Once upon a time on the Bowery
Talking Heads, 1977
This was their first weekend as a foursome at CBGB’s, after adding Jerry Harrison, before they started recording the LP “Talking Heads: 77.”
Yesterday, I voiced several criticisms of comments made earlier this week by NBC News Political Director Chuck Todd regarding potential torture investigations by the Obama Justice Department. Shortly thereafter, he emailed me to say that he wished I had contacted him before posting. In response, I invited him to participate in a podcast discussion with me of the issues raised by his remarks and my analysis of them, and, to his credit, he accepted.
This morning, I spoke with Todd for roughly 30 minutes about the relative significance of torture investigations, the implications of failing to prosecute high-level political officials when they break the law, the role of the media in these matters, and whether Todd was expressing his own views or merely repeating what the White House believes (the polling data I reference, along with the media’s routine distortion of it, is documented here and here). The discussion can be heard by clicking PLAY on the recorder below (it can be also downloaded by MP3 here or by ITunes here). A transcript will be posted later today.
UPDATE: The transcript is now available here.
To listen to this discussion, click PLAY on the recorder below; the background to all of this is here:
Glenn Greenwald: My guest today on Salon Radio is NBC News political director Chuck Todd, who participated in a discussion on the MSNBC show Morning Joe earlier this week regarding potential torture investigations and prosecutions by the Obama Justice Department. Chuck, thanks very much for taking the time to talk to me today.
Chuck Todd: You got it, Glenn.
GG: Now, I want to begin by asking you this: discussions of torture prosecutions in the media typically focus on waterboarding, and that was true of the television segment that I just mentioned. The reality, though, is that there have been at least 100 detainees who have died in US custody, many that died during or as a result of interrogations, and many of those are deaths that the US government itself classifies as homicides. There have been a lot of other cases where detainees didn’t die but were brutalized severely during interrogation. Eric Holder said that reading the reports of what happened there, quote “sickens” him.
Do you think that investigations by the Justice Department to determine if there were crimes committed, violations of our laws — either by individuals interrogators or high-level policy makers in the Bush administration — is nothing but a petty, unimportant distraction from what really matters?
CT: Well, let me first of all clarify for how you described the discussion on Morning Joe. I was asked a specific question about where the White House stood on this. And where the White House stands on this is my reporting. And that is what the conversation was based on. And then I was asked: why would they, what is their thinking behind this, and I was describing their thinking, and the thinking behind the political thinking on this — which is, that politically, these things can turn into a distraction.
That doesn’t mean that this stuff shouldn’t be investigated, that doesn’t mean whether I believe whether these things should be investigated. But as far as the discussion you’re quoting – and this is where I took some issue with it, and maybe I was inartful – I wasn’t trying to downplay the morality of this, okay? What I was trying to talk about, and what the question was formed to me and what I was trying to answer it, was: why is the Obama administration so hesitant.
GG: Okay, but that isn’t actually –
CT: Let me just finish the point.
GG: Go ahead.
CT: And that is what I was trying to explain. I think if you kept going in the transcript, there was another part of it where I said, look, there is going to be a greater discussion, whether it’s an investigation or an examination, over the future role of where the CIA sits, how this stuff should be carried out in the future, and this seems to be what this policy review is, going on between Eric Holder and between what the president ordered with his executive order on this.
Now, are you saying, should there be an investigation? There’s an argument to be made, and in my observation, special prosecutors have become political footballs. But when you do these investigations through the normal means of how investigations should work in government, they’re less likely to become political footballs. So that is, look, in my experience of watching the special prosecutor situation go on over the last 20 years, that I’ve been covering politics, that’s my observation.
GG: But when government officials are accused of violating the law, of committing crimes — typically if American citizens face accusations like that, what happens is prosecutors investigate the accusations, and if they determine that there’s evidence that suggests crimes were committed, they’re indicted and then prosecuted.
Do you think that government officials, when they’re accused of committing crimes and there’s evidence to suggest that they’ve done so, ought to be treated differently?
CT: Nobody’s suggesting they should be treated differently.
GG: I thought–
CT: Hang on. A special prosecutor, by appointing a special prosecutor, you actually are automatically then treating government officials differently.
