>> Lehrer: President bush and confrontation today over firing
U.S. attorneys. Mr. Bush offered to let key aides talk to
congressional committees. They include karl rove, the
president's top political adviser, and harriet miers, the former
white house counsel, plus two more officials. But they would not
appear under oath, as democrats have demanded. Democrats quickly
rejected the offer. Gonzales amid mounting calls for him to
>> I support the attorney general. I told you in mexico I
have confidence in him. I still do. He's going to go up to
capitol hill and he's going to explain the very questions you
asked. I've heard all these allegations and rumors. People just
need to hear the truth. They're going to go up and explain the
>> Lehrer: A white house spokesman said reports they're
hunting a replacement for gonzales are "just flat false,
period." But the senate voted 94-2 today to strip the attorney
general of his power to name U.S. Attorneys on his own. We'll
have more on this story right after the news summary.
Republicans and democrats warned today they may revoke some of
the F.B.I.'S power to hunt terror suspects. The justice
department's inspector general, glenn fine, told a house hearing
the F.B.I. Abused "national security letters." He said they were
used illegally to collect phone, e-mail, and financial records.
Congressmen on both sides said the F.B.I. Has to fix the problem
or lose the power.
>> I hope you'll deliver a message that we expect it will be
done. I mean because I don't think if you can get it done in
four months you're going to have to worry about improving your
procedures for N.S.L.Sbecause you probably won't have N.S.L.
>> We do not gto always be run by angells especially not this
administration. It is not enough to mandate that the F.B.I. Fix
internal management problems and record keeping because the
statute itself authorizes if unchecked check of information on
>> Lehrer: The F.B.I.'S general counsel, valerie caproni,
said she believes the programs can be fixed in short order.
F.B.I. Director mueller is scheduled to appear tomorrow at a
senate hearing. Iraqi officials hanged another of saddam
hussein's top deputies overnight. Former vice president taha
yassin ramadan was executed for the torture and killing of
shiites in 1982. Later today, ramadan was buried in tikrit. He
had first been sentenced to life in prison, but an appeals court
ruled that was too lenient. Nearly 50 iraqis were killed or
found dead today, mostly in baghdad. Two car bombs hit shiite
targets: One at a tunnel in the heart of the city, the other
near the main bus station. 16 iraqis were killed in those
attacks. Also today, two more U.S. Soldiers were killed on a
combat patrol in southern baghdad.
security build-up. In washington today, major general michael
barbero said the total could go higher still.
>> Conditions on the ground are going to change. We have only
two of the brigades operational. The third one, as i said, its
leaders have just started moving forward so as they arrive and
the enemy changes and we change our tactics, techniques and
procedures there may be additional assets that may be requested.
>> Lehrer: As part of the new operation, U.S. And iraqi
forces staged a major operation late monday. They fought with
insurgents in a northern section of baghdad. Witnesses said
scores of people holed up in two shiite mosques. Iran may be
under new pressure on its nuclear program. It was widely
reported today russia has pulled its experts from a nuclear
power plant being built in iran. The "new york times" said the
russians demanded iran stop enriching uranium. That effort could
lead to nuclear weapons. Russia and iran denied there was any
ultimatum. The statements came as the U.N. Security council
began discussing new sanctions on iran. Russia today faced its
second major disaster in as many days. A fire swept through an
elderly home in the south, killing 62 people. Officials said the
night watchman ignored two alarms before reporting the flames.
And to the east, the death toll
to 106, a day after a coal mine explosion in siberia. Four
people were still missing. The final report on a fatal blast in
texas partly faults a federal safety agency. A federal
investigation board released the findings today. The accident
took place in march of 2005 at a texas city refinery owned by
british oil giant B.P. 15 people died and 170 were hurt. The
report found the occupational safety and health administration
was guilty of poor oversight. It also blamed B.P. For unsafe
conditions. On wall street today, the dow jones industrial
average gained nearly 62 points to close at 12,288. The nasdaq
rose more than 13 points to close at 2408. That's it for the
news summary tonight. Now, doing the job of attorney general;
covering the iraq war; health care in new orleans; and religion
>> Lehrer: The fired U.S. Attorneys story continues. Newshour
congressional correspondent kwame holman begins our coverage.
