Barr blasted the White House, saying “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.” Rather than fighting accountability, Barr said, “the administration really ought to be going out of its way to do what prior administrations have done, such as the Bush 1 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.”
Barr added that members of Congress “have a pretty clear right to demand information” related to the U.S. Attorney purge. “These, after all, are all people, whether 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.”
CNN: Is this defiance or executive privilege?
BARR: It’s probably some of both. But what’s really unfortunate here, both from the White House standpoint as well as the 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. I’m not sure 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 is technically a prerogative of the president. 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 1 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.
CNN: You bring up a great point and one we haven’t heard much about by way of using the Department of Justice as sort of a ploy in all of this. What about 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: Here again 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 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. 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.
CNN: Certainly. You as a former prosecutor yourself, I wonder what does the scandal do to that office? 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 [sic] 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.
CNN: 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: If course, I’d have to pick myself up off of the floor.
CNN: 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 General 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 it is not run on political considerations where the rubber meets the road and that’s 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 dispute.