SCOTT SIMON, HOST:
Attorney General Sessions has fired a top FBI official just two days before he planned to retire with full benefits. Andrew McCabe is the former deputy director of the FBI who, after taking over for the fired Director James Comey, became a frequent target of President Trump. With us to talk about this is the former attorney general of the United States under President George W. Bush, Alberto Gonzales.
Mr. Gonzales, thanks so much for being with us.
ALBERTO GONZALES: It's a pleasure to be with you.
SIMON: Mr. McCabe - more than 20 years of service, just two days short of retiring with his pension. What do you make of this move?
GONZALES: Well, I don't know Andy McCabe. I know many people that know him and actually speak highly of him. My understanding is that there were negative findings in the Office of Professional Responsibility and the inspector general of Justice that Mr. McCabe provided information without complete candor and recommended that he be fired. I don't know that to be true. But let's assume that it is true. Now, that puts General Sessions in a somewhat difficult position in that you've got career employees without any kind of political bias making this recommendation.
This is their job - to evaluate conduct and to hold all DOJ employees to the highest professional standards - making a recommendation that this individual be terminated - and this individual also having links to James Comey being - you know, having some kind of involvement with respect to the whole Russian investigation, perhaps having information related to the Russia investigation and the actions of the Trump White House. So it put General Sessions in a very difficult position. My own judgment is, again - and I'm just speaking here without any firsthand knowledge - is that General Sessions made the right decision. And it's unfortunate. The timing is unfortunate. It looks somewhat possibly vindictive to some.
SIMON: Well, let - but let me follow up on that, if I could, because it's not as if Mr. McCabe was still actively employed in the Justice Department and certainly wouldn't be, come Monday morning. Is this just an act of vindictiveness and mean-spiritedness toward someone - I mean, the president was essentially dancing in the end zone in a tweet after he was fired. And...
GONZALES: Well, I'm not going to speak to what the president's response to that was. But whether or not it's one minute before the end of his service or one year or five years, if you're engaged in wrongdoing, you have to be held accountable. The head of the department has to send a clear message, particularly to the FBI agents - you cannot lie. You have to have complete candor.
SIMON: Now, of course, Mr. McCabe disputes that he lies and says he's going to be vindicated. And he also says the president is attacking the FBI and trying to undercut the FBI at a time when, obviously, they are taking a look at the Russian meddling in the 2016 campaign and perhaps any ties to the Trump administration or Trump campaign. Do you see this as an attempt to intimidate that investigation?
GONZALES: Well, again, I have no way of knowing whether or not Donald Trump ordered General Sessions to do this. I'm assuming that the career individuals made this assessment on their own, and that was without any kind of influence from the White House or from General Sessions. And so while I have to question the response from the president, if, in fact, the facts are true and Mr. McCabe was not acting with complete candor, the head of the department, Jeff Sessions, has a responsibility as the attorney general to hold people accountable. I agree, it doesn't look good. And it may very well be that there are facts here that may show that there was political influence. But just based on the facts that have - that's been reported, I'm not sure General Sessions had much choice, quite frankly.
SIMON: You, Mr. Gonzales, oversaw some firings of several U.S. attorneys during the Bush administration, and they were criticized as being politically motivated. After the fact, you said you wished things had been handled differently. Based on your experience, could things have been handled differently here?
GONZALES: I don't know enough about the facts, quite frankly. You know, perhaps the decision could've been announced sooner. But on the other hand, you could make the argument that General Sessions wanted to explore everything, and it took him some time to get fully comfortable with the report and the recommendations given to him. What I would have done differently was communicated the removals directly. I think that was that was disrespectful, having a senior person contact the U.S. attorney about their removals. I should've done that personally.
SIMON: Former Attorney General Alberto Gonzales, thanks so much for being with us.
GONZALES: Thanks for having me. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.