GG: The report from Newsweek was that Eric Holder was considering having a standard Justice Department prosecutor, like they did when having Patrick Fitzgerald investigate the Valerie Plame matter – one of the investigators the prosecutors mentioned was John Durham, who’s currently investigating whether crimes were committed by the CIA in destroying videotapes – that would be a standard prosecutor who would investigate whether or not crimes were committed, and then have an indictment if one is warranted.
There’s no more special prosecutor statute that exists in the United States; we’re just talking about having a standard prosecutor investigate to determine if crimes were committed. Why isn’t that perfectly appropriate when accusations of this kind are made?
CT: Nobody is saying it’s not appropriate legally, but there is a political side. You can’t sit here and take away the political conversation and pretend it doesn’t exist in this, and pretend that it isn’t a part of this. And then other question, what I’ve never understood on this–
GG: Well, what is that conversation, what is that political conversation that you’re…
CT: The political conversation is whether…
GG: Do you think political considerations should be…
CT: Hang on, hang on.
GG: Go ahead.
CT: The political conversation is this: What message does that send if we have this political trial, and how do you know this won’t turn into a political trial? In fact, we know it’s going to turn into a political trial. I’ll take that back – we don’t know whether it’s going to turn into a political trial. That is the experience of how these things have worked in the past, that end up getting turned into a political trial. And then….
GG: What do you mean by that? What is a political trial?
CT: Let’s take this a step further. I want to ask you – I do respect your legal mind on this – what happens when there is a – ’cause one of the reasonings that I hear about going through with these prosecutions is that you need to send a message to the world, and to the future administrations, that this is not the way that the American government should conduct itself.
If you have this trial, and there is, inevitably, some appeals and some, where we have a back-and-forth, where there is some sort of, where it becomes a legal debate about whether so-and-so can go on trial, or not go on trial, what was allowed – they were, they thought that they were following the law, that they, you know, what message does that end up sending? Does that end up harming us down the road? Do you worry about that, if it’s not a clean cut as it feels to you right now?
GG: I don’t know what you mean. Here’s what I think about this: here’s how our system of government is supposed to work. We have laws that are enacted by the United States Congress, by the American people through their Congress, that say that if you do certain things — if you do X, Y, and Z — those are crimes. We have laws in place that say that anyone who engages in torture, or who authorizes torture, is committing a felony.
If people do that, and the prosecutor concludes that there’s evidence to suggest that they’ve done it, there’s one of two things to do. You either apply the rule of law to those government officials, the way that American citizens have the law applied to them when they commit crimes, or you announce a policy, the way that I think you were suggesting on this show — and I think the transcript’s pretty clear that you weren’t only talking about what the Obama White House thinks, but you were describing this as being your view; that’s certainly how both Mika Brzezinski and Pat Buchanan understood what you were saying –
But leave that aside. The other alternative is to say that when government officials break the law, because we’re afraid of political controversy, or disharmony, we’re not going to apply the rule of law to them. And what I don’t understand is, if that’s the route that you take, why would future presidents ever feel compelled to obey the law if they know that there’s going to be this great media voice saying that it’s too political, too controversial to prosecute them? Why would any political official ever abide by the law?
CT: But you’re assuming a black and white. I mean, the whole point of those OLC memos was showing that they were getting a set of, that the interrogators were potentially getting legal advice to, and in fact what the Bush administration was trying to do, was trying to find a legal way. They were trying to find a legal way, they were trying whatever, which is, of course, my – as a non-lawyer – my frustration with the law sometimes – is that the law isn’t clear cut. And instead, what do lawyers get paid to do? They get paid, in many ways, to find a legal way around to do something, to prove that some way is legal and to stretch what the law –
GG: But that’s not the role of Justice Department lawyers to stretch the law. The president is not the client of the Justice Department lawyers –
CT: I understand that that’s–
GG: They’re not there for that purpose, and if they’re doing that, then they’re bastardizing their duties. They’re distorting the law, they’re not applying the law.
CT: So then–
GG: Let me ask you about that, then. If a president can find, as a president always will be able to find, some low-level functionary in the Justice Department — a John Yoo — to write a memo authorizing whatever it is the president wants to do, and to say that it’s legal, then you think the president ought to be immune from prosecution whenever he breaks the law, as long as he has a permission slip from the Justice Department? I mean, that’s the argument that’s being made. Don’t you think that’s extremely dangerous?
CT: That could be dangerous, but let me tell you this: Is it healthy for our reputation around the world – and this I think is that we have TO do what other countries do more often than not, so-called democracies that struggle with their democracy, and sit there and always PUT the previous administration on trial – you don’t think that we start having retributions on this going forward?
