Transcript: Sens. Lott, Feinstein on 'FOX News Sunday'

The following is a partial transcript from the March 25, 2007, edition of "FOX News Sunday With Chris Wallace":

"FOX NEWS SUNDAY HOST CHRIS WALLACE": Joining us now to talk about those clashes between the White House and congressional Democrats over the firing of the U.S. attorneys and the war in Iraq are the number two Republican in the Senate, Trent Lott, and senior Democrat Dianne Feinstein.

And, Senators, welcome back to "FOX News Sunday".


SEN. TRENT LOTT, R-MISS.: Good to be back, Chris.

WALLACE: Friday night the Justice Department released documents that showed that Alberto Gonzales met with top advisers 10 days before those eight U.S. attorneys were fired to discuss the matter.

This seems to contradict what he said about how far removed he was from the discussion. Let's look at what he had to say two weeks ago.


ATTORNEY GENERAL ALBERTO R. GONZALES: ... was not involved in seeing any memos, was not involved in any discussions about what was going on. That's basically what I knew as the attorney general.


WALLACE: Senator Lott, as his story continues to shift, do you still have full confidence in Alberto Gonzales?

LOTT: I see no evidence that anything illegal was done or improper. As a matter of fact, it looks to me like when you look at the dates there that this discussion took place kind of after the decisions had been made.

But here's my point on all of this. I think it is a fact that it hasn't been handled well. I don't think anybody would assert that it has been. There needs to be a way to find out exactly what went on and why was this done.

But the president has every right to remove U.S. attorneys. And I think, frankly, they should be. In fact, I've noticed that they tend to get to think that they are federal judges. They'll do what they want to.

And if U.S. attorneys are not prosecuting immigration cases, not prosecuting death penalty cases, not prosecuting obscenity, or if you just think a few changes would be good, you ought to be able to do that.

WALLACE: Senator Feinstein, what do you make, one, of this new disclosure that Gonzales, in fact, did meet with top aides 10 days before the U.S. attorneys were fired? And how badly do you think he has been damaged as the chief law enforcement officer of the country?

FEINSTEIN: I think he's been damaged very badly. He certainly has in my eyes and, I believe, in the eyes of the nation and in the eyes of many, many senators.

He said very clearly, "I did not see any memos. I did not have any discussions." This firing was carried out on December 7th. The meetings were held shortly before that.

WALLACE: November 27th.

FEINSTEIN: November 27th. Clearly, he was there. Not only that, there is another e-mail that says attorney general will call Senator Kyl. So clearly, he knew.

Now he's saying he doesn't know. I think the day of the dual-hatted attorney general should be over. Attorney General Gonzales has had the view that he serves two masters, that he serves the president and that he serves as the chief law enforcement officer.

He serves one master, and that's the people of this country in being straightforward, in following the law.

WALLACE: I have to follow up, because up to this point, you have held off on calling for his resignation.

FEINSTEIN: Up to this point, I have held off. It was really Friday when I saw this. You have to realize he called me...

WALLACE: So you think he should resign now.

FEINSTEIN: He called me when I began to become involved in this and told me I didn't know my facts, I didn't know what I was doing. And it turns out he wasn't telling me the truth then either.

WALLACE: So you think he should step down?

FEINSTEIN: I believe he should step down, and I don't like saying this. This is not my natural personality at all. But I think the nation is not well served by this.

I think we need to get at the bottom of why these resignations were made, who ordered them, and what the strategy was.

WALLACE: Let me bring in Senator Lott about that, because you said we need to find out what really happened here.

There is, as you well know, a long history of White House aides coming up and talking before Congress. There was a congressional study that was done that showed that 31 aides spoke — in the Clinton administration spoke to Congress a total of 47 times.

Since the president is willing to allow his aides to talk to Congress, how do you defend, or do you defend, his insistence that they testify in private, not under oath, no transcript being made?

LOTT: I believe that something could be worked out and can be worked out in that regard.

The question is are the Democrats in the Senate interested in information or confrontation. In my mind, I think if the president would agree for his close advisers in the White House to testify before Congress under oath, he'd be making a huge mistake.

