Former Attorney General Calls Vetting Immigrants A 'Delicate Process'
MICHEL MARTIN, HOST:
We wanted to get additional legal perspective on the big news stories of this weekend, so we reached out to former Attorney General Alberto Gonzales. He led the Justice Department during the administration of George W. Bush. He's also a former White House counsel in that administration and a former Texas Supreme Court judge. He's now dean of the law school at Belmont University School of Law in Nashville. He happened to be traveling in Utah, and we reached him there. Judge Gonzales, thanks so much for speaking with us.
ALBERTO GONZALES: Always a pleasure.
MARTIN: So I wanted to first get your take on President Trump's reorganization of the National Security Council. The president's chief strategist, Steve Bannon, is now to be a regular member of the Principals Committee. How unusual is that to have somebody from the political side on equal footing with secretaries of Defense, State, Homeland Security and Treasury?
GONZALES: You know, I really can't speak to what it was like in previous administrations that they've gone by. I can tell you that Karl Rove was never in any meeting in the situation room. I would say it was really different to what we did in the Bush administration. I will say that as a general matter, you know, the president is entitled to seek advice from wherever he chooses.
But this is - relates to issues of the highest intelligence importance and involving our national security. And you want to have your advisers there who have some level of expertise and experience in that arena. I don't know what Steve's experience is in the area. And so I would certainly say would be unusual vis a vis my own experience in working in the Bush administration.
MARTIN: Did President Bush have a philosophy about this? I mean, he was known to be very close to Karl Rove. Was there a particular reason he didn't have somebody from the political side involved in these discussions? Was in part to avoid the appearance of political involvement in affairs of national security?
GONZALES: I think it was more a function of you were only at meetings or events where you were needed. For President Bush, his decision relating to national security - we're going to be governed by politics. We're not going to be governed by polls. He was going to do what he thought was best for this country based upon the advice given to him by the national security experts. Obviously, I'm not part of the Trump administration, so I don't know what is motivating this particular change. All I can say is it's certainly different than the way we operated in the Bush administration.
MARTIN: Let's talk about the executive order on refugee resettlement and the new limits on immigration. States attorneys general are having a very strong reaction to the president's executive order. In fact, a group of 16 of them are battling whatever legal assistance they can provide. You can see that there are demonstrations popping up at airports around the country. Can I get your reaction to this?
GONZALES: Well, you know, I haven't seen the order. Obviously, there's been a lot of reporting about it. There's also been some, I think - I've seen some reporting that, perhaps, the order wasn't properly vetted. I hope it's not the case that the lawyers of the Department of Justice, particularly the office of legal counsel that they - I hope that they were involved because that's a role that is delegated to them by the attorney general who is charged by statute to advise the executive branch. So I don't know how the executive order came to be - who signed off on it, but, obviously, it's generated a great deal of confusion and opposition.
MARTIN: Anything else that I didn't have the wit to ask you?
GONZALES: You know, I think with respect to these orders, we need to remember this is a very important balancing act for the country and that we are a nation of immigrants. We are a compassionate people. We have historically had open arms with respect to refugees and people in trouble.
On the other hand, we live now in a very dangerous world, and we need to make sure that only people that have good intentions are coming into our country. And if we don't have a process in place to ensure that, then that argues for beefing up those inspections. And that's a very delicate balance for our country, and I'm assuming that President Trump is trying to achieve that balance and, perhaps, that balance wasn't properly reached in this particular instance. So we'll have to wait and see how it all progresses.
MARTIN: That's Alberto Gonzales. He was attorney general in the administration of George W. Bush. He's currently serving as dean of the law school at Belmont University School of Law in Nashville. His latest book is "True Faith And Allegiance." And we reached him in Utah. Judge Gonzales, thanks so much for speaking with us.
GONZALES: Thank you again. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.