SCOTT SIMON, HOST:
Don't invite President Trump and Attorney General Sessions to the same party. Don't they have to be at the same cabinet meeting, at least for the moment? The latest turn in a strained relationship - the president called on the attorney general to uncover the identity of the senior administration official who wrote a scathing op-ed anonymously in The New York Times this week. We're joined by former Attorney General Alberto Gonzales, who served under President George W. Bush. General, thanks very much for being with us.
ALBERTO GONZALES: Good morning.
SIMON: Is that something the attorney general of the United States should be doing, trying to find the writer of an op-ed?
GONZALES: Well, you know, as a general matter, you do work for president of the United States. And as a general matter, you do follow directives of the president. As to whether or not this is an individual that potentially could compromise national security - you know, the president says so - I don't have enough information to pass judgment on that. But the problem is - I think, for the administration - is it appears, again, that the president is taking a position that makes him look somewhat petty and vindictive. And that's never a good thing. But as to whether or not the attorney general should be doing this - again, you work for the president. If the president wants you to do something, as a general matter, you do it. But again, it creates the appearance of politicizing the work of the Department of Justice. And that's never a good thing.
SIMON: Well, Mr. Gonzales, you put your finger on an issue. Does the attorney general of the United States work for the president or for the American people?
GONZALES: Well, the attorney general, like every other cabinet official, wears two hats. On the one hand, you are a member of the president's cabinet. Your job is to promote the president's law enforcement policies and priorities. There's no question about that. But you're also the chief law enforcement officer of the United States. And with respect to investigations and prosecutions, you really need to be objective and not be biased or political in connection with those kinds of decisions. If the president, for example, has a very strong interest in prosecuting immigration violations, that's something that you want your U.S. attorneys along the borders to focus on. If the president wants the focus of white-collar crime, then you want your U.S. attorney in the Southern District of New York focusing on that.
SIMON: Well, what if the president wants you to shut down the Russia investigation?
GONZALES: Think about this - there's a very delicate balance here. You don't want a rogue attorney general or U.S. attorney or head of the criminal division involved in criminal investigations based upon political motives. So in that case, it might be appropriate for the president to say, I want you to stop this investigation. I don't think that's the case here. I have confidence in Bob Mueller.
SIMON: President Trump, I must say, seems to me, has been everything but hit Attorney General Sessions in the face with a banana cream pie.
SIMON: Should the attorney general just resign?
GONZALES: It's a very unusual situation in that the attorney general works for the president. I think there are several reasons Jeff Sessions has not resigned.
SIMON: Well, Attorney General Sessions says he works for the American people.
GONZALES: Well, he works for the American people in that his job is to enforce the laws dispassionately. But he does also work for the president. And you serve at the pleasure of the president. And I also think that he believes, in staying, he is protecting the institution, which is under siege from my perspective. And I think Jeff believed that, in staying, he has the best opportunity to protect the people that go to work there day in and day out on behalf the American people.
SIMON: Mr. Gonzales, I assume you've been following the Kavanaugh confirmation hearings. Do you think the emails produced this week suggest that Judge Kavanaugh is just not telling the truth or at least being candid when he says he believes that Roe v. Wade is the settled law of the land?
GONZALES: The problem with emails is they can often be taken out of context. And we often make comments in email communication, particularly as a young lawyer - we're talking about emails here in the early 2000s. And so I put a lot more weight in what Brett Kavanaugh is saying today under oath than I do with respect to those emails. I worked closely with Brett for several years when I was White House counsel. He's a man of total integrity as far as I'm concerned. And I believe that he will be confirmed. And I believe he will do a good job on the Supreme Court.
SIMON: Even if emails are taken out of context, though, does it not suggest that, in fact, he has an opinion he's not sharing?
GONZALES: As a judge, what you try to do is - when that case comes before you, you put aside everything else that you thought about before. And so you may have an opinion going in. But that opinion may change at the end.
SIMON: Former Attorney General Alberto Gonzales, thanks so much.
GONZALES: Thanks for having me. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.