thing.

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