In a Fox News Latino exclusive, Juan Williams interviews former U.S. Attorney General under President George W. Bush, Alberto Gonzáles.
JUAN WILLIAMS: Judge Alberto Gonzáles, thank you so much for coming in to join us for this exclusive Fox News Latino interview.
FORMER US ATTORNEY GENERAL ALBERTO GONZÁLES: Juan, it’s always a pleasure to visit with you.
WILLIAMS: Judge, let’s start with Fast and Furious. This is a gunrunning operation, operated by the US government. At the moment, Congressman Darryl Issa of the Oversight Committee is threatening a contempt citation against the current Attorney General, Eric Holder. How do you view this case?
GONZÁLES: Well first of all, it’s a tragedy to have a member of our government services killed in connection with this operation. I can’t say that I’m totally familiar with, all the intimate details of this case. Obviously, something terribly wrong happened here and Congress has not only the right, but an obligation, to find out what went wrong. As does the Attorney General. The power of oversight includes the right and duty to request information. And apparently there’s a stalemate right now. Obviously certain information, the executive branch seeks to protect, as being privileged. And I certainly understand that.
Normally in these kinds of situations, an accommodation can be reached. That apparently hasn’t happened here. And it’s not unusual to hear threats of subpoenas, and things of that nature. I think it’s important to find out what happened. I have no reason to believe that General Holder is doing anything inappropriate, or has done anything inappropriate. But that’s what Congress is trying to find out.
WILLIAMS: You know people often cite the fact that there was a similar operation, I think it was called Operation Wide Receiver, under the Bush Administration. Attorney General Michael Mukasey has not been asked to come and testify. Do you see this as just politics, at some level? Or do you think that there was a legitimate purpose, in both administrations, Bush and Obama, in trying to stop the trade of illegal drugs, from the US, flowing into Mexico?
GONZÁLES: No question about it. For President Bush, this was a serious issue. It was an issue raised by Mexican authorities --that we needed to stop the flow of illegal weapons across the border. The question here is the success, or the failure, of this particular operation. You know it is customary within police procedure to sometimes allow contraband to move.
GONZÁLES: And for the police to follow it, because it leads them to people who are higher up in the conspiracy.
I don’t think Hispanics are going to support Governor Romney, simply because he puts Marco Rubio on the ticket, or any other Hispanic on the ticket.
- Alberto Gonzales, Former U.S. Attorney General
GONZÁLES: That’s typical. Now the key, of course, is to be able to follow the contraband. And apparently that did not happen here. And so, in that respect, it’s a different operation. The operation failed and there was the loss of life. It’s appropriate to find out what happened, and to make sure it doesn’t happen again.
WILLIAMS: Let’s talk a little bit about the immigration law in Arizona. Highly controversial, now before the Supreme Court. Your experience in Texas, your family history, how do you view this, as a Republican?
GONZÁLES: The Arizona law?
GONZÁLES: Well, first of all I respect the rights of states to deal with issues. I used to be a state official in Texas, and you’re sensitive to the complaints of your constituents. But…
WILLIAMS: You were…
GONZÁLES: I was a Secretary of State, for the Supreme Court of Texas.
WILLIAMS: Supreme Court of Texas, yes.
GONZÁLES: The real story here is not what Arizona and other states like Alabama are doing. The real story is the failure of the federal government to deal with immigration policy. In a perfect world, these states wouldn’t be passing these kinds of laws. Congress and the President would work together, and pass comprehensive immigration reform. We have failed in that respect, and that’s why you see laws like Arizona's.
I understand the controversy. It’s a very controversial law. I think it’s generally unpopular within the Hispanic community, and probably has been harmful to the Republican Party. We’ll see what the court says. My own view, going into the arguments, was that immigration is an area that’s been preempted by the federal government, and the states do not have the authority. But the arguments did not go very well. I think most court observers would say that the court seemed rather hostile to the government’s position. So we’ll have to wait and see what happens.
WILLIAMS: When you look at the law itself, do you agree with people who argue that it includes the potential for racial profiling, of Hispanic people?
GONZÁLES: There’s always a potential for racial profiling, in the application of a myriad of laws. That’s why you have other laws that permit the Department of Justice to prosecute that kind of behavior. That doesn’t mean that you give up a perfectly, otherwise lawful, law enforcement tool that may be very effective in finding, crime, or finding wrongdoing. We have laws on the books to ensure that government action, state action, does not adversely affect minorities, based upon the color of your skin.