Look, I am no way excusing torture. I’m not excusing torture, and I bristle at the attack when it comes on this specific issue. But I think the political reality in this, and, I understand where you’re coming from, you’re just saying, just because something’s politically tough doesn’t mean we shouldn’t do it. That’s, I don’t disagree with you from 30,000 feet. And that is an idealistic view of this thing. Then you have the realistic view of how this town works, and what would happen, and is it good for our reputation around the world if we’re essentially putting on trial the previous administration? We would look at another country doing that, and say, geez, boy, this is–
GG: So what do you think happens – I think what has destroyed our reputation is announcing to the world that we tolerate torture, and telling the world we don’t –
CT: We have elections, we also had an election where this was an issue. A new president, who came in there, and has said, we’re not going to torture, we’re going to do this, and we’re going to do this–
GG: What do you think should happen when presidents–
CT: Is that not enough? Isn’t that enough?
GG: When, generally, if I go out and rob a bank tomorrow, what happens to me is not that I lose an election. What happens is to me is that I go to prison. So, what do you think should happen when presidents get caught committing crimes in office? What do you think ought to happen?
CT: You see, this is where, this is not – you cannot sit here and say this is as legally black and white as a bank robbery because this was an ideological, legal –
GG: A hundred people died in detention. A hundred people. The United States Government admits that there are homicides that took place during interrogations. Waterboarding and these other techniques are things that the United States has always prosecuted as torture.
Until John Yoo wrote that memo, where was the lack of clarity about whether or not these things were illegal? Where did that lack of clarity or debate exist? They found some right-wing ideologues in the Justice Department to say that this was okay, that’s what you’re endorsing. As long the president can do that, he’s above the law. And I don’t see how you can say that you’re doing anything other than endorsing a system of lawlessness where the president is free to break the law?
CT: Well, look, I don’t believe I’m endorsing a system of lawlessness; I’m trying to put in the reality that as much that there is a legal black and white here, there is a political reality that clouds this, and you know it does too.
GG: But I’m trying – please explain that –
CT: What I’m saying is –
GG: How can a political controversy – I thought the whole point of having a Justice Department in a civilized country, was that it’s supposed to be immune from political considerations. Wasn’t that the whole lesson of the Alberto Gonzales era? That when Eric Holder sits down as the Attorney General, the chief law enforcement officer of the United States, he makes decisions based on legal factors, as to whether crimes are committed, not based on political factors of the kind that MSNBC likes to talk about. Isn’t that how our justice system is supposed to work?
CT: Of course, on the 30,000 feet level, it is supposed to work that way. But have you ever taken a look at, let’s just look at what this Justice Department is saying here, because, the president just nominated himself — political — the minute you are a political appointee, it is hard to sit here and say that there is somehow eliminated politics from the equation.
Look at the US attorney thing. What did we find out during this whole US attorney scandal? There was no doubt the White House, the previous White House was trying to play politics with US attorney selections. That has been proven. Except what did we also find out – it was perfectly legal. Now, this is a case of where you’re mixing the politics and, and look, President Obama now is nominating US attorneys, some of whom are political favors.
GG: Well, what was perfectly legal, to fire prosecutors who either prosecuted Republicans or refused to prosecute Democrats? It turned out it was legal?
CT: Unfortunately, it turned out it was perfectly legal.
GG: Who said that? Who said that?
CT: Because they serve at the pleasure of the president.
GG: There’s lawsuits–
CT: They serve at the pleasure of the president.
GG: Chuck. First of all, the question of whether or not crimes were committed in the US attorneys case is still a pending matter before several federal courts.
CT: And I believe it should be investigated–
GG: There are laws in place that say, it is a crime to obstruct prosecutions for political reasons. If Karl Rove is in the White House directing that prosecutors who prosecute Republicans, or who refuse to prosecute Democrats, be fired, that is a crime. That’s not–
CT: Wait, now you conflating what I said. What I’m saying is that the aspect that he could just, the White House could just fire US attorneys at will – that was perfectly legal.
GG: But the question is whether the–
CT: The question is whether they fired them at a time when it actually, that is what is being investigated and should be investigated.
GG: And if there are crimes that were committed, they should be prosecuted?
CT: And I think – and this is something see more from the legal community – this issue of US attorneys being political appointees, is probably something that needs to be taken up, because I think it’s fraught with peril, and fraught with the potential for abuse.
