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Special Report Roundtable - January 18

FOX News Special Report With Brit Hume

HUME: We're going to have some an analytical observations now from Mort Kondracke, executive editor of Roll Call; Mara Liasson, national political correspondent of National Public Radio; and the syndicated columnist, Charles Krauthammer -- FOX NEWS contributors all.

Well, the attorney general was on Capitol Hill today, a day after the administration announced that henceforth, because of adjustments it's -- basically said were made by the FISA court, that's the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act court, that it can now proceed with this electronic eavesdropping on the phone calls of terror suspects into and out of the country without hindrance from the FISA court and it will now proceed.

This was treated by most in the press in a certain way and the attorney general is on the Hill today and found that even though he was doing, basically what a lot of senators had called for, they didn't seem all that happy about it. So what's going on here -- Mort.

MORT KONDRACKE, ROLL CALL: Well, the administration says that it's been working on this with FISA for two years. And why they didn't announce to the judiciary committee when in the middle of all the brawl last year, hey, we're trying to work this thing out with FISA, don't worry, we'll get it done, that was never made public before. But suddenly today, we get the word that last Thursday...

HUME: Yesterday, actually.

KONDRACKE: Well, yesterday, last Thursday, the FISA court took over this program, so you don't have to do it on a warrantles basis, you can do it through the FISA court, that is what senators and congressmen wanted to have done and largely, they said, great. You know, it should have been done a long time ago. So, I think this could have been handled a lot better, there could have been a lot less uproar if the administration had said we are trying to work this out, we are trying to get more swifter and more expedited producers here. And just let us do it and we'll fix it.

MARA LIASSON, NATIONAL PUBLIC RADIO: Which apparently they did get in the end...


KONDRACKE: Yeah, but why...

HUME: Is it possible they didn't know they were going to get it until this time.

LIASSON: It's possible, but this does strikes me as a very kind of strange ending to this incredible fight over there. It almost ended with a whimper. If you remember, the bit battle, the battle was some Democrats said we don't mind that you wiretap terrorists, we just want to make sure there's some kind of check and balance and some kind of judicial review. Meanwhile, the administration insisted it didn't need one, the president says it had the authority to do it...

HUME: Still says that.

LIASSON: Still says that and at the time, the debate began -- and the political end of the debate, at least from the administration was, oh, Democrats don't want to wiretap terrorists. Which it was a big fight and now it turns out that without telling Senator Specter, who is arguing for this exact solution, they've been trying to get a way for FISA to review this for quite some time.

CHARLES KRAUTHAMMER, SYNDICATED COLUMNIST: There's nothing strange about this. The administration started out with a position that every administration, Democratic and Republican has held, which is that the president has inherent authority under Article Two to do this on his own, which is what he did.

All other administrations have said that, and then said, however, in the interest of constitutional comment (ph), we will agree to abide by the FISA law and essentially constrain ourselves. The administration had resisted that for five years arguing that we were in an emergency, it had to create new structures, new intelligence producers and do it rapidly and without hindrance, so it did it for five years. And now, after this period, it's decided it's going to accept the constraints of FISA...

HUME: Let me pose this question...

KRAUTHAMMER: But it's not even clear of how much of a constraint it is.

HUME: Right, that's the question. Mort, what is happening? Has the FISA process adjusted to accommodate the program or has the program been adjusted to accommodate to FISA's process?

KONDRACKE: Well, the administration says that they worked out with FISA more swift and agile means of getting FISA approval for these procedures, whatever they are. And you know, that would tend to believe that there are some -- just what it says, that they can get them faster, that they're not burdensome and onerous anymore and so they worked it out.

KRAUTHAMMER: But it's not even clear if you have to get authorize for every wiretap or if you got a programmatic -- a blanket authorization in which case, essentially the administration has won. Essentially it's allowed to do everything it did. It's got a single authorization that it could do it.

