Cavuto interviewed Interior secretary Norton; didn't ask about her resignation


In an interview with Secretary of the Interior Gale A. Norton, Fox News' Neil Cavuto never asked Norton about her resignation from her post, announced less than two weeks earlier.

On the March 21 edition of Fox News' Your World with Neil Cavuto, host Neil Cavuto interviewed Interior Secretary Gale A. Norton and Agriculture Secretary Mike Johanns regarding the preparedness of the United States against avian influenza (bird flu). But not once during the interview did Cavuto question Norton regarding her recent decision to resign her post. On March 10, Norton announced that she will leave the job at the end of the month. Cavuto made only a single reference to Norton's resignation during the interview, when he said at its conclusion, "Secretary Norton, we wish you well as you return to private life."

Cavuto did note Norton's resignation earlier in the program before the interview, saying, "I know Gale Norton is leaving -- retiring, but it's not as if she was pushed out the door." He did not elaborate on why she was leaving. Nor did Cavuto mention that a federal criminal task force is investigating disgraced Republican lobbyist Jack Abramoff's ties to the Interior Department; Norton has said that her resignation is unrelated to the Abramoff investigation.

According to a March 11 Washington Post article, a federal investigation is ongoing regarding the Interior Department's dealings with Abramoff:

Norton's resignation comes as a federal criminal task force continues to investigate former GOP lobbyist Jack Abramoff's dealings with her department. The task force is examining, among other issues, former deputy secretary [of the Interior] J. Steven Griles's discussions with Abramoff at a time when the lobbyist was seeking departmental actions on behalf of his tribal clients.

Norton said the probe did not play a role in her decision to step down and added later: "I want to return to having a private life again."


Also under investigation is Norton's friend Italia Federici and a public interest group she heads -- the Council of Republicans for Environmental Advocacy, known as CREA -- which Norton co-founded with conservative anti-tax advocate Grover Norquist in the 1990s.

In an attempt to influence the Interior Department -- which has the final say on an Indian tribe's gambling ambitions -- Abramoff developed close ties with Federici and directed his casino-rich tribal clients to give $500,000 to CREA. Federici had a personal relationship with Griles and often agreed to press him on issues important to Abramoff's clients, according to e-mail obtained by The Washington Post and investigators for the Senate Indian Affairs Committee.

From the March 21 edition of Fox News' Your World with Neil Cavuto:

CAVUTO: I know Gale Norton is leaving -- retiring, but it's not as if she was pushed out the door.


CAVUTO: All right, Rebecca, thank you very much. Rebecca Gomez. So, if it hits here, are we ready here? With us now, Interior Secretary Gale Norton and Agriculture Secretary Mike Johanns. Secretaries, welcome to both of you.

NORTON: Thank you very much.

CAVUTO: Secretary Norton, to you first. Are we ready?

NORTON: Well, we have been working together across agencies within the federal government. The human health issues are being headed up by Mike Leavitt at Health and Human Services. He has been meeting and having summits in every state to talk about the human health issues. We are working on the early warning system, trying to test migratory birds, to see if they are carrying the avian flu part of this. And it's important to realize right now what we are talking about is just bird flu that is a bird disease, and not the type of human-to-human spread that is the cause for most concern.

CAVUTO: All right. Now, Secretary Johanns, what we worry about in this country, though, is that human-to-human type of transmission. How close or likely could that be?

JOHANNS: Well, we haven't seen any evidence of it anywhere in the world. And there's been a lot of bird-to-bird transmission. So, that's an indication that the virus has not mutated. Viruses do change. We -- we know that, science proves that. But today, there is no recorded case of human-to-human. And the work we're doing is -- as Gale Norton indicates, we are trying to be the early warning. We are testing birds to see if they have that H5N1, high-pathogenic avian influenza in birds.

CAVUTO: All right. In the meantime, Secretary Norton, there is no cure for this if you do get it, is there?

NORTON: Well, at this point, you know, it's like any other virus. It affects different people in different ways. And, at this point, it -- the virus that we're so concerned about has not mutated into existence yet.

CAVUTO: Right, right.

NORTON: It is still a concern that is -- is still something that may come about, and we'll know more about its capacity when that happens. When it is in birds, if people take appropriate precautions -- for hunters, for those who are fixing poultry, if people just wash their hands and cook food thoroughly, then, that -- that is appropriate precaution.

CAVUTO: You know what I worry about, Secretaries? And, Secretary Johanns, I will raise this with you. Just how Americans take that news that it's here, that -- that it is so disruptive that I can picture a lot of people:" I'm not going to get chicken at a store. I'm not going to go out. I'm not --" you know, that -- that it -- the -- the panic response is worse than what is justified.

JOHANNS: Well, the best thing we can do is talk about it. And you cook poultry, you don't get sick. It's as simple as that. Cooking poultry kills the virus. And people are surprised when I tell them this, but we have actually dealt with high-pathogenic avian influenza in the United States on three other occasions, most recently 2004. So, we have practice in this area. We know how to deal it -- deal with it. We've got a very aggressive plan, and we'll implement that plan to deal with any birds that have high-path avian influenza.

CAVUTO: Do you think, in your heart of hearts, Secretary Norton, that this could be the next plague?

NORTON: Well, this is something we want to take precautions against. And, hopefully, it will not mutate in the way that has caused concern, and we will have the opportunity to -- to do this planning ahead so that we're as ready as we can be. One of the things that I need to mention is that we anticipate that we will get a number of what might be considered false positives --


NORTON: -- as we test birds, and find that they have the family of the disease --

CAVUTO: All right.

NORTON: -- but not necessarily the one we're concerned about.

CAVUTO: All right. Secretary Norton, we wish you well as you return to private life. Thank you.

NORTON: Thank you.

CAVUTO: Secretary Johanns, thank you very much.

JOHANNS: Thank you.

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Neil Cavuto
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