GG: Let me ask you this question: The United States is a party to a treaty – I don’t know if you ever read it or not, it’s called the Convention Against Torture – and one of the things it does is it obligates all signatories to the treaty to prosecute any acts of torture. And it was signed by Ronald Reagan in 1988, and when he transmitted that treaty to the Senate, explaining what that treaty does, he wrote, quote, “Each state party is required either to prosecute torturers who are found in its territory, or to extradite them to other countries for prosecution.”
Do you think the U.S. should be bound, is bound by that treaty? And, I want to ask you: with regard to the question of whether or not we follow that treaty, why do you describe that as nothing more than, quote “cable catnip”.
CT: Alright. The “cable catnip” comment was this. This issue, whenever you see the words Cheney and intelligence pop up, and when I use the phrase ‘cable catnip’, it is when something becomes, whether the two polarized parts of our political society, are very entrenched in their views on this, and believe the other side is completely irrational on it. And so, that’s, whenever you have an issue like that, that’s what I describe as ‘cable catnip’. Because it becomes something that is easy to put on television, because you can find a left versus right, which is something that cable embraces to a fault, and I’m in this business but I’m, I work my butt off trying to stay out of the left versus right fights and try to stay analytical and stay on the reporting end of things.
And so, that’s when I describe an issue as cable catnip. I am not sitting here and saying – and I respect the passion on this, and I don’t want to somehow sit here saying that on the right I’ve been accused of somehow just assuming that our national security is nothing more than cable catnip, or that torture of detainees is somehow relegated to cable catnip. That is not what I’m describing when I say cable catnip, but I want to put that aside.
To go back to your question, of course, any treaty we sign, the United States government is obligated to stand by it. Now, the controversy has been, and what we’re trying to figure out – and what I think where the Justice Department is trying to figure out, and where this whole debate has been about – is whether they found a legal way to somehow abide by this treaty or not.
GG: And isn’t that–
CT: …abiding by the treaty–
GG: And isn’t the best thing to do to immunize that question from political considerations is to say to a prosecutor, the way that we do with every other accusation of crime: take a look at the pure legal issues here, ask: ”were crimes committed; is this the kind of case that indictments are appropriate for, where people should be put on trial,” and then just have this be treated like every other accusation of crime, which is the prosecutor taking a look?
CT: I agree, in a perfect world – Glenn, in a perfect world, yes. And if you could also guarantee me, that this wouldn’t become a show trial, and wouldn’t be put, and created so that we had nightly debates about it, that is the ideal way to handle this.
GG: Why not? What’s wrong with nightly debate about whether our government committed crimes?
CT: Because then it becomes, then you do politicize the issue, to the point of where you won’t – the fact is, public opinion was on the opposite side of the argument as you. That doesn’t mean public opinion should…
GG: That’s not really true. The polls are very mixed and lots of polls show more than 50% of the people want investigations–
CT: It depends on how you ask the question.
GG: Exactly. But obviously–
CT: It depends on how you ask the question because–
GG: The question of whether you prosecute crimes isn’t dependent in any way on whether or not public opinion thinks that you ought to.
CT: Public opinion has been, the way I think I’ve been able to interpret this is that the public is against torture, the public doesn’t want the US reputation shattered around the world, and they also want to sweep it under the rug.
GG: Well, there’s polls–
CT: Whether that’s the right thing or not, that’s what polls–
GG: I have never seen a poll where less than 40% of the American public say they want investigations and prosecutions. Many polls, including ones by the The Washington Post and The New York Times and others, show that more than 50% want investigations and prosecutions.
But let me ask you this question – and I just have a couple more questions, and I appreciate this time. You just referenced earlier that you think that this has become cable catnip because it’s an entrenched partisan debate between the left and the right. And about a month ago you created a little controversy because you said about the question about whether there should be investigations, about the release of the OLC memos, you said, quote, “Frankly, this feels like a political food fight right now: the hard left, the hard right fighting over this in the blogosphere.”
