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Special Report Roundtable - April 19

FOX News Special Report With Brit Hume


SCOTT MCCLELLAN, WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY: I'm ready to move on. I've been in this position a long time. And my wife and I are excited about beginning the next chapter in our life together.


BRIT HUME, FOX NEWS ANCHOR: And with that, and some kind words from the president, Scott McClellan bows out. He'll be around for awhile until his slot is filled, but he's basically out of there.

Karl Rove is being relieved of his -- most of his policy responsibilities as deputy White House chief of staff and will focus now again as the political strategist.

Some analytical observations on all this now from Mort Kondracke, executive editor of "Roll Call"; Nina Easton, deputy Washington bureau chief of "The Boston Globe"; and the syndicated columnist Charles Krauthammer, FOX News contributors all.

Well, Mort, what should we make of today's changes? Is this a big shake up? Is this just a few staff changes? Too soon to tell or what?

MORT KONDRACKE, EXECUTIVE EDITOR, "ROLL CALL": Well, insofar as Scott McClellan is kind of the face of the White House every day, if they get a new face, and somebody who's stronger and tougher in dealing with the press, I think that will help the administration a lot.

The Democratic National Committee is saying that Rove's change of jobs is a demotion. And nobody in the White House that I've talked to today -- and I've talked to several -- thinks it's a demotion.

What he's hiving off is policy development possibilities that involve, you know, scheduling meetings and vetting papers and that kind of stuff on small issues as well as big ones. And he's going to be left to concentrate on what he's really good at and the administration desperately needs, and that's strategery (sic)...

HUME: As it was once called memorably by some White House memo by the president.

KONDRACKE: Right, and message and the elections. I mean, the 2006 elections are absolutely crucial for this administration. They lose the House of Representatives and they're liable to be facing impeachment. So he's got to win them if he possibly can.

NINA EASTON, DEPUTY WASHINGTON BUREAU CHIEF, "THE BOSTON GLOBE": Yes, I agree. Karl Rove moving in this direction is simply a recognition by the White House that they're in trouble come 2006 with the election.

And I found all of this sort of a classic Washington dance. Everybody calls for a shakeup, a shakeup, a shakeup, and then there's a few changes and everybody says, "Oh, my God, there's a shakeup."

I don't really see this as much of a shakeup. It's kind of like a man in a knife fight looking -- checking his cholesterol levels. I mean, you look at Josh Bolten who's been with the president on policy since '99. His close protege, Joel Kaplan, has come in, taking over these policy duties.

McClellan, yes, that changes the face of the White House to some extent, but a lot of people thought he lacked the gravitas and the nimbleness to deal with some of the issues that were thrown at him.

But he, too, was a product, of course, from Texas. He ran his mother's campaign. His mother, by the way, who's running for governor now. He ran his mother's campaigns, and Karen Hughes plucked him out of there. And he was...

HUME: She's a Democrat, isn't she?

EASTON: She's an independent. She's a Republican now who's running as an independent.

CHARLES KRAUTHAMMER, SYNDICATED COLUMNIST: Well, what's happening here is when things aren't going well, you change the subject. The reason that the country's in a funk and the president's numbers are low is because gas prices are high and the war in Iraq is not going very well. The government there is still not being formed.

There's not much the president can do about either of those in the short runs, so you change the subject and talk about the personnel instead of the policy.

The other thing happening here, a little less cynical, is that you let a new chief of staff, Josh Bolten, who is rather serious about restarting the administration under his leadership. He's got almost three years. He doesn't want to drift, and he wants new people in there, particularly his.

And you have some really interesting stories here. I mean, Karl Rove is giving up part of his job. That's the domestic coordination, which is a good idea. He shouldn't be tied down with all of that stuff.

And the person who is taking it is Joel Kaplan, who nobody has heard about, who has two degrees from Harvard, a Marine artillery captain and a former clerk to Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia.

HUME: That's a lot of achievements for a guy who looks like he's about 12. To me, at my age.

KRAUTHAMMER: And just coming from his honeymoon. So you know, here's a great story. And instead of writing stories about all that's happening in the world that's not that good, at least in the short run, you're going to have stories about the people who are leaving. And even the sharks in the White House press corps are not going to kick people on the way out. And there will be nice stories about people coming in like Joel Kaplan, and so it's a distraction.

Although I think Bolten is serious here about a new team, and he's got ideas for shaping things up.

HUME: Do we anticipate this will now be followed by some major changes in the cabinet or not -- Mort?

KONDRACKE: Well, it's all rumors about the secretary of the treasury, major changes, major changes. I don't hear about major changes.