>> Reporter: President bush began his day with an early
morning phone call of support to alberto gonzales, just as white
house spokesperson dana was denying news reports that the search
was on for a new attorney general. But as the day progressed so
did the fire storm on capitol hill surrounding the justice
department's abrupt dismissal of eight.S attorneys late last
year. Democrats said 3,000 new emails and documents released by
justice late last ni confirmed that the firings of politically
motivated. Senate judiciary committee chairman patrick leahy.
>> It was an abuse of power committed in secret to steer
certain outcomes in our justice system and then to try to cover
up the tracks.
>> Reporter: Republican john cornyn downplayed the
significance was th of the dismissals noting that president
clinton fired all 93 U.S. Attorneys when he took office.
>> I don't see what the hubbub is about relieving eight U.S.
Attorneys of their job. That's within the right of every
>> Reporter: But the latest documents shed new light on the
build-up to the firings and the administration's attempts to
control the damage once they occurred. On december 5, two days
before seven of the attorneys were fian email that he had second
thoughts about dismissing daniel bodden of nevada. I'm skittish
about him, he said. I'll admit I have not looked at his
district's performance. That would seem to contradict earlier
testimony from justice officials that the firings were
performance related. In fact, the emails show that he caused a
stir within justice in february after he told a senate committee
that one U.S. Attorney, bud cummings of little rock, was moved
aside to make room for a protege of white house political
advisor karl rove. Attorney general gonzalez apparently was
extremely upset, according to a justice spokesman, and thought
some of the statements that mcnaulty
made were iat and earlier this month as congressional democrats
prepared to subpoena the fired prosecutors to testify, internal
justice department gonzalez's former chief of staff kile samson
said bud cummings should not testify because he would tell the
truth about his circumstances. Of being fired so that rove's
aide could take over in little rock. Unhappy with the shifting
stories, democrats are prepared to subpoena samson to testify
and had hoped to get rove and former white house counsel harriet
miers to testify as well.
>> The time for slippery explanations is over.
>> Reporter: But this afternoon following a private meeting
with white house counsel freddi democrats chuck schumer and
house judiciary committee chairman jon coniers said the white
house offered only private interview s with the two, not under
oath and not to be transcribed.
>> We are disappointed, and i think that may be an
>> Reporter: During his statement at the white house this
evening president bush said that was the best deal he was going
>> We will not go along with a partisan fishing expedition
aimed at honorable public servants. Initial response by
democrats unfortunately show appear more interested in scoring
political points than in learning the facts. 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. I
have proposed a reasonable way to avoid an impasse. I hope they
don't choose confrontation.
>> Reporter: Late today senate judiciary chairman patrick
leahy rejected the white house offer.
>> Lehrer: Judy woodruff takes it from there.
>> Woodruff: For more on these developments and a look at the
role of the attorney general, we're joined by stuart taylor, a
legal affairs columnist with national journal and a fellow at
the brookings institution. Michael carvin was deputy assistant
attorney general in the office of legal counsel during the
reagan administration, and now is in private practice. And
walter dellinger was former acting solicitor general under
president clinton, and is now a law professor at duke
university. Walter dellinger, to you first. The president says
he hopes there isn't a confrontation but it does appear there's
going to be one. He says you can interview white house staff and
others but we're not going to let you talk to them by subpoena.
Who is on stronger ground here? The congress is saying that's
>> Well, this will be clearly unacceptable to congress
because the press room is so strong from the clinton presidency.
What the president has offered is an informal interview, unsworn
with no transcript and not sworn testimony in public. In the
clinton administration, four white house, different white house
counsels testified in public and under oath. Eight deputy or
associate white house counsels testified in public and under
oath. Ten officials testified in public and under oath a total
of 47 times clinton senior white house officials testified in
public under oath with a transcript so it will be very hard for
congress to accept any lesst the facts a
>> Woodruff: Michael carvin, you come out of the reagan
administration looking at this. Do you agree with walter
dellinger that this is... that the president is in the other
>> Oh, yes, obviously the president is in theot direction.