Some of the people who have called for investigations and prosecutions of Bush-era torture crimes include people like Jesse Ventura, the former independent governor of Minnesota; Philip Zelikow, the former aide to Condoleezza Rice; four-star general Barry McCaffrey, who said, on MSNBC, actually, that numerous detainees were, quote, “murdered” in custody, and that there’s no way that we can not have criminal investigations. General Antonio Tabuga, who investigated the Abu Ghraib crimes, said: quote, “There is no longer any doubt as to whether the current administration has committed war crimes; the only question that remains to be answered is whether those who ordered the use of torture will be held to account.” Same with Lawrence Wilkerson, the former chief-of-staff to Colin Powell; Thomas Pickering and Williams Sessions, former Reagan administration officials, on and on, wrote an op-ed in The Washington Post calling for investigations.
The idea that this is something that, the idea that the rule of law, that holding our high government officials to accountability when they commit crimes, is a “hard left versus a hard right” or a partisan debate – isn’t that really just an invention of cable news, for exactly the reason that you said, which is that’s how cable news typically understands things, even when that’s not really what the debate is?
CT: Well, look – and that is my frustration on this very issue, that I don’t think – and this is why, when I said, how should this be handled, and how should this be investigated – if you could guarantee me that we could keep this debate off of television, and keep it off of being an ideological – because, this was an ideological, when you read those OLC memos, I was struck by this fact, and that is that the Bush White House was looking for a legal way to do this. They were trying to legally justify what they were doing, and what their policy was. Which then, if that is the case, then, things are going to have an ideological split, and frankly, you, you and I both know you’re going find judges that end up falling on both sides of this issue.
Now, does that mean that there shouldn’t be investigations as to how these detainees died in custody? Of course there should be investigations. That’s what makes the American form of justice held to a higher standard.
GG: And what should be done about investigations that reveal that there were crimes that were committed?
CT: Well, look, that’s up to the Justice Department. I know you have strong feelings about this. I am trying, honestly, very hard, not to put my personal feelings on this specific issue into it. I am trying to deal in the analysis of why, for instance, the Obama White House doesn’t want this. They don’t want to have this debate even if they passionately feel, as many do, about what might have happened.
GG: It’s not surprising–
CT: They worry–
GG: It’s not surprising, is it, that current presidents would like to keep in place this prohibition that we have against presidents and high government officials being prosecuted for crimes. That would make sense, right? I mean, if I were a White House official, I would love that rule, that White House officials don’t get prosecuted for crimes that…
CT: Now you’re getting – this has always been something that I’ve been – not to go off on a sidebar here – but I’ve been waiting for somebody, during the campaign, to ask both candidates. Because both of them, in the general elections, and frankly even during the primary with then Senator Clinton, all said that the Bush administration tried too hard to expand executive powers. And then you would say, which executive powers are you willing to give up? And none of them would actually say which executive powers, because once you’re president you don’t want to give up any of your powers. Sorry.
GG: Well, that’s true. Now, let me ask you this last question. If you read the Founders, especially Thomas Jefferson, who was the principal advocate for the First Amendment, but others as well, talk about the reason why a free press was important: What they say is that the reason why a free press was so important was because it was going to be one of the most important adversarial checks against government and political power. That, specifically, they would lead the way in demanding that there be investigations and accountability for wrongdoing in political office. Not that they would be the spokespeople for why government officials didn’t want investigations –
CT: This is what’s frustrating. Because I offer political analysis explaining the White House political decisions, and why they’re hesitant on calling for more investigations on this issue, doesn’t – then you can’t sit there and make me a spokesperson for this. And this is where I get –
GG: But you did, Chuck, but that’s. Chuck, seriously. This is what you said: you said, “The only important thing the president has to focus on is getting the public’s trust on the economy. Cheney, the CIA, and in some respects Sotomayor are cable catnip.”
And then, Mika asked you this question: “Is this much ado about nothing, to get the attention off what needs to be done?” She didn’t ask you, does Obama think that, she asked you: ”Is this much ado about nothing, to get the attention off what needs to be done?”
And Pat Buchanan said, “Well, that’s exactly what Chuck said. It’s a massive distraction.” And then you then said, “I think that the problem here is that lawyers are meant to stretch things; this would be a dangerous slope, this a very dangerous aspect to go after.” And then you ended by saying, “I’m sure there are legal minds that will fight and say, I don’t know what I’m talking about here, but it seems to me this is a legal and political slippery slope.” You were describing your opinion. You even described it that way. You said, I’m sure there are legal minds that will say, I, Chuck Todd, don’t know what I’m talking about. You were clearly advocating the idea that this would a distraction from the things that matter, not that just that Obama and Rahm Emanuel think that, but that you–
CT: Fine. But I was also explaining what that was. And so I should have, I absolutely should have framed it differently and explained, but I was trying to explain why this is something that they don’t want eating up the public’s time on this.
