**NOTE: Updated Sunday evening to reflect actual transcript from CBS News**
What did White House Chief of Staff Andrew Card learn from Alberto Gonzales and when did he learn it...and what did he do with that knowledge? This "whole new can of worms" (to quote CBS News' Bob Schieffer, on Sunday's Face the Nation) is to me the breaking news question of the day. Why? Because on the show, Alberto Gonzales admitted that he called Andrew Card right after he was notified that the Justice Department had opened its investigation of the Plame leak...even though he formally notified The White House staff 12 hours later.
Here's the transcript of Bob Schieffer talking to Alberto Gonzales about this subject:
SCHIEFFER: Let me also shift to this whole Karl Rove controversy and the leak of the CIA agent who was his wife -- her name. You were the White House counsel when all of this took place. And according to Frank Rich in The New York Times this morning, on September 29th, 2003, when you were the White House counsel, the Justice Department notified you that it had opened an investigation into who outed Joe Wilson's wife, but that you waited 12 hours to notify White House staffers that they had to preserve materials connected to that case. That, of course, would give people time to shred documents and do any number of things. Why didn't you immediately notify the White House staff that this Justice Department investigation was about to commence?
GONZALES: When I was the counsel, it was always my practice to work very, very closely and carefully with investigators and to seek permission with respect to every step that I took with respect to an investigation. In this particular case, we were notified by the Department of Justice late one evening. I guess it was about 8:00. And I specifically had our lawyers go back to the Department of Justice lawyers and ask them, `Do you want us to notify the staff now, immediately, or would it be OK to notify the staff early in the morning?' And we were advised, `Go ahead and notify the staff early in the morning. That would be OK.' And again, most of the staff had gone home. No one knew about the investigation. And we made...
SCHIEFFER: Well, let me just ask you the obvious question, Mr. Attorney General. Did you tell anybody at the White House, `Get ready for this, here it comes'?
GONZALES: I told one person in the White House that -- of the notification and...
GONZALES: ...then immediately -- I told the chief of staff. And then immediately the next morning, I told the president. And shortly thereafter, there was a notification sent out to all the members of the White House staff.
SCHIEFFER: Mr. Attorney General, can I ask you why you didn't investigate this as the White House counsel when this first blew up?
GONZALES: I think that this is the kind of issue that I felt that we should wait and see whether or not there would be some kind of criminal investigation. And, of course, there was, and once the criminal investigation began, I've always felt that it would be counterproductive and would be in the way and might, in fact, hinder the criminal investigation. And that's why the decision was made and it wasn't just solely my decision.
SCHIEFFER: Do you regret making that decision? Did you -- do you regret that?
GONZALES: No, absolutely not. I think it was a -- the absolute right decision. We've got a very strong prosecutor that's now looking at that -- at this, and I -- whatever the facts are, he will uncover the facts and justice is going to be served in this case.
Hmmm...I notice that Gonzales said "there was a notification sent out to all the members of the White House staff." (Rather than "I sent out a notification.") I wonder who notified the staff?
Well, I wish you could have seen Bob Schieffer's face as he came back from commercial break to his next guest, Senator Joe Biden, who he then took up this issue with. Referring to the 12-hour gap between hearing from the Justice Department and notifying the White House staff, Bob Schieffer said to Joe Biden "[Gonzales] did confide to the White House chief of staff that there was such an investigation coming. It seems to me to perhaps open a whole new can of worms. What is your reaction?"
I don't know if Biden had heard Schieffer mentioning to Gonzales the possibility of documents being shredded during those 12 hours, but Biden responded by saying:
"Well, it raises a lot of questions. I don't doubt the attorney general's sincerity. But it does seem to me it wasn't the soundest in judgments. There's been a real inertia at the White House to look into this to begin with, number one. And number two, the real question now is who did the chief of staff speak to? Did the chief of staff pick up the phone and call Karl Rove? Did the chief of staff pick up the phone and call anybody else? Ordinarily, you would think that he would immediately send out an e-mail to every member of the staff and say -- you know, you don't have to call them. Every of those staff members carries around a BlackBerry and -- send an e-mail saying `Boom.' But I'm sure what's going to happen now is the investigators will take a look at -- to see who, in fact, the chief of staff spoke to."
Go here for the full transcript of today's Face The Nation (PDF document).
Although they didn't mention it, Watergate -- particularly the famous 18 1/2 minute gap on the audio recording (remember Nixon's secretary, Rosemary Woods posing for a picture in which she tried to demonstrate how she could have accidentally erased those 18 1/2 minutes from the tape?) -- was definitely the "pink elephant" in the room. You could see it on Schieffer and Biden's faces.
I don't think there's anything more I need to add either...
...except that to me this is one HOT NEWS ITEM!
The background to Bob Schieffer's questioning of Alberto Gonzales is Frank Rich's piece in today's NY Times. In "Eight Days in July", where we learn that, with the permission of the Attorney General's Office, then-White House counsel Alberto Gonzales waited 12 HOURS to alert the staff at the White House that an investigation was starting and that all documents should be preserved.
I recommend you read the whole article, but here's the relevant paragraph:
As White House counsel, he was the one first notified that the Justice Department, at the request of the C.I.A., had opened an investigation into the outing of Joseph Wilson's wife. That notification came at 8:30 p.m. on Sept. 29, 2003, but it took Mr. Gonzales 12 more hours to inform the White House staff that it must "preserve all materials" relevant to the investigation. This 12-hour delay, he has said, was sanctioned by the Justice Department, but since the department was then run by John Ashcroft, a Bush loyalist who refused to recuse himself from the Plame case, inquiring Senate Democrats would examine this 12-hour delay as closely as an 18 1/2-minute tape gap. "Every good prosecutor knows that any delay could give a culprit time to destroy the evidence," said Senator Charles Schumer, correctly, back when the missing 12 hours was first revealed almost two years ago. A new Gonzales confirmation process now would have quickly devolved into a neo-Watergate hearing. Mr. Gonzales was in the thick of the Plame investigation, all told, for 16 months.
Well, my friends, Truth Marches On!
With this one little sidebar comment. This morning, after he appeared on Face the Nation, Alberto Gonzales also appeared on Wolf Blitzer's Late Edition. Assuming these shows are both broadcast live, I would have expected that Wolf Blitzer's staff would have watched Gonzales's appearance on Face the Nation (or, at least, would have read Frank Rich's piece in today's NY Times... which would at least have alerted them to the existence of this topic) and that Wolf Blitzer would have brought up the same "12 Hours" subject that Bob Schieffer did. Well, he didn't. He asked Gonzales several Plame-related questions, but he never mentioned the "12 Hour Gap." To me, that's pretty sloppy reporting. Please, Wolf, we need you to investigate this part of the story!