There's a very strong claim of executive privilege. This is
advice within the white house itself. That's typically where you
draw the line. Plus unlike the clinton used there's no evidence
of criminal wrongdoing here. I even heard an allegation of
criminal wrongdoing. There's allegations of abuse of the
personnel system. The supreme court has made it clear you need a
very clear showing of a reasonable suspicion of criminal
wrongdoing to overcome the president's inherent power to get
unfettered advice from his advisors. I'm not saying that as
these things play out there won't be the normal ritual between
congress and the president where some agreement will be worked
out. I suspect that's typically how it works and will work here.
That has a lot less to do with law than it does with power.
>> Woodruff: Which side do you see on stronger ground?
>> I think they both have strong points but i think the way
these things actually end is it depends on the president's
political strength vis-a-vis congress as to where the deal gets
cut. And if... and this president is looking pretty weak these
days. Particularly with an attorney general who is not widely
respected, who he's trying to save from being fired basically.
Is he really going to be able to save his attorney general and
prevent karl rove from having to testify at congress in the face
of all the clinton precedents that walter cited at the same
time? I think he faces an uphill battle in the real world. Now,
in fairness to mike, every time white house officials testify
before congress in open session, it degrades somewhat from the
power of the presidency in a way that could come back to haunt
us five or ten years from now. But that's hard ball in
>> Judy, i want to give mike this point. Advice given to the
president, there is an interest in having a president get
unfettered advice from those who speak directly to him and to
what they say to him and what he says back to them shielded
except in fairly strong circumstances. But that's not
necessarily what is being talked about here. The testimony of
the white house officials are about conversations that occur
between white house officials and justice department officials,
not necessarily advice given to the president. And there the
question is not whether they can relay what this conversations
were but whether they'll do under oath and in public.
>> Woodruff: Moving to the attorney general, michael carvin,
based on what is known about the circumstances around the firing
of these eight U.S. Attorneys, should this attorney general be
in trouble right now?
>> I really think this is much ado about very little. I'm not
saying that they haven't mishandled this from a public relations
perspective. They clearly have, but the notion that firing eight
U.S. Attorneys with white houseed is somehow shocking is like
saying you're shocked to discover there's gambling in
casablanca. I don't know where these people have been. There's
not one member of that judiciary committee who hasn't called the
white house or the justice department and said my cousin or my
law school roommate wants to be U.S. Attorney. The notion that
these kinds of appointments and removals in walter's
administration, they fired all 93 in one slot. The notion that
is isn't influenced by the fact that the president needs his
team in place, both at the main justice department and in the
field, is really quite silly and quite counterfactual.
>> Woodruff: Stuart taylor? I mean, where is the line drawn?
The attorney general doing his job and the allegation that an
attorney general has stepped over.
>> I think there are pretty clear lines. The trouble is
figuring out where the facts lie. You fire the U.S. Attorney
because you want him to do more death penalty cases that's fine.
You fire him because you want a republican, that's fine. You
fire him because you want more... because you want to put a
patronage appointee in the job that's fine. You fire him because
he's not prosecuting democrats or because he is prosecuting
republicans, that's not fine. The problem that they've created
for themselves here is they get into so many contradictory
explanations for why they did so has toso great deal of
suspicion that maybe they did it for illegi re cases. The fired
U.S. Attorneys themselves have suggested that the reasons may
have been illegitimate. They fired this one because she was
investigating republicans. They fired that one because he was
not getting tough on democrats, that sort of thing.
>> Woodruff: I think a lot of people look at this, walter
dellinger, and they say not only is it confusing because there's
so many strands to the story but people are asking what is the
role of the attorney general? This is supposed to be someone who
knows the president, who has the confidence of the president,
but doesn't necessarily jump when the president or the white
house says jump.
>> There is a different role for the attorney general than
for the white house counsel. The white house counsel is an
advocate for the president. The attorney general needs to
maintain some independence from the political agenda of an
administration and make sure that diss are made according to
proper law enforcement standards. In this case, there's one and
only one in my view serious charge. We don't know what the facts
are, but one thing we have never done in this country, as stuart
taylor suggests, is to either undertake or abandon a criminal
investigation for partisan political reasons. We don't know that
that happened here. If it did, it's a very serious charge. We
hope it didn't happen. But that's the charge that is serious. It
doesn't matter whether they're keeping the white house or the
attorney general. But the attorney general is inan interesting
position because the president does get to set law enforcement
policy for the united states.
attorney general should make sure that those are proper
considerations to go into the determination of who you prosecute
and don't prosecute.