WILLIAMS: And do you think that it could in fact, act in a way that would be intimidating, or discriminatory, with regard…
GONZÁLES: It could.
WILLIAMS: …To the Latino community?
GONZÁLES: It could, but I think it’s very telling that the US government did not make the basis of their argument in the courts, this issue of discrimination and racial profiling. And the reason for that is because you have to see how the law is applied first. The law could be applied in a way that does not result in discrimination. Instead the government’s primary argument was that this is an issue that’s been preempted by the federal government. But clearly it does provide an opportunity for discrimination, and intimidation, and that’s why, if this law is upheld, it’s going to be important to have the appropriate training, and appropriate oversight, to ensure that discrimination and intimidation doesn’t occur.
WILLIAMS: The law closely relates to the politics of the moment, as we are in the midst now of a campaign for the presidency. And overwhelmingly, Judge Gonzáles, what you see is that the Latino community strongly backs the incumbent Democrat, Barack Obama. Numbers in the high sixties, if not seventy percent. Why do you think that is, and do you connect it to SB-1070?
GONZÁLES: There may be a connection for some people. My own sense is that, like many Americans, I think many Hispanic families are struggling today. And they’re more focused on their own personal economic situation. I think, as we get closer to the election, I think more Hispanics, more American families, are going to look more closely at their own economic situation, and make a decision as to whether or not we better off today than we were four years ago. I understand what the numbers are today, but I think Governor Romney still has time to persuade Hispanic voters that he is someone that can provide a better future for all Hispanics, for all Americans, quite frankly. So I think that there’s still, but no question, that some of the policies, some of the rhetoric, particularly on immigration, has been particularly harsh, been particularly mean. I think it’s hurt the party, with respect to bringing onboard additional Hispanic voters.
WILLIAMS: Which is a lost opportunity. I think you would agree that there is a tremendous possibility of Republicans winning the Latino vote given the values in the Latino community, social values, family values, religious values. But we don’t see it translating, thus far.
GONZÁLES: We haven’t seen it translate, thus far. Obviously, President Bush was successful at making a much stronger connection with the Hispanic community, in 2000, and 2004 elections. From my perspective, you know, Governor Romney is going to have to make a personal connection, in some way…
WILLIAMS: Well how can he do it?
GONZÁLES: …With the Hispanic community.
WILLIAMS: How can he do it?
GONZÁLES: I don’t know whether or not it involves, you know, giving a speech on race, to the Hispanic community, at a place, like, say, San Antonio. But he needs to; he needs to make a very concerted effort to reach out to the Hispanic community. At the end of the day, you know the policies will be, I think policies are important, on immigration.
Having key Hispanics advising him, I think is important. But at the end of the day, it’s going to be whether or not he can make that personal connection, like George W. Bush did.
WILLIAMS: Bush did, yeah.
GONZÁLES: And that remains to be seen. But again, I think the good news for Governor Romney is that he has time and we’ll see whether or not he takes advantage of that time.
WILLIAMS: Have you endorsed him?
GONZÁLES: I haven’t endorsed him, officially. But I will say here to you, that I will be supporting Governor Romney. For a variety of reasons, when I think about the future of this country, about the direction of this country, I think Governor Romney represents a better choice for this country from my perspective.
WILLIAMS: And has he reached out to you?
GONZÁLES: Hasn’t been any —I’ve been in contact with one of his senior advisors, but beyond that, I’ve had limited contact. I don’t know Governor Romney. That’s one of the reasons that makes it somewhat difficult for me. I had the advantage of knowing George W. Bush extremely well. I don’t have that same kind of relationship with Governor Romney. And so, I sometimes hesitate, when asked about giving advice to Governor Romney about reaching out to the Hispanic community, because I don’t know what kind of person he is, I don’t know about his capabilities. He obviously is a very talented man, a very successful businessman. I think he was a successful Governor in Massachusetts. So he’s obviously a man of great skills and talents. But I’m hopeful that he’s going to be able to make that connection that’s going to be so important to the Hispanic community.
WILLIAMS: Did you support any of the candidates, in the Republic primaries?
GONZÁLES: No, I didn’t. I made no formal endorsement and did not go out and campaign for any of the candidates. And, the truth of the matter is, I’m pretty tied to George W. Bush and some of the more controversial policies of the Bush Administration and I would understand it if some of the candidates would think: Maybe we’ll wait and we don’t need Gonzáles' support or advice now, because do we want to bring on that some would characterize as baggage, into this campaign. So, I understand that.