There is a thing called executive privilege. I do think...

WALLACE: A lot of these Clinton aides testified under oath.

LOTT: Well, yes, but that doesn't mean it was a smart thing to do or that it should have been done.

I mean, I do think the president should pay attention to the precedents they set for their successors. Going back to George Washington, Thomas Jefferson, Alexander Hamilton, I mean, you have a right to have executive privilege there.

Can a way be worked out to discuss with these people what happened? But you know, in the end, eight were removed, and I assume that there was some good cause.

But frankly, if you just don't think the, you know, U.S. attorney is particularly to your liking, you ought to be able to remove him.

And by the way, the attorney general is the chief law enforcement officer. He has, you know, a high responsibility to do that job in the Constitution. He also works at the pleasure of the president.

And that's the thing with Alberto Gonzales. As long as the president says I have confidence in the attorney general, he's going to stay.

WALLACE: Senator, let's follow up on this issue that Senator Lott has brought up a couple of times. Congress has been looking at this for weeks. You have received more than 3,000 documents from the White House and the Justice Department.

At this point, do you have any hard evidence that anyone at the Justice Department did anything illegal, improperly interfered with a political investigation?

FEINSTEIN: Well, we're trying to ask those questions, and we need to get those people before us. And the first one will come before us willingly — and I think that's commendatory — willingly on Thursday.

WALLACE: That's going to be the former chief of staff, Kyle Sampson.

FEINSTEIN: That's correct. So the questions are yet to be asked. Both Senator Leahy and Specter are trying to negotiate with the White House.

I heard Senator Lott say, "Well, they shouldn't take an oath." The oath isn't that important as the transparency and the transcript is.

And you know, you saw one right now. If it hadn't been in public when the attorney general said, "I've seen no memos, I've had no discussions" — that was a very affirmative and definitive statement. If that hadn't been in public, he would have denied it.

WALLACE: But I mean, doesn't it say something — and we'll get back to that issue with Senator Lott. Doesn't it say something that here you are, you've been looking at this for weeks, you've got 3,000 documents, and there's still no "there" there in this story?

FEINSTEIN: The "there" there is why were they dismissed. And you know, every day something new comes out. The attorney general in Michigan, Margaret Chiara...

WALLACE: No, The U.S. attorney.

FEINSTEIN: Excuse me, the U.S. attorney in Michigan has held a press conference and said she was dismissed clearly for political reasons.

WALLACE: But that's all right.

LOTT: Horrors of horrors.

FEINSTEIN: That's fine.

LOTT: My goodness. How were they selected in the first place? And I have found that U.S. attorneys forget quite often how they got where they are.

You know, all of a sudden they think, "Hey, I must be a federal judge. I'm here in perpetuity. I'll do what I please," and dare anybody to tell them, "Hey, you've got to prosecute more and more aggressively," running around trying to indict some lady that got a grant improperly instead of a billion dollar contractor. You know, you have questions about that.

WALLACE: Senator Feinstein?

FEINSTEIN: Well, six out of the eight of them are involved in public corruption cases, most of those cases against Republicans. They were removed while the investigation or the prosecution was ongoing.

LOTT: But the one in California...

FEINSTEIN: Or they removed...

LOTT: ... you wrote a letter about...

FEINSTEIN: Can I finish?

LOTT: Sure, go ahead. Yes. I mean, I don't see where there's a large number of them involved in, you know, corruption cases.

I think they were involved — well, they were taking action on death penalty cases, immigration cases or obscenity cases.

FEINSTEIN: I'll stand by my statement.

WALLACE: Let Senator Feinstein answer your question.

LOTT: All right.

FEINSTEIN: Thank you. Six out of the seven of them were involved in public corruption cases. This is in particular my interest.

I think before you remove somebody in the middle of a public corruption situation, you ought to be very sure of what you're doing and that you don't in any way chill the investigation or chill the trial if it's going on.

In the case of Carol Lam, it's a particularly sensitive time. The day after she sent a notice of intent to file search warrants against Dusty Foggo and a defense contractor that was close to Duke Cunningham, the e-mail went out, "We have a real problem with Carol Lam."