>> Woodruff: Michael carvin on this point about walter
dellinger saying that the one thing that matters here is whether
an investigation, someone actively involved in an investigation
was sidelined because of that investigation. Would you agree
that's what this boils down to?
>> If it happened.
>> Woodruff: If it happened.
>> I totally agree with walter that it would be improper.
Statistically you couldn't throw a dart at all the U.S.
Attorneys in the united states and fire eight of them and not
have some of them or one of them involved in what somebody would
consider a politically sensitive investigation. So if you're
just going to jump to the conclusion that the... because there
was an investigation, that was the reason for the firing, i
think that's extraordinarily least as far as I know there any
documentary evidence. They did release all the emails from the
white house to the justice department establishing this linkage.
So right now it seems like a fishing expedition where they're
trying to find wrongdoing rather than pursuing something that
they know is wrongdoing or strongly suspected.
>> Woodruff: You've looked, stuart taylor, at a number of
attorneys general how they've done their jobs. How does the way
alberto gonzales has conducted himself compare to others?
>> I think the best formula for an attorney general is
someone who has the president's certainly respect which often
requires friendship as well. But is also independent and knows
how to say no to the president and is a person of independent
stature, a president whose stature is not derivative from his
relationship with the president. You don't want a lap dog for
the president. I think that what we have now frankly is a lap
dog for the president. Mr. Gonzalez is a nice man. He was a
competent lawyer. He's never had any stature in american
>> Woodruff: What do you base that on, that statement?
>> If you look at his history he was plucked out of a law
firm in texas. He came to washington the middle... at the
beginning of the war on terror. He had no background in national
security law. He's made a series of terrible blunders as white
house counsel and as attorney general that in my opinion have
weakened the presidency by overreaching on claims of
presidential power so they've lost a bunch of supreme court
cases for example.
>> Woodruff: How do you size up the attorney general.
>> I think he's implemented the bush policy in the way he
has. There's been a lot of controversial national security
decisions. If you look at the past 40 years name one attorney
general that hasn't been caught in a partisan cross fire at
least analogous to this. Janet reno, ed meese. Go down the lift.
It's a tough job. You're making tough calls all the time. To
single out gonzalez has somehow uniquely unqualified i don't
think is fair. He was better qualified than a whole lot of
attorneys general when he came into the job.
>> Woodruff: This is par for the course, walter dellinger?
>> Yes, i would emphasize that nobody should jump to
conclusions. We don't know what the facts are or any
impermissible considerations were taken into account. But the
impetus for an investigation is the fact that the explanations
of why they
is so confusing and sometimes inconsistent. That is what has
created the circumstance in which people want further
>> Woodruff: You do have the language in the emails of the
kile samson who the attorney general's former chief of staff
talking about who was a local bushy, quote unquote, and who
wasn'T. Is that enough to make a big deal out of this?
>> If any senator wants to tell me that is the first time a
president has hired people loyal to him in U.S. Attorneys jobs I
will recede in all my objections to this investigation. But they
know that's not true. There are lines, as stewart pointed out,
sometimes the lines get a little blurry. But the notion that
political affiliation and prior involvement in a president's
life is not a factor is just ahistorical snud just to be clear,
what would qualify as stepping over the line?
>> For example, carol lamb, the san diego U.S. Attorney was
fired had prosecuted a republican congressman who was
investigating another. The former now fired chief of staff for
attorney general gonzalez kile sampson has an email where he
says there's a real problem we have with carol lamb. Well,
probably congress wants to know what was that problem. And was
it that she's prosecuting our guys? Now, i suspect that there
will be an explanation that there was a different kind of a
problem and that in the end nobody is going to be... nobody is
going to be proven to have acted in a corrupt fashion here. But
it's natural for people to want to investigate it.
>> Woodruff: All right. Gentlemen, much to talk about. We
thank you all three for being with us. Michael carvin, walter
dellinger, stuart taylor. Thank you very much.
