In an exclusive interview this week, CBS Evening News anchor Katie Couric asked Attorney General Eric Holder about prosecutorial malfeasance in the Ted Stevens case, gun laws, Guantanamo, reforming Bush-era politicization of the Justice Department, the state secrets doctrine, and much more.
The full interview appears below. The transcript has only been edited for punctuation, spelling and clarity.
Couric: Let me start by asking about the - the latest - event.
Couric: In an extraordinary move, a federal judge today opened his own criminal investigation of the U.S. prosecutors handling the Ted Steven's case, saying, quote, "In nearly 25 years on the bench, I've never seen anything approaching the mishandling and misconduct that I've seen here." What's your reaction?
Holder: Well, I'm obviously troubled by the findings that - and the statements that - Judge Sullivan has made. But we'll cooperate fully with the investigation that has been ordered. Judge Sullivan is an old colleague of mine. We served together on the bench here in the DC superior court. I understand that Henry Schulke has been the person named to - run the investigation, a person who I know well, who is a good lawyer here in Washington. So we'll - we'll provide the documents and make people available as is needed.
Couric: But isn't this a pretty stunning vote of no confidence in the Justice Department's ability to investigate itself?
Holder: No, I don't think so. I mean, I think the judge has decided on the basis of what he has seen in front of him that - this step is necessary. And I think we are fully capable of looking at - ourselves, if that was necessary. But the judge has made this determination. And as I say, we'll cooperate with him.
Couric: But he suggested that the department has dragged its feet, looking into the misconduct.
Holder: No, I don't think anybody can say that, given the fact that, in this limited time that I've been - attorney general, I looked at the case, decided that mistakes had been made. And made the determination that the case had to be dismissed, looking at the totality of the circumstances. I've only been - attorney general for a little over eight weeks now. I don't think that anybody can say that this department has dragged its feet.
Couric: But he said the matter was too serious to be left to an internal investigation by the department. So isn't that basically a vote of no confidence?
Holder: No, I don't think so. I think, as I said, that we have the ability to look at this matter. And we'll have the responsibility to look at it. He's ordered a criminal examination to be done. We have to look at whether or not there are internal - regulations that have been broken. So our office of professional responsibility will probably have to conduct its own investigation in any case.
Watch Katie Couric's full interview with Attorney General Eric Holder:
Couric: You're reportedly close to the lead prosecutor, Brenda Morris, who's under investigation for failing, among other things, to disclose crucial information to defense lawyers in this case. Another target of the investigation is, apparently, William Welch, who's head of the office, ironically, of public integrity. Will you fire either one of them? Will they stay on during the course of these investigations?
Holder: Unless there's some basis for me to decide if they have something wrong - they'll remain in place.
Couric: Ted Stevens paid a big price for this. He left his Senate seat. Do you believe he's guilty?
Holder: I focused on the conduct of our lawyers. And I thought that mistakes were made. And on that basis, I made the determination that the case should not proceed. And I really limited myself to that examination.
Couric: He said today at the courthouse, "Until recently, my faith in the criminal system, particularly the judicial system was - was" - let me just actually shorten this. Today at the courthouse, Ted Stevens criticized the prosecutors and said, "They nearly destroyed my faith in the criminal justice system." And then, he went onto say, quote, "Their conduct had consequences for me that they will never realize and can never be reversed." What would you say, Attorney General Holder, to Ted Stevens today?
Holder: Well, I would tell - Senator Stevens, and I would tell the American people that I look at this case as quickly as I could. I was disturbed by what I saw. And I took action as quickly as I could with regard to what I thought the appropriate thing for the Justice Department - to do was. To the extent that there are other things that need to be examined. Judge Sullivan has ordered such an inquiry. We will do an - an internal inquiry ourselves.
Couric: What about the next time your department has to prosecute a high ranking public official? Why should Americans feel confident that your prosecutors will be fair and ethical?
Holder: Because history has shown that the people who work in this department are good lawyers. They're fair lawyers. They follow the rules. We're not gonna be timid. People should not take from this episode any indication that we're going to be intimidated into enforcing the laws, going after those who - who break our laws, especially those who are entrusted - with great political positions. That is gonna be a focus of - this department under me. We're gonna go after white collar criminals.
Couric: The reputation of the Justice Department, as you well know, was seriously tarnished during the last eight years. And many feel politics trumped objectivity in the rule of law. How will you improve the situation and restore the image of the DOJ?
Holder: Well, one of the things is to look at those things that need to be corrected. Look at the various divisions. The civil rights division is a place, I think, that needs special - attention, needs additional resources. I've asked the president for those kinds of resources, in looking at the budget that we have for 2010. I think we're gonna get them.
I think one of the things that the department needs is leadership. And we need to let the people who - who serve in this department, the lawyers who serve in this department, who are extremely dedicated, who sacrifice a great deal to work as lawyers in the Justice Department, simply let them do their jobs. And that's what they want to do. Not get in - not get in their way.
Couric: Well, how - how will you keep politics out of the Justice Department? It seems to have played a role during the Bush administration. Now, perhaps - you know, a democratic agenda came into play during the prosecution of Ted Stevens, possibly. So how can you keep politics out of it?
Holder: Well, let me make some very, very clear. I grew up in the Justice Department. I Se - served - 12 years as a line lawyer in the public integrity section. This department under me will not have any kind of political interference. I will not allow political interference in the Justice Department.
Those who might attempt to do that will be rebuffed. The president gave me this job and asked me to be attorney general, with the specific understanding that I would do nothing in a political way. He said, "You make the difficult calls. We might not always agree on them. Your responsibility is to run the Justice Department - as you see fit." And consistent with the way in which - you had trained as a Justice Department lawyer.