GG: Right, but it is your job as a journalist – who cares what they want, that’s fine for you to report what they want, that makes sense – but in addition to simply repeating what it is, or describing what it is that they want, is it your job as a journalist — as Thomas Jefferson and the Founders said — to lead the way in demanding that there be transparency, accountability and investigations of government officials when they’re accused of wrongdoing? Is that your role?
CT: Look, I believe I have a couple of roles as a journalist. Of course, number one is to hold government officials accountable, but also report on what they’re trying to do, what the motivations are behind what they’re trying to do, why they’re doing certain things. I mean, the question that I ask every day is, why, on something. Why are they proposing X, or why are they doing this? And I also think part of my job is to explain the why, to the best of my ability.
In this case, obviously, you don’t like, you object to the why there, and maybe I did a poor job in explaining the why. But I will continue to explain the situation in this respect. And that is, the political climate makes it very difficult for this White House to want to call for this, because I think that they worry about this turning into an ideological fight that distracts their own supporters’ attentions from what they want them to be focused on, which is health care and the economy and other things going forward.
GG: Fair enough. I think that the major problem that a lot of people had, I know that I had with that discussion, was that everybody was on board with the idea — certainly Pat Buchanan and Mika were on board with the idea — that investigations are distractions from what really matters. You were at the White House–
CT: Well, I’ll tell you this–
GG: Let me just finish. I think the problem was that if you read the entire discussion – and the part that you said about reforming the CIA didn’t actually happen in that discussion, I think you’re thinking about another one – but be that as it may…
CT: Fair enough.
GG: The principal argument of those of us who want investigations and prosecutions, is that our justice system ends up being perverted, and it’s a very dangerous thing if we have this idea that presidents can break the law, and then for political reasons, shouldn’t be treated like everybody else. That is a very dangerous idea that we’ve accepted since Ford pardoned Nixon, and since the Iran-Contra criminals were pardoned. That if there’s an accusation, a credible accusation that laws were broken, it’s vital that the prosecutors and the Justice Department treat it like any other case, and indict if indictments are warranted, because it’s so dangerous to create this two-tiered system of justice.
That view wasn’t included anywhere in the discussion you had. And I just think that – I’m not saying you should be an advocate for that view, although I think the Founders thought journalists should be – but even if you don’t think so, that that view has to be articulated every time there’s a discussion about whether or not prosecutions are warranted.
CT: Glenn, you get to a bigger problem here. I don’t disagree with you with this issue, that ever since the Nixon situation, that we have gotten into this situation where investigations in the government of officials have become politicized, in some for or another. Either the investigators are politicized in what they’re doing, or it gets politicized from the outside by–
GG: Well, I don’t agree with that. That’s your point. My point is there have been prosecutions–
CT: And the problem is, there is a department, and you can’t, whether this, you can sit here and say, you know what, that’s exactly what’s wrong with the Beltway. But there has been this fatigue about it because the use of prosecutions has been too politicized, to the point where I think it has made it where it’s just unfortunately too easy to dismiss an investigation.
GG: And as a result, powerful politicians know that they can break the law and get away it.
CT: I don’t disagree with your conclusion here.
GG: Politicians know that they can break the law and get away it because there is that quote-unquote ‘fatigue’, that dislike, that contempt for holding political officials accountable in Washington, because these are the people you go to work and see every day, and it’s unpleasant when they’re having to respond to subpoenas–
CT: That’s not–
GG: … and go to court and be accused of criminal wrongdoing. And that’s why the political class typically insists that politicians not be subjected to the criminal process. And they know that they can break the law and get away with it for exactly that reason. And I think that’s a huge problem.
CT: Well, look, I think the problem, though, sits not with the media in this respect. And this is what frustrates me a little bit, is that the problem, the people we should be upset with are the folks on the Hill, folks in the White House, folks at the Justice Department. Those are the ones who have the power of the subpoena, and the power to do these things, not the media. And I know we get beaten up about it. But the power does lie in Congress. And the power does lie in the Justice Department.
GG: Agreed. And that’s why I think that’s the appropriate place for these investigations and prosecutions to take place, is in the Justice Department. That’s why I’m in favor of what Eric Holder’s about to do.
