Former Attorney General Alberto Gonzales tells NPR spokesman Michel Martin that President Trump's sharp criticism of the current AG, Jeff Sessions, is inappropriate and makes the president seem weak.
MICHEL MARTIN, WIRTS:
We will start the program today with another week of remarkable politics in mind, a week in which President Trump's former campaign chairman was convicted in a financial fraud trial and President Trump's long-standing lawyer Having sworn under oath to control money with two different women was Mr. Trump's instruction, in a manner that is a crime of the campaign finance bill. Yesterday, a top manager of the Trump organization has signed a deal with federal prosecutors against immunity.
And all of this has President Trump in a Twitter tear, and he is very much aiming for his anger at Attorney General Jeff Sessions. The President has repeatedly criticized Mr. Sessions in recent months, sometimes in a sort of personal insult, as Mr. Sessions followed the Ministry of Justice's guidelines and moved away from investigations into Russia's efforts to influence US elections. Earlier this week, the Attorney General responded in a rare statement saying, "While I am the Attorney General, the actions of the Department of Justice are not unduly influenced by political considerations," he said rudely.
Now, in recent months, we have often turned to former Attorney General Alberto Gonzales to help us understand what such events might mean. That's why we turn to him again. He was appointed by President George W. Bush. He is now Dean of Belmont University Law School. He is also a former judge.
Your Honor, Dean Gonzales, welcome. Thank you for joining us again.
ALBERTO GONZALES: Hey. It's nice to be with you again.
MARTIN: First of all, I would like to ask you what you notice about this whole exchange between the President and the Attorney General, whom you describe as extraordinary? What is the extraordinary about it?
GONZALES: Well, what is extraordinary ̵
I sense that this constant criticism of Jeff Sessions, I think, I'm afraid, makes the President look a bit weak and that, really, if you're so dissatisfied with this Cabinet Secretary's performance, why not make a change? There are, of course, good reasons why, at my discretion, he should not change anything, leading me to the conclusion that perhaps it would be best if, for a number of reasons, two of them, the President did not make so openly critical comments on the Attorney General They are that – well, I can think of three.
First of all, I believe that more than any other Cabinet Secretary, Jeff Sessions has done more for the President's policy and priorities in the area of law enforcement. Second, Jeff Sessions loves this job and will stay in this job and has no intention of stopping. And I think he's worried about the future of the department and wants to protect the department.
And I think the constant criticism of the Attorney General is undermining his authority, and I think that hurts the Ministry of Justice's morale. I can not help but feel the grassroots feeling this criticism, and I think it can demoralize. And I think it questions the integrity of the entire institution.
MARTIN: Let me now turn to the response of the Attorney General. It was very unusual for him to react as he did to the President. First of all, I have to ask you, can you recall any circumstance in which a Attorney General made a statement that responds directly to his boss, essentially – the President – a criticism of his work? Can you remember that?
GONZALES: No, there may have been private talks, private criticism from a president, and a private response – a strong response from an attorney general, but obviously – this dialogue is very public. Thanks to Jeff Sessions, I admire the fact that in response to these tweets and public attacks, he has done just the thing. He lowered his head. He kept silent, and he focuses on the work of the department. I think what eventually got him to give an answer is the charge that the department was out of control. I mean, that's a serious accusation.
MARTIN: I wanted to ask you, because you also said that this kind of attack has an impact on the people working in the Ministry of Justice. What kind of – I'm only interested in this as a person who obviously led the department. They think that these attacks, even if they seem to be directed personally and directly to the Attorney General, have an impact on the base, in your opinion. What effect do you think they have? And by and large, the question arises as to what impact this has on the public and the administration of justice as a whole. Do you think it has an effect?
GONZALES: I think it has an effect. In terms of the base, I think we all want to believe that we work for one thing and that we work for someone we believe in. And if the President of the United States actually believes that the lawyer general is somehow not for the job, you know, I think that's demoralizing. As for your second point, the constant criticism undermines the perception of the American people in the Ministry of Justice.
As I have said several times when a US lawyer is on trial and says, Present, Your Honor, for the United States of America and everything this lawyer speaks in court – about the competence and integrity of this lawyer no question can be asked. And if people actually believe that the Department of Justice has been politicized, even though the criticism is only for the leadership – but, you know, it just filters – then it undermines public trust in the entire department. And I think that's a very unfortunate situation.
MARTIN: That's Alberto Gonzales. He served as Attorney General of the United States during the George W. Bush administration. He is also a former adviser to the White House. He is now Dean of the Belmont University School of Law. Judge Gonzales, thank you for talking to us.
GONZALES: Thank you for having me again.
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