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John Yoo: Attorney General Gonzales Should Stay

John Yoo, professor at the University of California at Berkeley School of Law, served as Deputy Assistant Attorney General in the Justice Department, 2001-03.
Mandel Ngan / AFP/Getty Images
AFP/Getty Images
John Yoo, professor at the University of California at Berkeley School of Law, served as Deputy Assistant Attorney General in the Justice Department, 2001-03.

John Yoo, a law professor at the University of California at Berkeley, once worked for Attorney General Alberto Gonzales. He talks with NPR's John Ydstie about Gonzales and the dismissal of eight U.S. attorneys.

Should he stay or should he go?

I think he should stay as long as we don't see any evidence that a prosecutor or prosecution was tampered with for purely partisan political gains.

Bruce Fein thinks the attorney general should be above the appearance of wrongdoing. What do you say?

If you had that test, that would subject the Justice Department and the people who run it just to whoever has a criticism of the Justice Department.

The important thing is that the administration of law enforcement is not purely neutral. We want our prosecutors and our attorney general to have policy preferences, and to pursue the kinds of cases we elected them to do. It is not just a job that can just be neutrally done, apart from and separate from the rest of the executive branch, or apart from the president's priorities.

Do you think the president's strong show of support Tuesday makes it any more likely that Gonzales will stay?

Oh, yes, I think one thing that was happening was that Republicans, who were getting no sign of support for Gonzales, were starting to jump ship. They didn't want to be caught in the same situation they were with Rumsfeld, where several people were out saying Rumsfeld ought to stay, defending Rumsfeld, and then finding out all of a sudden that he'd been fired and the decision had been made weeks or months earlier.

But doesn't Gonzales suffer from the fact that he really is a creature of the president?

I do think that hurts the attorney general, because he doesn't have a political base of his own. On the other hand, it makes it sound as if people want the good old days of John Ashcroft back as attorney general, who did have broad-based political support.

It doesn't really matter. In fact, we might not want someone who is constantly involved with the Senate or the Congress to be in charge of law enforcement.

I would say, for example, Janet Reno, who many people did not think was a good attorney general, was someone who was quite independent and separate from President Clinton — had a lot of fights and disputes with the president — and that wasn't good, either.

What do you think Mr. Gonzales' legacy will be?

His biggest legacy is going to be, without a doubt, war on terrorism. And historians in the future, I think will look back on the firing-of-the-U.S.-attorneys controversy as a small footnote.

How they'll evaluate him, as they'll evaluate, I think, the Bush administration, is how well they do in the fight against al-Qaida. And how well they do in bringing to an end the Iraq war.

How difficult will it be for Alberto Gonzales to do his job if he does stay, given this controversy?

I think what you have is an administration in the last two years, it's not looking for re-election, it does have some priorities that are dependent on Congress, but a lot of what the executive branch does — a lot of what the Justice Department does — doesn't require constant support from Congress. So I think the attorney general certainly has been wounded, but it doesn't prevent him from doing his job, doing the day-to-day job of taking criminals off the streets, and trying to prevent terrorist attacks.

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