Bob Barr: "...the Department Of Justice Is Being Used As A Political Football By The Administration"

Bob Barr blasted the administration over the Alberto Gonzales/US attorney firing scandal and he's no liberal. As a matter of fact he served as a U

bobbarr-cnn.jpgBob Barr blasted the administration over the Alberto Gonzales/US attorney firing scandal and he's no liberal. As a matter of fact he served as a US attorney under Ronald Reagan in the Northern District of Georgia (1986-90).

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BOB BARR: Well, it's probably some of both. But what's really unfortunate here, both from the White House standpoint, as well as from the more important standpoint of what's best for the country, is the integrity of the Department of Justice is being used as a political football by the administration to prove who's the toughest hombre in all this. It's very unfortunate. And I'm not really sure that the administration has chosen the best line in the sand to draw here, so to speak.

Congress clearly has a right to inquire into the running of the Department of Justice, to inquire into the integrity of the process of hiring and firing U.S. attorneys, notwithstanding the fact that that that is technically a prerogative of the president. And rather than fight this, the administration really ought to be going out of its way to do what prior administrations have done, such as the Bush I administration and Reagan administrations, and that is take whatever steps are necessary to assure the American people that the integrity of our justice system has not been compromised. (full transcript below the fold)

(H/t CNN for the transcript)

CNN contributor Bob Barr is here with some great perspective. He's a former U.S. congressman and a former U.S. attorney himself.

We appreciate you being here today, Bob.

Listen, let's start by hearing some of what the president said about his offer to Democrats and, of course, the Democrats' response.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

BUSH: It will be regrettable if they choose to head down the partisan road of issuing subpoenas and demanding show trials when I have agreed to make key White House officials and documents available.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

COLLINS: All right, Bob. So that's what the president says. That is what his offer is.


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If we go ahead and open up some of the newspapers today, we see from the "Chicago Tribune," a defiant President Bush vowed to fight any effort by Congress. From the "Los Angeles Times," "A defiant President Bush on Tuesday refused to make White House political strategist Karl Rove available..." And from "The Baltimore Sun," "Bush spoke in sometimes defiant terms." From the "USA Today" headline, "Bush Defiant in Prosecutors Probe."

Is this a defiant president or is this executive privilege?

BOB BARR, CNN CONTRIBUTOR: Well, it's probably some of both. But what's really unfortunate here, both from the White House standpoint, as well as from the more important standpoint of what's best for the country, is the integrity of the Department of Justice is being used as a political football by the administration to prove who's the toughest hombre in all this. It's very unfortunate. And I'm not really sure that the administration has chosen the best line in the sand to draw here, so to speak.

Congress clearly has a right to inquire into the running of the Department of Justice, to inquire into the integrity of the process of hiring and firing U.S. attorneys, notwithstanding the fact that that that is technically a prerogative of the president. And rather than fight this, the administration really ought to be going out of its way to do what prior administrations have done, such as the Bush I administration and Reagan administrations, and that is take whatever steps are necessary to assure the American people that the integrity of our justice system has not been compromised.

COLLINS: I think you bring up a great point, and one that we really haven't heard very much about by way of using the Department of Justice as sort of a ploy in all of this. What about, though, also, Bob, the possibility of Democrats taking the offer, listening in to what is said between Karl Rove, Harriet Miers, whoever else is going to be testifying, and if they don't hear what they want to hear, if the questions are not answered, then moving forward and say, hey, we need to know and we need some transcript?

BARR: I think that here again the Congress, the judiciary committees in both the House and the Senate, have a pretty clear right to demand information that relates to the propriety of the running of the Department of Justice. These, after all, are all people, whether it's Karl Rove or a U.S. attorney or an attorney general, who are paid by the taxpayers with funds appropriated by the Congress. And Congress has a right to assure itself that these funds are being used properly and that is consistent with the appropriate standards of justice and integrity at the Department of Justice.

And if the administration, which I think probably threw down the gauntlet a little bit early in this fight -- I think there was really some substantial room to work a lot of this through, but the White House chose not to do that. If in fact the White House insists on not sending people forward, not making the information available, then the loser in all of this is the Department of Justice in the sense that justice is fair and impartial. That used to be the hallmark of the running of our government.

COLLINS: Yes, certainly. And you as a former prosecutor yourself, I wonder, what does the scandal do to that office? I mean, is this something that could possibly be politicized from here on out?

BARR: It's very unfortunate. You have political operatives both at the White House and at the Department of Justice drawing up lists of U.S. attorneys and ranking them according to some criteria. And this is apparently being done by a person at the Department of Justice that himself had no experience.

I mean, for heaven's sake, taking a renowned prosecutor like Peter Fitzgerald and this person Sampson at the Department of Justice, ranking him basically as unqualified, you know, that says more about the people making the list than it does certainly about the people who were the subject of the list. I mean, these are very well thought out, very highly respected prosecutors. Otherwise, they would not have been appointed to these positions by Mr. Bush himself.

COLLINS: That all being said, if the president were to call you a little bit later on this afternoon, what type of advice would you give him for this particular situation?

BARR: Well, of course, I'd have to pick myself up off of the floor.

COLLINS: Yes. He doesn't call you all the time?

BARR: But I would certainly say, Mr. President, your predecessors in office, your father was under great pressure when I was U.S. attorney in Atlanta, Georgia, to take action against me for political reasons. Your father resisted those efforts. President Reagan, your supposed hero, resisted those efforts. Please, do something to assure the American public that this is an open process, that the Department of Justice is not being run based on political considerations, particularly where the rubber meets the road, and that is with the United States attorneys across this country.

Work with the Congress. And let's see if we can work this out, because there's far more at stake here than either you or the attorney general proving who's the toughest hombre in this -- in this dispute.

COLLINS: Something we didn't know about Bob Barr.

All right. Appreciate your time here today, as always, Bob. BARR: Sure.

COLLINS: Former congressman, former U.S. attorney and CNN contributor.

Thanks so much, Bob.

BARR: Thank you.

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