>> Thank you.
>> Thank you.
>> Woodruff: Appreciate it.
>> Lehrer: Still coming tonight, health care in post-katrina
new orleans; religion in society; and reporting the iraq war.
Jeffrey brown of our media unit has that story behind the
stories. Four years into the war iraq remains the deadliest
country in the world for reporters, that according to the
committee to protect journalists. Richard eveninging went to
iraq as a free lance journalist four years ago before joining
nbc. He kept a video journal of his time there and his
documentary uncovering the war called war zone diary airs
tomorrow. Here's a short excerpt, a note we edited out one
particularly disturbing image.
>> Back up.
>> Reporter: We were caught out. We had been operating one
way for several months. We thought that the pattern had emerged.
We were able to go anywhere we wanted to in the country.
Suddenly the rules of the game had changed. We were targets.
>> Everybody all right?
>> Reporter: Our hotel, our first bureau was bombed.
>> Move to the other side of the hotel.
>> Should have said yes.
>> Fortunately it wasn't big enough to knock the building
>> Reporter: Poor guy. He was one of the hotel's cleaning
staff. He was sleeping in the lobby.
>> I have a theory as to why insurgents are now attacking
journalists. They're now making their own videos, posting them
on the internet. I have hundreds of them where they show their
own attacks and kidnappings and mortars.
>> The insurgents groups have evidently decided it's not
worth it to talk to the western press.
>> Infidels we are here just to call them terrorists. Better,
they think, to put their own message out. Post it so everyone in
the world can see it and then try and drive reporters out of the
>> Brown: Richard engel joins us now from burbank also with
us from cambridge england is john burns. The baghdad bureau
chief for the "new york times" who has appeared often on this
program to update us on events in iraq. Well, richard engel, we
saw in that clip how things suddenly changed for you. Tell us
more about how the dangers affect your reporting now.
>> Reporter: The conflict we're covering right now is not the
same war that we were covering four years ago. The initial phase
of the bombing campaign had its limitations. There was the
saddam government still in power. And then for almost a year we
had complete access in the country and were able to go anywhere.
It was a time of great exploration. I would drive my own car all
over the country. And then foreign fighters started to come in.
The sunni insurgency started to develop. And now it's come to
the stage that we have to operate like thieves, going out into
the city, stealing bits of information, conducting interviews in
secret, and then bringing them out and putting our reports
together. It is a completely different way of covering this
>> Brown: John burns, you've covered other wars and
conflicts. How is this compared in terms of your ability to move
around, your ability to talk to people, your ability to report
>> Well, I've said it before. I think that in terms of
sustained coverage, this is the most hazardous situation that
western reporters, people like myself and richard, have been
exposed to. In a generation. I say "sustained" because chechnya,
somalia, darfur-- to cite only three examples-- exposed
reporters to very great hazards over the much briefer periods of
time that they tend to spend in these areas. In baghdad, of
course, we're based there. We spend months at a time there.
There's no doubt that the hazards are very great indeed and that
that impacted quite seriously on our reporting.
>> Brown: John, staying with you, the question then is how
much are your readers or viewers, richard's viewers and our
viewers, how much are they seeing of the full story or is it
just by definition in war that you don't get the full story?
>> Well, i see this is a glass half full for me. There's no
doubt that, as i say, our reporting has been very much
restricted, con trained by the hazards that we face. But I've
been in the united states recently and discovered that you can
live relatively anonymously on the front page of the "new york
times" for 30 years but if you be on television people recognize
you so people have been stopping me in the streets, at airports
and on trains and talk to go me about iraq, in the united
states. What I found was that the american public is
extraordinarily well informed. While there are things we'd like
to do that we cannot do, I don't think that there are any
fundamentally important truths about this war that we have not
been able to tell. I don't mean just the "new york times". I
mean the other principal american newspapers. And the principal
television networks. So i think on that score, the american
public has been, my sense is at least talking to americans as i
say over the last month or so, well served and that the american
voterl ? the american television viewer, the american newspaper
full well what the state of affairs in iraq is.