WILLIAMS: Right. Before we leave that point, I’m always taken by the idea that people somehow forget the legacy of George W. Bush, with regard to the diversity of his cabinet. He had you, obviously as the Attorney General, but he had people like Condoleezza Rice, as Secretary of State.
GONZÁLES: Colin Powell...Susana Martínez.
WILLIAMS: Ed Housing.
GONZÁLES: Of course, Gutiérrez. Alphonso Jackson. It was a pretty diverse cabinet. And I recognized early on, when Bush was Governor of Texas, that this was, this was a man who really appreciated the diversity of the great state of Texas, and the diversity of this country, and the talents that existed in the minority community, and the importance of bringing people into positions of power. And the other thing, I always sense in Bush is that he liked my story...the American story.
GONZÁLES: He liked that. He appreciated that. I think that resonated with him.
WILLIAMS: And that story, tell us very briefly, that story.
GONZÁLES: Well, the fact that the son of a cotton-picker and construction worker, who had a second grade education, who grew up in a family grew up in a home that my dad built, with no hot running water, no telephone --and this person becomes the Attorney General of the United States. This is still a country where dreams still come true. And for that reason, America’s worth fighting for, and America is worth dying for.
WILLIAMS: And you grew up in what town?
GONZÁLES: I grew up in a little town called Humble, Texas, right outside of Houston.
WILLIAMS: And your family emigrated from Mexico?
GONZÁLES: Well, my grandparents did. Both of my parents were born in Texas.
WILLIAMS: By the way, let’s go back for a second. You know that the Department of Justice now has a lawsuit against Sheriff Joe Arpaio.What are your thoughts on that suit?
GONZÁLES: Well, again there are laws that are on the book, that are intended to prosecute wrongdoing, either discrimination or intimidation. And, if in fact the Sheriff was engaged in that kind of conduct, then the department should look at it. Obviously the Sheriff is a very high profile. But, you don’t want to use the department in a way to discourage, or needlessly discourage, or sort of put your thumb on a public official who’s elected by the people of Arizona. But, again, if there are allegations and they’re credible allegations of wrongdoing, you have an obligation, as the Attorney General, at the Department of Justice, to at least look at them, to consider them. But you need to be careful, because again, something like this is very high profile. You need to be sure, before you start moving down that road.
WILLIAMS: Okay. The Dream Act. Coming back to your own personal story. Right now, as you know, Republicans have opposed the passage of a Dream Act that would allow young people who are in school, or in the military, to get on a pathway to citizenship. Do you support that Dream Act?
GONZÁLES: I don’t get so hung up on the pathway to citizenship portion of it.
I do believe it’s important to put certain kids who are brought here by their parents when they were young into some kind of legal status. If we do that, these are going to be young adults who will have gone to college, or have served in the military, and, at the end of the day, we’re going to end up wanting them to be citizens anyway. So, my sense is that the better policy is to go ahead and include some kind of legislation that provides them a pathway to citizenship, but to me, it’s not absolutely necessary. And I don’t think, for quite frankly, that the Hispanic community would get hung-up on not having it included in the legislation, either. For the most majority of Hispanics, what they want to see is that these kids be given an opportunity to stay in this country, to go to school, to serve in the military. And I think the citizenship part is secondary, as far as I’m concerned.
WILLIAMS: Well in fact, Marco Rubio, the Florida senator, is now working on legislation, just like that, and we’ve seen Representative Luis Gutiérrez, of Illinois…say that he too, wants to stop the deportations.
WILLIAMS: That’s the critical element.
GONZÁLES: And that’s my perspective, that’s where I’m at, and I think that for many Hispanics that’s what’s really important. But again, at the end of the day, you know, these are people who are going to want to stay here permanently, probably, ‘cause they’re going to be well-educated…
WILLIAMS: I heard you say that… Yeah.
GONZÁLES: …And have served in the military. So, if that’s where we’re going to end up, down the road, you know, is that something we ought to consider now?
WILLIAMS: Now, when I asked you about what Governor Romney can do in terms of reaching out to the Latino community, you did not mention Marco Rubio. Many Americans, and many Republicans, say that he is the number one choice to be on the ticket, as Romney’s running mate, in part, to try to win over the Latino vote. Is that a flawed strategy?
GONZÁLES: I don’t think people are going to vote for Governor Romney based upon who he chooses as his number two. I really don’t. I don’t think it’s going to make a difference to the Hispanic community, if they view Governor Romney’s policies as something that they just simply don’t agree with.
