Thursday, September 3, 2009

Here is the transcript of an interview recorded Thursday between former Attorney General Alberto R. Gonzales and Ben Conery, the Times Justice Department reporter.

Question: Again, I appreciate you taking the time. If it’s all the same to you, I’d rather start broadly to get to the heart of it. Tell me whether or not you do in fact support Mr. Holder’s investigation, and why or why not.

Answer: Contrary to press reporting and based on the information that’s available to me, I don’t support the investigation by the department because this is a matter that has already been reviewed thoroughly and because I believe that another investigation is going to harm our intelligence gathering capabilities and that’s a concern that’s shared by career intelligence officials and so for those reasons I respectfully disagree with the decision. I respect the right of the attorney general to make this decision based upon his judgement of the facts, but again based upon what I know I disagree with the decision. I have consistently said that I have concerns about opening this door and that’s why especially disappointed with stories from your publication that I in fact support it, quite the contrary, I don’t support it.

Q: You obviously support Attorney General Holder’s right to do this. Dovetailing of that, what would you do if you were still attorney general and you were in his position right now?

A: What do you mean? He made the decision and so it’s being investigated. I’m not sure I understand the question.

Q: Confronted with the same evidence he says he’s been confronted with, what decision would you have made?

A: Listen, I don’t know what decision he has. That’s the thing that’s been difficult for me as a previous attorney general to second-guess a sitting attorney general. I don’t know what information he has in front of him so I’m just saying, based on what I know, based on the information available to me, I would have gone a different direction. But he’s the attorney general and he’s got to make a decision based on his judgement of the facts. I respect his right to do so. But again, I know better than most the toll on families and the cost associated with investigations, even when you’ve done nothing wrong. I just think the CIA employees risk their lives to get information, to protect our country and I’ve said repeatedly, they’re heroes and we should recognize their service. That’s my position I feel very strongly about that that’s why these stories have been extremely disappointing.

Q: OK, well turning to some of the specifics in the stories, I’d like to read to you one of the quotes from the radio interview so we can get some clarification on the meeting of it. I’m sure you remember this, but I’m going to read the entire thing because I want to make sure we have the full context of it, and I don’t want to pull anything out-of-context and have you comment on that.

The quote: “We are talking about the 1 percent of actors who went beyond the legal limits prescribed by the lawyers at the Department of Justice. We obviously worked very hard during the Bush administration to establish ground rules to establish parameters about how to deal with terrorists, because we’re a nation of laws, and if people go beyond that, I think it is legitimate to question and examine that conduct to ensure people are held accountable for their actions, even if it’s actions in prosecuting the war on terror and trying to protect America.”

My question is, given that statement, how could that be taken as anything other than an endorsement of this current investigation?

A: No, it’s an endorsement of his right to exercise his discretion. I’m just saying I would have exercised my discretion in a different manner, given the information I have. We did work hard to establish ground rules and we expected people to follow them and for the most part people did follow them. But again, this is something that has already been looked at. So when I talk about how we expect people to abide by a certain set of rules, and if they don’t they ought to be looked into, it’s been looked into. And again because it’s already been looked into, another investigation will, accoridng to career intelligence people, demoralize the CIA agents. I just think this is not an investigation that I support.

Q: Going along with that, you’ve said, obviously, that this has been something that has been looked into. But the statement when you talk about the “1 percent of actors who went beyond the legal limits,” doesn’t that concede that you’re saying that some people did break the law?

A: Listen, it’s no different than when a police officer sees someone perhaps speeding, there is discretion in the law enforcement community, given the circumstances, whether to investigate or to prosecute. And again this is a matter that has already been looked into thoroughly.

Q: So even if there had been crimes committed, it’s still within the matter of discretion whether or not to investigate.

A: When you say “even if there had been crimes committed,” you’ve already prejudged the issue. It’s the job of the prosecutor to decide: is there action here that’s (unintellligible) actionable as crimes. So again, a prosecutor has a great deal of discretion in exercising judgement as to whether or not to commence an investigation and to prosecute possible criminal wrongdoing. And again, what I worry about, and I’ve said this before, and I know better than anyone about the cost, the toll on families when you are investigated, even when you’ve done nothing wrong. And that’s what’s going to happen here to these agents, even those who did absolutely nothing wrong, who were within the letter of the guidance provided by the Department of Justice, and it’s going to take a terrible toll on them.

Q: I think the point I’m trying to get at though is that this small, this “1 percent” you’re talking about who maybe didn’t follow the rules, what should happen to them?

A: That is a decision, again, that is up to the prosecutor looking at the totality of the circumstances. Again, I’m going to repeat this, this is important: this is a matter that has already been looked at, someone’s already made a decision about what should happen, and when you also evaluate what are the consequences of another investigation, how is it going to harm the United States of America gathering intelligence, then the prosecutor has the authority to exercise his own judgement.

Q: OK, sure. Fair enough. But how would the prosecutor know to exercise that judgement without investigating?

A: It’s already been looked at.

Q: Since it has already been looked at, do you remember anything about these cases that you could shed light on?

A: I’m not going to talk about anything related to these cases beyond what’s already been in the public record. No.

Q: OK, but in your opinion there is nothing to… (Interrupted).

A: Again, based on what I know, based on the information available to me and what I recall, and given the fact that it is going to hurt our intelligence gathering capabilities this is not just me talking, this is not just Republicans talking, we’re talking about career individuals who are saying this. I just don’t support this decision.

Q: With that previous investigation before, are you comfortable with saying that no one should be charged criminally as a result of this?

A: What I’m saying is this has been looked at and I agree with President Obama that we ought to be looking forward. That’s what I think. As I’ve said before these individuals they place their lives in physical risk and no apparently they place themselves in legal jeopardy as a result of gathering information to protect our country and I just think we ought to consider them as heroes and we should recognize their service.

Q: OK and there’s nothing else you can tell me from your experience of having knowledge of these cases why this is a misguided investigation?

A: I’m not going to say anything beyond what I said. I’ve given you the two reasons why I do not support the investigation, contrary to what’s been reported in the press. But I want to emphasize that people somehow want to conflate the two. I do respect the role of the attorney general to make this decision based upon his judgement of the facts, I just respectfully disagree with the decision.

Q: I want to read you a quote from someone from Human Rights Watch, Tom Malinowski and I want to get your reaction to this. His quote is: “There is no reason why he shouldn’t support this investigation because, at least on the face of it, it appears to validate the Bush-era legal memos concerning interrogations. The indications are Holder’s investigation will focus on interrogators who went beyond the Justice Department guidance and what that suggests to Mr. Gonzales is that those who authorized techniques like waterboarding have nothing to fear.”

What’s your reaction to that, the implication being that ultimately this is a way to save you from falling under investigation? What is your response to that?

A: I’m not going to comment on that. I’m not going to comment on what he said.

Q: I guess the last thing I have then is: did anyone from former President Bush or former Vice President Cheney, either directly or their representatives, or anyone else connected to the previous administration encourage you to do this interview with me because they were angry about how the initial stories were presented.

A: No … No one asked me to do this because no one who knows me could possibly believe I would support this investigation for the reasons that I’ve outlined.

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