CBS Face The Nation-Transcript

Interview

By:  Lindsey Graham Patrick Leahy
Date: March 25, 2007
Location: Unknown

SCHIEFFER: On Friday's "CBS Evening News," we aired an interview with Sharon Eubanks, a career lawyer who spent more than two decades at the Justice Department. She told a shocking story that two years ago high level political appointees forced her to soften the government's case in a big lawsuit against the tobacco companies, accusing them of covering up the dangers of smoking. Over her objection, political appointees ordered a drastic reduction from 130 billion to $10 billion that she wanted the companies to lay
out to help smokers break the habit. They watered down her closing argument in the case and ordered her to read it as written, told her to drop demands that some company officials be removed, and told her to change some of her witnesses' testimony.

(Excerpt from "CBS Evening News")

SCHIEFFER: Well, what did they want them to say?

Ms. SHARON EUBANKS: Well, it was more what they didn't want them to say.

SCHIEFFER: And you believe in your heart that these instructions you got from above were because these people wanted to go easy on the tobacco companies.

Ms. EUBANKS: I do believe that, and I'm not the only one.

(End of excerpt)

SCHIEFFER: Sharon Eubanks talked to us and The Washington Post last week because the case is now on appeal and she's afraid the government may try to back off its demands on the tobacco company. She left the Justice Department a year and a half ago. She said she was fed up, and she told me she was disillusioned.

Senator Leahy, this seems to me to be worse than replacing presidential appointees, these US attorneys.

Senator PATRICK LEAHY (Democrat, Vermont; Chairman, Judiciary Committee): Well, I think it's all part of the same. What they're doing is taking a--a federal law enforcement system and federal judiciary-- judicial system that's the envy of the world because of its independence and its competence and its integrity and trying to dismantle that by forcing out US attorneys because they don't like what they're doing. But, in this case, it's egregious. I mean, all the years I was a trial lawyer, all the years I was a prosecutor, I never saw a case here they told, in her case, told her, `Here's word for word what you read in your final argument.' And when she had a case that she was going to win and get enormous damages that would go into the US Treasury, they said, `No, these are our friends. You got to cut it back.' I--I have never seen anything in Democratic or Republican administrations that begins to equal that.

SCHIEFFER: Well, Senator Graham, let's go back to what Bud Cummins talked about down there in Arkansas, and--and just the--just sort of what appears to be duplicity that was going on here. I mean, every day we get a different story from the Justice Department. Yesterday, we were told the attorney
general still maintains that he does not know the reasons that these US attorneys were fired, and yet there are e-mails that suggest he was in at least two meetings where it was discussed. What needs to happen here?

Senator LINDSEY GRAHAM (Republican, South Carolina; Judiciary Committee): We need to find out exactly what did happen because the attorney general said, I think, in the USA Today article in March that they were fired because of performance reasons, that he had evaluated their status and they just didn't
perform well. He's also said that he delegated this to underlings, and he really wasn't involved. The attorney general has been wounded because of his performance, not because of politics, and he is willing to come before the Senate and explain himself under oath. And I think he should, and we should allow him to tell his side of the story, ask him hard questions, not run him off because of newspaper articles. But I'm very disturbed by--by the way this has been handled, and there's no substitute for him coming to the Senate.

SCHIEFFER: Well, do you think eventually he is going to have to leave if he can't explain this, let's say, to your satisfaction?

Sen. GRAHAM: Well, he has said some things that just don't add up. I--I like him as a person. I really do like Attorney General Gonzales. But he has been wounded. He's going to have to come to the--to the Senate and re-establish his credibility. And he's going to have to prove to us that there was a legitimate reason this was poorly handled--because you can't say it was anything other than poorly handled--and nothing nefarious happened here. I'm willing to hear him out, and I think he deserves to be heard out.

SCHIEFFER: Well, Senator Leahy, you're going to have Kyle Sampson, who was the attorney general's chief of staff...

Sen. LEAHY: Mm-hmm.

SCHIEFFER: ...before the committee of this week. What do you expect to hear from him?

Sen. LEAHY: Well, I want to find out what's happening. I almost worry that some of the things going on, they're trying to make him the fall guy, and yet, we--we find so many e-mails that contradict what the attorney general has said, contradict what the deputy attorney general has said, contradict what the White House has said. Mr. Sampson's right in the middle of it. We're going to ask him, under oath--I'm going to have all these hearings under oath. I want them to say exactly what happened. I told him we would not delay it, we're going to go forward, I would subpoena him if he didn't come voluntarily. To his credit, he said he would come voluntarily.

