Discussing Attorney General Alberto R. Gonzales' April 19 appearance at a Senate Judiciary Committee hearing into the firing of eight U.S. attorneys on that day's edition of MSNBC's Hardball, host Chris Matthews baselessly asserted that "[t]wo-thirds of the American people say -- I mean, they don't like it, but they don't think he's [Gonzales] telling the truth -- but they say leave him alone." In fact, several polls have indicated that a plurality of respondents believe Gonzales should resign, while other polls show the public divided on the subject. During the program, Matthews also did not challenge the false assertion by guest David Rivkin, a Justice department official under President George H.W. Bush, that senators "did not talk about specific U.S. attorneys" with Gonzales during the hearing.
While Matthews asserted that "[t]wo-thirds of the American people say -- I mean, they don't like it, but they don't think he's telling the truth, but they say leave him alone," numerous polls have found that at least a plurality of respondents want Gonzales to resign, while other polls show the public divided on that question.
- An April 13-15 USA Today/Gallup poll asked, "Do you think Attorney General Alberto Gonzales should or should not resign over his handling of these dismissals?" Forty-one percent of respondents said Gonzales should resign, compared to 37 percent who said he should not, while 22 percent had no opinion.
- An April 12-15 ABC News/Washington Post poll asked, "Given this issue do you think Gonzales should (lose his job) as attorney general, or (remain in his position)?" Forty-five percent of respondents said Gonzales should "lose his job as attorney general," while 39 percent said he should "remain in his position"; 16 percent said they had no opinion.
- An April 10-12 CNN/Opinion Research Group poll asked, "Do you think Alberto Gonzales should or should not resign as Attorney General?" Thirty-eight percent of respondents said Gonzales should resign and 37 percent said he should not; 24 percent said they were unsure.
- An April 5-9 Los Angeles Times/Bloomberg poll noted, "As you may know, Attorney General Alberto Gonzales first said that he did not discuss the firings of some U.S. Attorneys, but documents released showed that he had attended meetings and saw recommendations on the subject," before asking: "Based on what you know about the matter, do you think Alberto Gonzales should resign his post as Attorney General, or not?" Fifty-three percent of respondents said Gonzales should resign, compared with 29 percent who said he should not; 18 percent said they "don't know."
Matthews also allowed Rivkin to assert that the committee "did not talk about specific U.S. attorneys" with Gonzales and that the hearing "was all about generalities" and contained "very little substance." In fact, according to a Washington Post transcript of the hearing, senators questioned Gonzales about his role in and the reasons for the firing of several specific U.S. attorneys, including Carol Lam of California, H.E. "Bud" Cummins III of Arkansas, David Iglesias of New Mexico, John McKay of Washington, Margaret Chiara of Michigan, and Daniel Bogden of Nevada. Several of these firings were the subject of questions from multiple senators.
Later during the segment, Rivkin asserted, "Look, do you tell me when [former Attorney General] Janet Reno, in my opinion, everybody's opinion, seriously mishandled the Waco siege, was she pilloried like this?" Robert Raben, an assistant attorney general during the Clinton administration, noted that Reno "was pilloried like this by [Rep.] John Conyers [D-MI]," but Rivkin dismissed that notion, saying "I don't remember such hearings." In fact, the hearings did take place. A May 10, 1993, Time article described a portion of Conyers' exchange with Reno:
During a House Judiciary Committee hearing on the Waco disaster last week, Reno found herself under fire from Congressman John Conyers Jr. The outcome at Waco, Conyers declaimed, was "a profound disgrace to law enforcement in the United States of America." As for Reno, he continued, "You did the right thing by offering to resign. And now I'd like you to know that there is at least one member of Congress that isn't going to rationalize the death of two dozen children."
Listening to Conyers' attack, the 54-year-old, 6-ft. 2-in. Reno thrust out her jaw and glared. Then, her voice quavering, she replied, "I haven't tried to rationalize the death of children, Congressman. I feel more strongly about it than you will ever know. But I have neither tried to rationalize the death of four ((Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms)) agents, and I will not walk away from a compound where ATF agents had been killed by people who knew they were agents and leave them unsurrounded." Then she added, "Most of all, Congressman, I will not engage in recrimination."
Additionally, Matthews asked Rivkin, "Was this the biggest bad thing in the world, or is it a fundraising campaign for [Sen. Charles] Schumer [D-NY] and the Democrats?" Schumer is chairman of the Democratic Senate Campaign Committee. Later in the program, Matthews noted evidence that the U.S. attorney scandal was more than an alleged Democratic fundraising campaign, citing "all these conservatives" -- Rep. Dana Rohrabacher (R-CA), Former Rep. Bob Barr (R-GA), conservative activist Richard Viguerie, American Conservative Union chairman David Keene, Reagan administration associate deputy attorney general Bruce Fein, and Sen. John E. Sununu (R-NH) -- who "want [Gonzales] to go."
Matthews added, "But they're not part of the campaign committee of Chuck Schumer." But later in the program, during a discussion about the hearings with Newsweek's Michael Isikoff and the Chicago Tribune's Jill Zuckman, Matthews asserted, "To be very blunt and political, has Chuck Schumer had enough of this case? He's raised enough money on this for Democratic Campaign Committee, that there's not much more to get out of this stone?"
From the April 19 edition of MSNBC's Hardball with Chris Matthews:
MATTHEWS: David, put it in perspective from your perspective. Was this the biggest bad thing in the world --
RIVKIN: Of course not.
MATTHEWS: -- or is it a fundraising campaign for Schumer and the Democrats?
RIVKIN: Pretty much. It's enormous hyperbole. Look at what they have not said. There was very little substance. They did not talk about specific U.S. attorneys. They did not say, "This email reveals some prohibited conflict or some prohibited reason." This was all about posturing. This was all about generalities. Everybody agrees that the back end stuff was handled badly, but they kept hammering at him to try to force him to admit that something was wrong.
MATTHEWS: Dana Rohrabacher, pretty conservative former Reagan speechwriter, congressman from California, wants him to go. Bob Barr -- he's hardly a moderate. He wants him to go. Viguerie wants him to go. Keene wants him to go. Bruce Fein, John Sununu Jr. -- all these conservatives want him to go.
MATTHEWS: But they're not part of the campaign committee of Chuck Schumer.
MATTHEWS: Did you see the latest polling?
RABEN: -- who cares about due process.
MATTHEWS: Two-thirds of the American people say -- I mean, they don't like it, but they don't think he's telling the truth, but they say leave him alone.
RIVKIN: -- and some mismanagement. Look, do you tell me -- when Janet Reno, in my opinion, everybody's opinion, seriously mishandled the Waco siege, was she pilloried like this? She said --
RABEN: Yes, she was pilloried like this by John Conyers --
RIVKIN: But I remember --
RABEN: -- the Democratic chairman of the House Judiciary Committee.
MATTHEWS: To be very blunt and political, has Chuck Schumer had enough of this case? He's raised enough money on this for Democratic Campaign Committee, that there's not much more to get out of this stone?
ISIKOFF: Well, I don't think that --
MATTHEWS: Does he really want him to fire him?