>> Brown: Richard, in that number that I cited by the
committee to protect journalists, by far the greatest danger is
for iraqi journalists, the local people on the ground. You work
with them. You talk about two that you work with in particular
in your documentary. Tell us about how that works for you, your
reliance on them.
>> Our dependency, you can see more than reliance, has grown
over the years. That we have to use these local reporter-- and i
don't mean it in an exploitative way-- but we have to rely on
them and depend on them to be our eyes and ears in areas where
we can no longer go. It is even becoming dangerous right now for
iraqi reporters to go out into baghdad. We have to have iraqis
from a particular neighborhood gathering information and taking
pictures. Shiites from eastern baghdad simply cannot go to
certain parts of sunni western baghdad, take pictures and bring
them back to our bureau without risking their lives. So it is a
often system where we have remote control and over the last
several years we've developed networks of stringers, of
informants, of snitches, whatever you want to call them, people
who phone us in or bring in pieces of video that they've
gathered all over the country. One of the main challenges we
is trying to verify this information and try and double and
triple check that it's accurate. That has been one of the main
challenges that we've been struggling with.
>> Brown: Richard, another thing i noticed in watching your
documentary this weekend when i got a screening copy was that
you have a lot of gruesome footage there. You have a lot of
mutilated bodies, body parts. How much of that appeared... how
much, if any, of it appeared on the network news? How much of
that real face of war do viewers see?
>> I personally don't think they see enough of it. That's not
because i want to put anything gratuitously violent on the air.
But this documentary is very different from the normal very fast
tightly edited pieces that are put on nbc news. It is much
slower. It's very raw. There is no story line, no characters.
And no ending really. It just shows what the war has looked for
me from the ground up. Often for iraqi families and for me that
means seeing bodies, having friends who were kidnapped or killed
and i think it reflects what have been the horrors of war. Also
it shows sometimes some times that have been truly heroic,
wounded carrying wounded soldiers out of battle. I think these
extreme situations war time brings out the very best and the
in human nature and often times in war, in this particular one,
it's the worst.
>> Brown: John burns, what do you think about to what extent
people are seeing that face of the war?
>> Reporter: There's no doubt that the editors at the "new
york times" and other principal newspapers and at the major
american television networks exercise their judgment in sparing
the reader or the viewer some of the worst violence. I think
it's probably as well that they do. They do the same thing,
after all, when violence occurred elsewhere in the world and
indeed when it occurs on american streets. That doesn't trouble
me a great deal. I think that the extent of violence in iraq is
well understood by even the casual reader of an american
newspaper. Or the casual viewer of an american nightly newscast.
That doesn't concern me. I do want to say, if i may, listening
to what richard said about the difficulty of going out, it is of
course much more difficult for television crews to get out and
about in baghdad because of the bulk, if you will, of a
television crew where you've got to have a camera which makes
you very visible and very vulnerable. It is more difficult for
them than it is for us where we can send a lone reporter out who
can, to some extent, operate sort of incognito, not completely.
have to be very careful about it. But if we want to go
somewhere, we generally speaking can get there. We can generally
speaking can get there ourselves. There are some cases where if
we can't and where we do ask iraqis to go for us always on a
willing partner basis but to make again the point i made
earlier. If there's something important about the iraq war, we
get there. We tell the story. I don't speak now only about the
"new york times". I think it's equally true of the other
>> Brown: Richard, you mentioned that your documentary is a
personal take on the experience. And you say in the film that
everyone there goes through four stages of sensibility, i guess,
in experiencing or covering the war. Tell us a little bit about
that and where you're at now.
>> It's something of a theory. I'm not sure if every reporter
goes through this. But I've noticed this in my own experience
that stage one, when I first arrived I was perhaps more naive
and ambitious about the covering of the war. I thought I'm
invincible. I'm superman. Nothing is going to happen to me. Then
as the conflict goes on, I thought, well, this really is
dangerous, something might happen to me. Then you move into
stage 3. I've been here aim something is probably going to
happen to me. And then stage 4, this is it. I've used up all of
my luck. I'm going to die here unless i leave. I think over the
past years I've definitely put myself in stage 3 occasionally on
bad days I'll even dip into stage 4. That is something that
>> Brown: John burns, does it take a personal toll on you? Do
you feel that in a personal way, having been there all these