Now, we don't know which of those two alternatives is true the, but I think it's odd that we're sitting here on national television discussing a secret order by a secret judge and a secret panel about a secret program.

KONDRACKE: We don't know anything.

KRAUTHAMMER: It shows how well our secrets are kept.

HUME: It was interesting to see senator...

LIASSON: In this case pretty well.

HUME: Interesting we had Senator Leahy today, who was once -- had his membership on the Senate Intelligence Committee revoked after he leaked a classified document, demanding to know how Alberto Gonzales could possibly want to deny to him and his colleagues access to the classified order issued by the judge in this case.

LIASSON: Well yeah, although it's not going to be up to him in the end. It sounds like they're going to get something from the judge that explains...

HUME: Unless the administration decides that the classified material is too sensitive to convey to the Hill and of course members of Congress are always -- act as if, "How could they possibly deny us -- here we sit in the leakiest place in the United States -- access to classified material?"

KONDRACKE: So far, though, the details of how this program works, which were briefed to the -- both intelligence committees have not leaked at all. We don't know how this program works. I don't know want to know how it works and I hope it keeps -- stays a secret. I'm sorry that the New York Times ever wrote the story that it was even going on.

HUME: Well, what about this? So what do we think at the end of day here? The one?

KRAUTHAMMER: The administration appears to have won. It got its program for the five years. It now has -- is doing what it was doing before, but under a FISA authorization, it looks as if it's a fairly broad one and that's success.

LIASSON: We don't know how broad it is and for the people who argued that this should have some kind of judicial oversight against the administration, who said they didn't need one, they won.

KONDRACKE: Yeah, I think both side won, actually. I mean, the senators got what they wanted...

HUME: Oh boy.

KONDRACKE: The administration can keep doing what it wants to do and it's being done legally. Good.

HUME: Next up with the panel, what Iraqi Prime Minister Maliki said and what he did about the situation in his country. We promise you, Mort will have a view on this.


HUME: Some 400 members of Muqtada al-Sadr's militia is said to have been arrested by the Maliki government in Iraq, but that all was overshadowed today in the press briefing at the White House and elsewhere in the media by word of a dustup, it seemed between Nouri al Maliki and Condoleezza Rice. In an interview with the London Times, she said, "Certain officials are going through a crisis. Secretary Rice is expressing her own point of view if she thinks that the government," meaning the Iraqi government, "is on borrowed time, whether it is borrowed time for the Iraqi government or American administration. I don't think we are on borrowed time."

Then he went on to say, "I believe that such statements give moral boosts to the terrorists and push them toward making an extra effort and making them believe that they have defeated the American administration, but I can tell you they haven't defeated the Iraqi government."

What gave rise to all of this was the following exchange in testimony on Capitol Hill, the other day, by Condoleezza Rice. Let's look.


CONDOLEEZZA RICE, SECRETARY OF STATE: I have met Prime Minister Maliki, I was with him in Amman, I saw his resolve. I think he knows that his government is, in a sense, on borrowed time. Not just in terms of the American people, but in terms of the Iraqi...

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Are you confident?

RICE: I'm confident.


HUME: So as you can see, in it's full context, the borrowed time comment might not have been so offensive. One wonders if Nouri al Maliki actually ever heard or saw the full context. So, where are we now with Nouri al Maliki and the Iraqi government? It's early, the president has just announced the change less than a week ago or about a week ago. What are we seeing?

LIASSON: Well, there are all sorts of things that the administration wants the Maliki government to do, one of which is to crack down on the Shiite militias and you could say that he made a step toward that day, arresting 400 of Muqtada al Sadr's militiamen. He also wants him to pass this oil law that will share oil revenues more or less fairly; he wants him to start providing services to Sunni neighborhoods. There's a lot of the things that the Maliki government is expected to do. Now, the president hasn't said there's going to be any consequences if he doesn't, but clearly the implication is that he can't...