SCHIEFFER: Well, you have also subpoenaed, or, or the committee has authorized subpoenas for some of the White House people--for Karl Rove, for Harriet Miers, who used to be the White House counsel. Are you going to keep pressing that?

Sen. LEAHY: Well, the White House has said they'd only allow them to come if it's behind closed doors, no oath, no transcripts, limited number of people asking the questions and a limited agenda. That's a nonstarter. I want them in the open under oath, publicly, where both Republican senators and
Democratic senators can ask questions. You know, this is--our founders devised this system of checks and balances. This administration has been
used to going unchecked. The balances kicked in last November, and they're going to have to deal with that reality.

SCHIEFFER: Senator Graham, as a Republican, do you think it's necessary for these people to be put under oath and to come before the committee in the open?

Sen. GRAHAM: There are two issues here: what, what happened in these cases, and we need to get to the bottom of it. The big issue constitutionally is how much can Congress get into the bowels of the White House and listen to how the president was advised about hiring and firing? We're co-equal branches of the government. The attorney general says he will come under oath. Everyone in the Justice Department, who's been requested, voluntarily will come. Three thousand documents have--has been released. But if you start subpoenaing the advisers to the president about firing and hiring and getting into the Karl Rove/Harriet Miers under oath deal, you're going to go to court. The way to handle this, in my opinion, is to have a private conference, interviews with Karl Rove, Harriet Miers, and have a transcript so we know what happened.

Sen. LEAHY: I couldn't--I couldn't--I couldn't disagree more.

SCHIEFFER: Well, now, the White House agrees with everything but...

Sen. LEAHY: Transcript.

SCHIEFFER: ...but, on the transcript. But let me just ask you this. Karl Rove is out making speeches in public about all of this. If--if an official goes out and talks in public, don't they have an obligation to come before the Congress, Senator Graham?

Sen. GRAHAM: Well, the point of this is--is politics. They're running ads. Our Democratic friends have got a radio ad against Heather Wilson now. There're--there're Web sites, Democratic Web sites with Senator Domenici's face and picture all over it. What I'd like to find out is what happened? There is an absolute obligation to treat this as a co-equal branch situation. The problem is, that you can--you can get a US attorney dismissed for almost any reason, but you can't dismiss them because they failed to prosecute your enemy...

SCHIEFFER: Well...

Sen. GRAHAM: ...or will not leave your friends alone, so Leahy's right. Senator Leahy and Specter's right to find out what happened. We were misled, apparently, by some White House--by Department of Justice officials, and we have a right, as the Congress, to find out exactly what happened...

SCHIEFFER: All right.

Sen. GRAHAM: ...without invading the White House.

SCHIEFFER: For those--for those who have not followed as closely as we all are, Heather Wilson that you mentioned and Senator Domenici...

Sen. GRAHAM: Yeah, yeah, right.

SCHIEFFER: ...he is the senator, Republican senator, she is a Republican representative, and Senator Leahy...

Sen. LEAHY: Right.

SCHIEFFER: ...they called the prosecutor out there and wanted to know why he wasn't prosecuting Democrats. Is that out of order?

Sen. LEAHY: Yes, it's totally out of order. Any--I mean, during the years that I was a prosecutor, if an elected official called me and told me to prosecute somebody or not to prosecute somebody, I would have just hung up the phone on them. I would not allow that kind of political pressure in my office as a prosecutor. Now, the question of whether these people can testify or not, we have ample precedent during the Clinton administration and previous administrations of White House officials testifying. For the--for the Bush administration to suddenly wave the constitution, they've ignored the constitution for six years, and now they suddenly want to use it? That doesn't--that doesn't fly. The American people ought to know what happened here. I would take the same position whether they're Democratic administration or Republican administration. If you destroy the integrity of the prosecutorial system, you hurt everybody all the way down to the cop on the beat. Because the investigators are going to ask, `Well, should I really look at this case? Is it politically allowable to go after this person because they're a Republican or this person because they're a Democrat? You can't have that. Justice really has to be blind. What they're trying to do is say justice can only look in one direction. That doesn't work in our system of government.

SCHIEFFER: All right. Well, gentlemen, I want to thank both of you. We'll be back with a political roundtable in just a minute.