Anyway, Chuck, unless you want to add something, I honestly think it’s been an interesting discussion.
CT: I agree. No, I wish you had called me first. I mean, I hear you on where that’s not where you want to go, but, I wish you had called me first on that front. But beyond that, because I respect your work so much, that’s why I reached out…
GG: I appreciate your taking the time, Chuck.
CT: … and I appreciate you doing the podcast about it.
GG: Thanks very much.
[Transcript courtesy of Thames Valley Transcribe]
Talking Heads, 1977
This was their first weekend as a foursome at CBGB’s, after adding Jerry Harrison, before they started recording the LP “Talking Heads: 77.”
Patti Smith, Bowery 1976
Patti lit up by the Bowery streetlights. I tapped her on the shoulder, asked if I could do a picture, took two shots and everyone went back to what they were doing. 1/4 second at f/5.6 no tripod.
This was taken at the Punk Magazine Benefit show. According to Chris Stein (seated, on slide guitar), they were playing “Little Red Rooster.”
No Wave Punks, Bowery Summer 1978
They were sitting just like this when I walked out of CBGB's. Me: “Don’t move” They didn’t. L to R: Harold Paris, Kristian Hoffman, Diego Cortez, Anya Phillips, Lydia Lunch, James Chance, Jim Sclavunos, Bradley Field, Liz Seidman.
Richard Hell + Bob Quine, 1978
Richard Hell and the Voidoids, playing CBGB's in 1978, with Richard’s peerless guitar player Robert Quine. Sorely missed, Quine died in 2004.
This photograph of mine was used to create the “replica” CBGB's bathroom in the Punk Couture show last summer at the Metropolitan Museum of Art. So I got into the Met with a bathroom photo.
Stiv Bators + Divine, 1978
Stiv Bators, Divine and the Dead Boys at the Blitz Benefit show for injured Dead Boys drummer Johnny Blitz.
“The kids are all hopped up and ready to go…” View from the unique "side stage" at CBGB's that you had to walk past to get to the basement bathrooms.
Klaus Nomi, Christopher Parker, Jim Jarmusch – Bowery 1978
Jarmusch was still in film school, Parker was starring in Jim’s first film "Permanent Vacation" and Klaus just appeared out of nowhere.
Hilly Kristal, Bowery 1977
When I used to show people this picture of owner Hilly Kristal, they would ask me “Why did you photograph that guy? He’s not a punk!” Now they know why. None of these pictures would have existed without Hilly Kristal.
Dictators, Bowery 1976
Handsome Dick Manitoba of the Dictators with his girlfriend Jody. I took this shot as a thank you for him returning the wallet I’d lost the night before at CBGB's. He doesn’t like that I tell people he returned it with everything in it.
Alex Chilton, Bowery 1977
We were on the median strip on the Bowery shooting what became a 45 single sleeve for Alex’s “Bangkok.” A drop of rain landed on the camera lens by accident. Definitely a lucky night!
Bowery view, 1977
The view from across the Bowery in the summer of 1977.
Ramones, 1977 – never before printed
I loved shooting The Ramones. They would play two sets a night, four nights a week at CBGB's, and I’d be there for all of them. This shot is notable for Johnny playing a Strat, rather than his usual Mosrite. Maybe he’d just broken a string. Love that hair.
Richard Hell, Bowery 1977 – never before printed
Richard exiting CBGB's with his guitar at 4am, about to step into a Bowery rainstorm. I’ve always printed the shots of him in the rain, but this one is a real standout to me now.
Patti Smith + Ronnie Spector, 1979
May 24th – Bob Dylan Birthday show – Patti “invited” everyone at that night’s Palladium show on 14th Street down to CBGB's to celebrate Bob Dylan’s birthday. Here, Patti and Ronnie are doing “Be My Baby.”
Legs McNeil, 1977
Legs, ready for his close-up, near the front door of CBGB's.
Rev and Alan Vega – I thought Alan was going to hit me with that chain. This was the Punk Magazine Benefit show.
Ian Hunter and Fans, outside bathroom
I always think of “All the Young Dudes” when I look at this shot. These fans had caught Ian Hunter in the CBGB's basement outside the bathrooms, and I just stepped in to record the moment.
Tommy Ramone, 1977
Only at CBGB's could I have gotten this shot of Tommy Ramone seen through Johnny Ramones legs.
Bowery 4am, 1977
End of the night garbage run. Time to go home.