HUME: He hasn't said publicly.

LIASSON: He hasn't said publicly. That's right.

HUME: Now, were you the president, Mara, I was thinking about it, just for average here, if you are the president in his situation with the Maliki government and you were going to threaten him with consequences, would you do so publicly or privately?

LIASSON: No, no. I don't even think that's the biggest issue. The biggest issue is -- the question is how much confidence do people have in the Maliki government? Now granted you're saying it's early and we're going to see what he does now, although he has had...

HUME: People in this country?

LIASSON: People in this country.

HUME: I think we know the answer to that question.

LIASSON: It's very little. Everybody who's been over there and met with him has come back feeling a little squeamish about his ability to truly govern in a non-sectarian way, to provide some kind of reconciliation that will lead to peace.

KONDRACKE: Yeah, if these 400 Mahdi army people stay in captivity, if, as reported, Sadr's people are being attacked by Iraqi troops, that was a report to that affect today, if indeed as various people in their government have said that they are really working on an oil-sharing revenue-sharing law, that would be great, if they're going to de-Baathify, that would be great. So, in coming days we could get reports of progress on all these benchmarks that the president...

HUME: Coming days?

KONDRACKE: Coming days, yeah. I mean, they can start moving...

HUME: In days, weeks or months or do you...

KONDRACKE: Well, they've got -- I think they've got two or three months, four months, maybe, to show real progress, if they don't, then the president is going to lose any whatever little support he has left in the United States, I mean, in addition to the fact that they've got to start pacifying Baghdad over a period of months. But, some progress on Maliki's part would be enormously helpful to both himself and to President Bush.

KRAUTHAMMER: He's a hard guy to like. I mean, after all, he's tweaking the administration, talking about it being essentially a lame duck, I think what the secretary state had said to foreign journalists. After all, he's the guy who's sitting in the green zone saying all of this. If it weren't for the American -- this distraction, if it weren't for American soldiers' blood, he'd be either in exile, in jail, or at the end of a noose.

And you know, he's been elected as the president of Iraq, but he's been acting for the last, almost a year now, as a sectarian and looking for Shiite supremacy, protecting al Sadr, taking down the American barricades when we had a -- we were in search of a death squad leader. Having us release Iranian agents who were discovered in the headquarters of his collision quarters. So, this is a guy who has not helped us.

Now this is his last chance. He knows it. And the surge will depend -- I think American soldiers and Lieutenant General Petraeus who's going to be leading all this is extremely competent and he could succeed in the plan in Baghdad. He will only succeed...

HUME: Well, Baghdad is pacified and the violence level has subsides?

KRAUTHAMMER: We can win the war. We can win this war, but it depends on Maliki. It's going to depend on what he does, what his brigades do and what he does in curtailing the Shiite death squads.

If the 400 are released, that's going to show bad faith. But if he is going to hold the Mahdi army extremists and killers and thugs, that's a real step be a we'll see in the next month or two if he's a serious partner. If he is, I think we can actually win the war. The real issue has been that ever since the Samara bombing and the formation of his government, he has not acted as an ally.

KONDRACKE: One interesting report was that there are troops from the Kurdish area who are going to be sent into Baghdad, which suggests that they can be more Peshmerga can be more even.

HUME: Peshmerga.

KONDRACKE: Kurdish fighters -- can be more even handed in fighting between Sunnis and Shiite neighborhoods...

HUME: Yeah, they come from a different -- they can fight either one of them with an even hand.

KONDRACKE: Exactly, that would be good.

KRAUTHAMMER: Which is why it would work.

HUME: And they're supposedly the very toughest fighters.

KONDRACKE: Right, so if that's the case, that suggests some resolve on his part which is good news. But, you know, got to see.

HUME: Well, so, how quickly? Months?

KONDRACKE: Well, you know, I think there has got to be progress in weeks. Progress in weeks, not success in weeks, but progress.

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