HUME: What do you think, Nina?

EASTON: Big question of the day. Does Bush, you know, stick by these guys like he claims he's always going to? Rumsfeld and Snow? Or does he throw it in?

KRAUTHAMMER: Treasury goes, Rumsfeld stays.

HUME: OK. Well, we know that Rumsfeld's staying. When we come back with our panel, this year's Pulitzer prizes seemed to go to journalists whose stories shared a certain quality, at least some of them. More news out of the White House. That discussion next.



BILL BENNETT, SYNDICATED RADIO TALK SHOW HOST: We had reporters from the New York Times, Risen and Lichtblau, had a reporter from The Washington Post, Dana Priest, took classified information, secret information, published it their newspapers. As a result, are they punished, are they ashamed, are they embarrassed? Are they arrested? No, they win Pulitzer prizes. They win Pulitzer prizes. I don't think what they did is worthy of a reward. I think what they did is worthy of jail, and I think this investigation needs to -- needs to go forward.


HUME: Strong medicine there from Bill Bennett about a couple of the major Pulitzer prize winners. The stories in questioning were in the Washington Post, which is the story that revealed the alleged existence of secret CIA prisons and other holding facilities in Eastern Europe, where suspects in the war on terror were said to be being held.

And the story in the New York Times, which revealed the existence of an eavesdropping program in which the NSA was picking up phone intercepts of phone conversations between suspected terrorists overseas and people inside the United States. This being done without a warrant.

Those are the two stories that won the Pulitzer -- two of the main Pulitzer prizes this year. Mr. Bennett has a strong opinion.

Mr. Kondracke, your thoughts?

KONDRACKE: Well, I don't think they're going to -- ought to go to jail for what they did. But the people who leaked the story should go to jail, especially in the case of the NSA spying case. This is the equivalent of telling the newspapers that we discovered that we've broken the Japanese codes or we've discovered radar, we can see enemy planes, you know. That's the kind of secret in wartime that ought not to be let out, it seems to me.

HUME: So you don't approve of the stories being published?

KONDRACKE: If I were the editor of the New York Times, I would be shamed of myself for publishing the story about the NSA spying. And in fact, they didn't for a year. It was only when one of the -- James Risen was going to come out in his book that the New York Times actually -- actually published it.

I think that was a terrible mistake, and whoever leaked it to the New York Times ought to go to jail, assuming that he's supposed to be protecting classified information.

HUME: Now you work for the Boston Globe, Nina, which is part of the New York Times company. I will allow you to comment on the Washington Post if you choose to.

EASTON: I guess I sort of have to -- what I was going to say is a comment on the New York Times. I was listening to that comment by Bill Bennett. I was immediately thinking 1972. The New York Times won a Pulitzer price for printing the Pentagon papers.

KONDRACKE: That was different.

EASTON: It might have been different. It might have been different. What it did -- it might have been different. It was wartime. It was a questioning of government policy during wartime.

What did it lead to? It led to threats of jail by government officials or grumbling about sending these guys to jail. It let to attempts by -- for court injunctions to stop them from printing this and it ultimately led to the famed Supreme Court decision, which said you can't stop this. You can argue about it afterwards, but the government cannot stop it. So now the government is...

KONDRACKE: Well, that is not an issue in this case. The president tried to stop it and succeeded in delaying it, which presidents have done for years, for decades.

EASTON: Right.

HUME: He didn't try to do it by force of law.

EASTON: No, he didn't. But that's what you're left with after that - - that decision. That's what a president is left with.

HUME: To work with. Go ahead, Charles.

KRAUTHAMMER: Bennett says that they shouldn't have gotten the prize. They should have gotten jail instead. I'd give them the Pulitzer and then I'd put them in jail. I exaggerate slightly here.

As journalism, it's great journalism: well written stories, very well researched, very important and, of course, revelations. And it deserves a prize on that basis.

As citizenship, I think it's poor citizenship. And here I'd agree with Mort. If I were the editor, I would not have published either story. I think it damaged our national security.

Now I respect people who make a different judgment. If you've got an editor who sees a story he thinks that somehow the government is acting in a way which is untoward and is not -- is not the right course of action, and he feels there's secrets that are covering it up and he has a higher duty as a citizen would to publish, he ought to do it.

I happen to think on these particular cases, that assessment is wrong. The secret prisons and the NSA spying, I think, were completely legal and justified actions in defense of the country in time of war. So I would have made a different judgment.

But I respect others who saw it differently. And I think they have to take the consequences of their actions.

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