White House Snub or the Washington Way?

This is a rush transcript from "On the Record," January 29, 2010. This copy may not be in its final form and may be updated.

GRETA VAN SUSTEREN, FOX NEWS HOST: Well, it's time for a road trip. We went to Capitol Hill to investigate a possible snubbing. Republican senator Jeff Sessions went "On the Record."


VAN SUSTEREN: I want to focus first on your efforts to communicate with the White House, with the executive branch, because I know that you have concerns along all those lines. You've written the White House or the Justice Department, haven't you, sir.

SEN. JEFF SESSIONS, R - ALA.: I have. I think we have five different letters, beginning back in early December, requesting information or suggesting how that these terrorists should be handled. And we've gotten not a single response from any one of them.

VAN SUSTEREN: All right. I asked you to get the letters together. Let's go to the first one.

SESSIONS: Well, on December 9th, I wrote to them and really challenged the statements twice made by Attorney General Holder that the Saudi rehabilitation program where we release prisoners from Guantanamo -- we send them to Saudi Arabia -- they were supposed to rehabilitate them before they released them. We found that that's not working.

Two of the key people that were involved in sending the Christmas Day bomber to the United States, with a bomb on his person, were people who'd gone through the Saudi program, had been in Guantanamo, been released, went to Yemen, and then helped coordinate this attack on the United States.

VAN SUSTEREN: All right, did you get any response -- I guess -- who was the letter sent to?

SESSIONS: That was Eric Holder, the attorney general. And we no response whatsoever.

VAN SUSTEREN: When was the next communication about any of these issues...


VAN SUSTEREN: ... in writing?

SESSIONS: January 8th, we wrote to the president. A group of us did, I think 22 senators. And we talked about the Christmas Day bomber. And expressed concern about the trial of this case in civilian court and we thought it represented a pre-9/11 mentality.

VAN SUSTEREN: Obviously, you have a substantive difference with the administration because the administration made a different decision. But I'm curious, did you receive any response to that particular communication, like, Senator, thanks a lot for writing, we disagree with you, or whatever? Any communication in writing or phone call or anything from the White House?

SESSIONS: No. No communication.

VAN SUSTEREN: And your next communication, then?

SESSIONS: To Secretary Janet Napolitano. It dealt with the plans and the funding Congress provided to have some special FBI agents in dangerous areas of the world to help the State Department do background checks on people before they're given visas to the United States.

VAN SUSTEREN: What date is that letter to...

SESSIONS: That was January 14th.

VAN SUSTEREN: Did Secretary Napolitano acknowledge receipt of that letter?



SESSIONS: No. We've received nothing...

VAN SUSTEREN: Not a thing?

SESSIONS: ... to my knowledge and no response to my knowledge from that. And then on January 21st, the Senate Judiciary Republicans, seven, wrote to Attorney General Holder to ask who made the decision within the Department of Justice on, really, the night of the arrest of the Christmas Day bomber to try him in civilian court, to advise him of his rights, to tell him they were appointing a lawyer for him, and to really allow that interrogation to end? Who made that decision?

VAN SUSTEREN: Get a response?

SESSIONS: No response.

VAN SUSTEREN: And then there's another letter.

SESSIONS: And this is January 26th to Attorney General Holder. And it dealt with the Christmas Day attack. And this one was from -- led by Senator McConnell, Senator Susan Collins, the ranking Republican on Homeland Security, John McCain, ranking on Defense, Kit Bond, ranking on Intelligence and myself, ranking on Judiciary, and to follow up as to who made the decision about the civilian trial for the Christmas Day bomber. And we received no response from that.

VAN SUSTEREN: Is that sort of the way business is done? I'm trying to understand whether this is an anomaly, although we've spoken to a Congressman Rowe, who has sent a series of communications on an unrelated issue to the White House and gotten no response. Is this sort of, you know, the way it's done, that the Senate fires off letters to various agencies and the White House and doesn't expect an answer back, or is this something different?

SESSIONS: I think this is quite different. Well, I think it's something we're entitled to a response to. We're asking questions on behalf of the American people!

VAN SUSTEREN: Let's take the Detroit -- the Christmas Day bomber. Why should he be tried military and not civilian?

SESSIONS: Well, he came straight from Yemen, straight from al Qaeda's headquarters there, carrying an al Qaeda bomb. Now bin Laden has even officially claimed credit for it. And I passed legislation, the Congress has passed legislation that I drafted, that has designated al Qaeda as an enemy, such that anybody that's connected with them can be tried in military commissions as a combatant.

VAN SUSTEREN: Well, in our prior lives, you were a former U.S. attorney, and I was a criminal defense attorney. The interesting -- I don't know if the viewers would understand, but the defense lawyer, if I were appointed to represent him in a civilian court, the Constitution demands -- doesn't ask to me to, but demands that I effectively represent him, which would mean, in this instance, tell him, Don't talk.

SESSIONS: Absolutely.

VAN SUSTEREN: I mean, and it doesn't -- it's not like -- it's not like the defense attorney has any sort of margin, like, to try to help the United States. Constitution says, effectively, and that would be to do everything you could to advance the interests, and which may be the -- not the interests of the United States.

SESSIONS: That's well said. It's an honorable, professional thing that any good lawyer, the first thing they will tell them, Don't talk. I believe over a period of weeks, if he were cultivated, he may totally spill the beans about what's happening in Yemen. I mean, he -- because we need to know about that. Al Qaeda has sort of moved into Yemen significantly. A lot of their attacks are being planned there. We need to know more about it. The FBI agents in Detroit, though skilled, I'm sure, did not know all the background about Yemen. They didn't know the questions to ask about Yemen.

VAN SUSTEREN: I don't think you can all of a sudden turn around and say, OK, we're going to remove him from the civilian court, put him in the military, and then take his lawyer away from him and then interrogate him. So I think that's a decision that once it's made, you know, we got to live with it.

SESSIONS: Well, the administration has suggested differently.


SESSIONS: But I agree with you that that -- I'm not aware of settled law either way on that.

VAN SUSTEREN: I don't know the answer to that, either, I'm just sort of curious that I don't know if we can back -- you know, like, which is why the decision is so poor and that we know going into these situations what we want to do.

SESSIONS: Well, what we do know, Khalid Shaikh Mohammed, for example, was held as a military prisoner, and now they're trying him as we've done others. So apparently, the courts have upheld the mooting -- if you start them off as a military prisoner, that you can then try them in civilian court, if you choose.

VAN SUSTEREN: Well, if you hear from the attorney general or White House or Secretary Napolitano, let us know.

SESSIONS: We'll do that.

VAN SUSTEREN: Thank you, Senator.

SESSIONS: Glad to have you in the people's office.

VAN SUSTEREN: Thank you.


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