At the end of the day, and I’ve said this publicly, I think a nominee should consider three things in choosing a running mate. The first and most important is: this a person who can be President on day one, in case something happened to me. Secondly, is this a person who can help me govern? Because it is the Vice President who is often the last person in the Oval Office, right before the President makes a tough decision. And you want the Vice President to be someone who has wisdom. And you only gain wisdom through experience.
GONZÁLES: And then finally, you know, assuming those two criteria are met is you might choose someone as a running mate, who helps you win an important state, or win, you know, a particular segment of the voting public. So those are the things that I would look at, and I don’t think Hispanics are going to support Governor Romney, simply because he puts Marco Rubio, or any other Hispanic on the ticket.
GONZÁLES: It’s going to depend on following the policies that they believe Governor Romney champions.
WILLIAMS: Do you know Rubio?
GONZÁLES: I don’t know him. I don’t know him at all. Obviously he is a very talented individual. I honor his service and, you know, the choice is a very personal one, in terms of who will be the running mate and I hope and pray that Governor Romney makes the best decision for his campaign, and for this country.
WILLIAMS: Now, you spoke earlier about your time as Attorney General and the controversies over memos and the like. You must’ve heard the news about the President having approval of a so-called “kill list.” And, he has not released any memos about justification for this kind of thing. What are your thoughts?
GONZÁLES: Well, I think that I can’t confirm that no memos have been released. I do know that General Holder did give a speech, sort of outlining the justification for the decisions. I’m assuming that Congress has been fully briefed. If I were in Congress, I’d want to know…
GONZÁLES: … if in fact the President is targeting American citizens, in particular to be placed on a kill list. I’d like to know that. But it does raise a very interesting question: whether or not the Executive, the Commander In-Chief, in a time of war, can, on his own, can the Executive branch, on its own, put an American citizen on a kill list?
I don’t know whether or not there are five votes on the court that would agree with that. The question is whether or not this is this the kind of issue that is non-discussible, meaning that the court’s going to say, well this is sort of a political question, you know, we’re not going to deal with it. But I worry about the notion, and some people might be surprised to hear me say this, I worry about the notion that you have the most powerful person in the world, the Commander In-Chief, who’s unconstrained, in any way making this decision.
So, it’s a very difficult issue and it’s one that I’m hoping Congress is working closely with the White House, to understand, you know, what is happening, what’s going to happen, going forward.
WILLIAMS: Well, I mention it because obviously there was such controversy over the memos, coming out of your administration, and then the Justice Department, with regard to enhanced interrogation. But you don’t see a parallel there.
GONZÁLES: Well, I’m assuming, again, this is an assumption, that before these actions were taken, that the Department of Justice penned a lengthy legal opinion, saying, Mr. President, you have the authority to do this.
GONZÁLES: And, typically, certainly initially, I think those kinds of opinions, that the Executive branch would try to protect you, and you would try to work with Congress in providing an accommodation, by briefing the Chair and the ranking member of both the House and the Senate Intelligence Committees, about what you’re doing in the justification. And the same thing with the Senate and House Judiciary Committees. If the briefing is insufficient, then you might provide some kind of summary of the opinion. So, you work with a series of steps before you actually get to the point where you decide, I’m either going to release a memo, or I’m not going to release a memo.
WILLIAMS: Now, when you look forward coming out of the Bush years, what are you doing and what do you plan to do in the future? Do you have any political ambitions?
GONZÁLES: My wife tells me I have no political ambitions.
GONZÁLES: I’m practicing law again, which I enjoy.
WILLIAMS: What kind of law do you practice?
GONZÁLES: I help companies deal with crisis situations and government investigations, something that I have some experience in with the Waller Law Firm in Nashville. But I’m also teaching Constitutional law, presidential power, and national security law, at Belmont University in Nashville.
I’m also doing a lot of writing. I give a lot of speeches; I do interviews like this one. And so I like that. I like commenting on issues. I think that, I do have a perspective that’s a little different than other people and to the extent that I can be helpful in the debate, I like doing that.
WILLIAMS: Mister—I was going to call you Mr. Attorney General, but Judge Gonzáles is your preference, so Judge Gonzáles, thank you so much for joining us for this Fox News Latino interview.
GONZÁLES: Thank you, Juan.
Juan Williams is a writer, author and Fox News political analyst and special contributor to Fox News Latino. His latest book "Muzzled: The Assault On Honest Debate" (Crown/Random House) was released in 2011. He also writes for The Hill and on TheHill.com.
This interview was produced by Victor Garcia. Follow him on twitter @MrVicGarcia.
FULL UNEDITED INTERVIEW