WALLACE: Yes, but I want to say something about...

FEINSTEIN: Now, I want to ask whether that is a cause and effect. I'll have that opportunity, I hope, on Thursday.

WALLACE: Well, but let me just say something about that, Senator Feinstein, because we've seen the documents along with you. And you're exactly right — and let's put it up on the screen — on May 10th, Lam told justice that she was going to execute search warrants against Dusty Foggo, involved to some degree, allegedly, in the Duke Cunningham case.

The next day, Kyle Sampson sends this e-mail to the White House asking to discuss the real problem we have right now with Carol Lam. The problem is that a month before that, he had sent another e-mail suggesting that they get rid of Carol Lam.

I mean, the fact was they were upset — you were upset — with the fact that she wasn't prosecuting immigration cases.

FEINSTEIN: No, no, no, no, no. I was not upset.

WALLACE: Well, you sent a letter to the Justice Department.

FEINSTEIN: I wrote a letter of inquiry and I received an answer back saying that her immigration prosecutions were satisfactory to the department.

WALLACE: OK. Let's move on, if we can, to Iraq, because that's the other big clash that's going on now. The House voted Friday to bring all — well, most U.S. combat troops, almost all of them, home by August 31st, 2008.

The Senate is going to consider a bill that would set a goal for getting most combat troops out by next March.

Senator Lott, do you have the votes to strip the timetable from the spending bill?

LOTT: We have not done a whip check specifically on this upcoming vote, but I believe that we do. There are members in the Senate in both parties that are not comfortable with how things have gone in Iraq.

But they understand that artificial timetables, even as goals, are a problem. Now, to have some benchmarks of things that we expect to happen — that's fine. But we will try to take out the arbitrary dates.

You know, we need to put that kind of decision in the hands of our commanders who are there on the ground with the men and women. For Congress to impose an artificial date of any kind is totally responsible.

And here's the other point, the main point. It's sort of what — you know, so far the Congress this year has done nothing. And even the New York Times talked about the perils of a heavy gavel, we're investigating, we're forcing our hand." This is not going to happen.

So why are we going through this exercise of heaping pork on the backs of our men and women in uniform and trying to put artificial dates which will not occur? We'll either knock it out or it will be taken out in Congress or the president will veto it.

WALLACE: Senator Feinstein, we're beginning to run out of time, and I want you to answer that question, but I also want to ask you another one at the same time.

The Pentagon came out this week and the said if they don't get this emergency spending — this is all about $100 billion in emergency spending — by mid-April that it's going to hurt training, it's going to hurt deployment, it's going to hurt repairs of important equipment.

If it comes down to a choice between the timetable and funding the troops — and it may come down to that with vetoes and all these other things — where do you come down?

FEINSTEIN: Well, first of all, I don't think we know that it will. I don't think we need to engage in that hypothetical discussion. This is a very serious matter, and the Congress has an obligation.

We're in our fifth year of this war now. A timetable, I believe, is, in fact, in order. This is a binding resolution that's in the supplemental.

If, you know, Senator Lott doesn't want help for Hurricane Katrina in Mississippi, we'll take it in California for the freeze. That's...

LOTT: I'm not going to be bribed...

FEINSTEIN: ... for sure.

LOTT: ... on something that will undermine our troops.

FEINSTEIN: I don't think you're being bribed, Senator.

WALLACE: Let Senator Feinstein answer.

FEINSTEIN: I don't think you're being bribed at all. Look, I know what happened in California in the freeze. And we take care of our own, too, and that's what I'm most proud of as an American.

Having said that, this is a very big discussion. People of this country have spoken overwhelmingly. It's been constant now. They want us out. It is time for the Senate to weigh in. I hope we will have the votes.

WALLACE: Senator Feinstein, Senator Lott, I'd love to continue this conversation, and please come back and we'll do so.

LOTT: We'll be there.

WALLACE: But thank you for coming in today and sharing part of your Sunday with us.

FEINSTEIN: Thank you.