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I'm Troubled By Trump Authorizing Force At The Border, Gonzales Says

RACHEL MARTIN, HOST:

The Trump administration plans to allow U.S. troops to use force on the southern border. White House Chief of Staff John Kelly reportedly signed an order earlier this week that says military personnel may use force, even lethal force where necessary, to protect Customs and Border Protection personnel. But Defense Secretary Jim Mattis walked that back during a press conference yesterday.

(SOUNDBITE OF PRESS CONFERENCE)

JIM MATTIS: There has been no call for any lethal force from DHS, so right away I can say going back to your earlier point, we don't have guns in their hands right now other than the couple of NCOs. So there is no armed element going in. I will determine it based upon what DHS asks for and a mission analysis.

MARTIN: I asked George W. Bush's attorney general, Alberto Gonzales, what he thinks of the order authorizing force at the border.

ALBERTO GONZALES: I'm troubled by it. I respect the president's efforts to try to manage the border. Every sovereign has a responsibility and authority to decide who is within its borders, and to a degree, that's what the president is trying to do. Now, we can disagree about the tactics. I disagree with having our military on the border in response to this particular threat. I can see circumstances where having the military on our border would make sense, but their main function is not to secure the border. It's to fight bad guys, terrorists. You know, we have the posse comitatus statute, which prohibits the military from being used in a law enforcement manner. As a lawyer, I can make the argument this is not a law enforcement matter. This is a matter of mass (ph) security. And we can have a debate as to whether or not that's true. I see the potential for a disaster, quite frankly, if the military starts, you know, using lethal force against these individuals, who are truly not criminals, those who are truly not terrorists but simply families being persecuted and trying to seek asylum in this country.

MARTIN: I want to shift gears and ask you about the leadership change at the Department of Justice. There have been a lot of criticisms of President Trump's appointment, tapping Matthew Whitaker to be the acting attorney general. And the main concern from critics is that he has been publicly very vocal about his thoughts on the Mueller investigation, asserting that there was no collusion between the Trump campaign and Russia. Is it appropriate, do you think, for the attorney general even in an acting capacity to have publicly prejudged the special counsel probe before it's over?

GONZALES: Well, of course, those comments were made before he assumed this position. And those comments were made when he didn't have access to a lot of information that he has now. So his views may be very different now. Now, having said that, because those previous comments create this sense of prejudgment, I hope that Mr. Whitaker has contacted the career ethics professionals at the department and asked for their advice because, at the end of the day, it's not about, you know - as a prosecutor, you obviously want to hang on to overseeing an investigation. But what's more important is maintaining the integrity of the investigation and maintaining the reputation of the Department of Justice.

MARTIN: Mr. Whitaker also suggested during television appearances - granted before being tapped for this job - but saying that starving the Mueller probe of resources would be a way to bring it to a conclusion. Is he now in a position to do that?

GONZALES: I think that he is in a position to do that. And I think because he's in a position to do that I think people are somewhat concerned, and that's why some people believe he should recuse himself. But the other thing to keep in mind is those comments were made some time ago. The investigation has progressed to a point where it appears that the Mueller investigators are going to get written responses from the president. That leads me to believe that they are coming to the end of the investigation. I can't prejudge when that might be, but I think it's sooner as opposed to later. And given that fact, I would hope that Mr. Whitaker, if he's involved in making this decision, decides that it's in the best interests of the Department of Justice and for the American people to just let the investigation be completed so that we all know what happened in connection with the 2016 presidential election.

MARTIN: Former U.S. Attorney General Alberto Gonzales, thank you so much for your time, sir.

GONZALES: Thanks for having me. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.


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