CBS and NBC Pursue Gonzales and Rove, But ABC Raises Clinton and Lack of Illegality

ABC's World News separated itself from the media pack Thursday night. Though ABC's coverage was keyed to how e-mails supposedly show that Karl Rove was at “the center” of early 2005 discussions about replacing all 93 U.S. attorneys, anchor Charles Gibson pointed out how “these U.S. attorneys do serve at the pleasure of the President. He can fire them at any time. So did anything really get done that was wrong?” Jan Crawford Greenburg answered, in a broadcast network evening newscast first, by informing viewers of how “President Clinton, in fact, fired all the U.S. attorneys when he came into office from the previous Republican administration.”

Meanwhile, NBC and CBS continued the obsession on the story for the third night in a row. NBC Nightly News anchor Campbell Brown breathlessly teased her lead, “The prosecutor purge: Did the idea of firing all U.S. Attorneys start with inner circle adviser Karl Rove? If so, what now?” The CBS Evening News led with two stories on the subject, starting with Jim Axelrod on Republican Congressman Dana Rohrabacher's call for Attorney General Alberto Gonzales to resign. Next, Bob Orr looked at how Gonzales “was tangled in controversy" before becoming AG. “As the President's chief lawyer, Gonzales sanctioned the widespread use of warrant-less wiretaps,”Orr thundered, thus “allowing the government to snoop on Americans without court orders.” Plus, “he also approved the so-called 'torture memo'” and “under Bush-Gonzales policies, prisoners were allowed to be held indefinitely at Guantanamo Bay with no access to U.S. courts,” policies reflecting an “attitude,” Georgetown law professor David Cole charged, in Orr's words, which “led directly to the abuse of prisoners at Abu Ghraib.”

(My transcription of the CBS Evening News was impeded tonight by college basketball which aired instead of the CBS Evening News on the CBS affiliate in Washington, DC, so I had to transcribe from the Web-cast.)

The MRC's Brad Wilmouth corrected the closed-captioning against the video for the March 15 coverage on ABC's World News. Anchor Charles Gibson announced:

"The Bush administration launched a new defense of its controversial decision to fire a handful of U.S. attorneys without making the reasons immediately clear. Today top White House aide Karl Rove said several of the prosecutors had been fired because they did not make administration policy their top priority. And he said the critics are motivated by politics."

Karl Rove, before a group in Alabama: "Now, we're at a point where people want to play politics with it. And that's fine. I would simply ask that everybody who's playing politics with this be asked to comment about what they think about the removal of 123 U.S. attorneys during the previous administration, and see if they had the same superheated political rhetoric then that they're having now."

Gibson: "What Rove didn't say but we now know from White House e-mails released just tonight is that Karl Rove was more involved in the firing of U.S. attorneys than the administration has previously acknowledged. ABC legal correspondent Jan Crawford Greenburg joins me now from Washington. Jan, I had a chance to read this e-mail that you first learned about today, and it does show that a lot of people at the White House, very early on, were discussing the firing of U.S. attorneys, including Rove, but do they show there was political motivation involved?"

Jan Crawford Greenburg, a former Chicago Tribune Supreme Court reporter who recently joined ABC News: "Well, the emails that were released tonight show that Rove was at the center of these discussions from the beginning along with Alberto Gonzales. These emails took place a month before Gonzales was confirmed as the Attorney General. Now, Rove was asking whether any decisions had been made about whether to fire the U.S. attorneys, whether they should just target certain ones, so these emails show he was in on that from the beginning."

Gibson: "But to come back to the point the White House makes, was anything necessarily wrong? These U.S. attorneys do serve at the pleasure of the President. He can fire them at any time. So did anything really get done that was wrong?"

Greenburg: "Well, that's exactly right. And President Clinton, in fact, fired all the U.S. attorneys when he came into office from the previous Republican administration. Of course, a President can fire U.S. attorneys when he chooses. The problem for the White House now and the Justice Department is that these e-mails seem to suggest the White House, at least that's what Democratic Senators are saying tonight, the White House hasn't been forthcoming with how this whole plan began, and they show that Rove was in on it from the beginning."

Gibson: "This issue consumes Washington, and there will be many hearings on this with Karl Rove called to testify?"

Greenburg: "Karl Rove is unlikely to testify. The White House right now is discussing whether any White House officials will go up in the Hill and try to explain their role in the matter. The White House believes that goes to the core of separation of powers and executive privilege issues. So they now, there's a large contingent of people in the White House who think that they should not allow Rove or former White House counsel Harriet Miers to testify about those discussions. But as this email shows today, it will be difficult for them to resist because Democrats are stepping up the calls to hear from them."

My Wednesday NewsBusters rundown: “ABC and CBS Lead Again with Fired Attorneys, Paint Them as Victims of Bush Politics.” And my Tuesday posting: “Nets Didn't Care About Clinton Firing 93 U.S. Attorneys, Lead With Replacement of 8.”

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