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Special Report Roundtable - March 7

FOX News Special Report With Brit Hume


ROBERT GATES, DEFENSE SECRETARY: There are some very preliminary, positive signs of things going on. No one wants to get to enthusiastic about it at this point. We're right at the very beginning. But I would say that based in terms of the -- whether the Iraqis are meeting the commitments that they've made to us in the security arena, I think that our view would be so far, so good.


HUME: Defense Secretary Gates talking about the progress in the new program which includes that surge of American troops which Democrats on Capitol Hill have been trying to figure out a way for some weeks now, to either disapprove of or put a halt to or something.

Some thought on all this now from Fred Barnes, executive editor of the Weekly Standard; Mort Kondracke, executive editor of Roll Call; and Mara Liasson, national political correspondent of National Public Radio -- FOX NEWS contributors all.

So Mort, on both counts, militarily and politically, where does the matter appear to you to stand to you tonight?

MORT KONDRACKE, ROLL CALL: Well, there has been, evidentially, some progress. There are Iraqi units that are showing up for combat. Sadr City, we're going into an meeting very little resistance.

HUME: And in a way, we've never been able to do that before.

KONDRACKE: Right. Not sure why. There's an oil agreement, that's in the works. That's a good sign. On the other hand, there is still a lot of bloodshed in the country as President Bush warns.

Now, on the political front, it's clear that the Democrats are not going to be able to stop the surge, they're not inclined, at the moment, to stop the war. So, the rest of it's largely rhetoric and symbolism. And I don't think it really makes much difference whether they're divided or they're not divided over what to do since they can't get much done.

Right now, the county is with the Democrats, they want, you know, the polls indicate that the country wants out. I think everything depends on whether the surge works. If it works, the president gets vindicated; the Democrats get embarrassed, if it doesn't, then we're in for trouble.

MARA LIASSON, NATIONAL PUBLIC RADIO: Yeah, I agree with Mort. I mean, everything depends on what happens on the ground there. Now, I think it's going to take a while. It's not going to be just a couple weeks.

You know, people are still being killed every day there. There'd have to be a real reconciliation, I think, in Iraq for things to start to changed measurably. But, Democrats have been having a problem going beyond the simple statement of disapproval of the policy. On that, they were united, they had a lot of Republican support and they have the support of the public. Now, as they're trying to figure out how to craft a bill that would literally get troops home, they're having some problems. And it sounds like what they're going to come up with is a series of benchmarks, that they want -- benchmarks that the Bush administration, actually, has mentioned, too, that they want to hold the Maliki government too and have the president report on them.

FRED BARNES, WEEKLY STANDARD: You know, there's a reason why they're having problems going beyond merely passing a resolution that says we're unhappy with what's gone on in Iraq, because that's what the election reflected. It reflected that the public obviously dissatisfied with the state of affairs in Iraq and what had led up to that.

Beyond that, I don't think that the public sent a message. So, Democrats are divided on it, they seem, particularly in the Senate, they change their strategy almost every day. Nonbinding resolution, no, we're going to do something different that will be binding and so on.

Now, I think the most important thing I've seen is not what Bill Gates said or not what the president said that was cautiously optimistic about Iraq, in his speech to the American Legion, yesterday.

HUME: Bob Gates.

BARNES: Bob Gates. It is what Brian Williams said, of NBC. You know, there're not a lot of reporters who have been over there and then gone back and gone to the same places and looked around, and Brian Williams said two things. One, it is better. Things are better in Baghdad. The surge appears to be off to a good start. Mad Secondly, he said that something that Democrats refused to admit and that is that it is a new strategy. It's different, what the troops are doing.

HUME: Yeah, it isn't just an addition of troops, it's more than the injection of troops.

BARNES: Yeah, that there's a new strategy. And of course, Nancy Pelosi and all the Democrats pretend like, well, this is just more of the same. Well, there are more troops, but it is not the same strategy. And that, of course, is the reason why it`s beginning to work.

Look, Brian Williams has no reason to say this if is not true. Bob Gates does have a reason to say that things are getting better, he works for the Bush administration, they want to say that. But, Brian Williams is no tool of the Bush administration.

HUME: Let me -- speaking of new strategies. It appears, tonight, that Jack Murtha, the Democratic leading House figure on this issue, has a new plan. And there you see a picture of Murtha.

And the plan has several elements that he's going to try to get acted on. I believe we've got something to represent it, if not I can read it off this -- oh, here it is.

Maliki -- it's a timeframe for redeployment if -- based on certain benchmarks that the Maliki government must meet. Benchmarks will be noted in this bill. If the government fails, Maliki's government fails to meet, the troops will be withdrawn within six months of that first failure. If they meet all of the benchmarks, troops will be redeployed at the end of the year.

How much of chance does Murtha got of getting something like this passed? (INAUDIBLE)

BARNES: Look, Jack Murtha it is an albatross of for Democrats, now. I mean look, you may have -- you have this out of Iraq caucus among House members. What are they 70 or something, Democrats, something like that, but they're the minority. The rest of them don't want to do these crazy things. Look, if Democrats want to get the troops out, and they can't do it any other way, then just try to cut the funding. But they can't do that because they know the public's not for that. This is just another ruse.

KONDRACKE: I thought it was clever when Murtha -- Murtha wanted to set benchmarks for our performance, that is to say -- our readiness, how much the troops have been arrested, whether they have enough equipment and then forced the president to waive that requirement. And that would be an embarrassment to the president, if he had to waive the requirement. But, to add all this other stuff...

HUME: But that can't pass, right?

KONDRACKE: Well it can -- well, that conceivably could pass the House, but not the Senate. But, adding on...

HUME: Well, than the president will never have to waive anything under that plan.

KONDRACKE: I know, but the idea is to put up things that are embarrassing, you know, and even if the president never -- even if it never got there, at least it would make the point. I think this is going another Murtha to far, by saying that the Iraqis have to meet benchmarks and when they'd don't then we're going to pull out.


HUME: Then they say, even if they do meet it, we're going to pull out a little later.

KONDRACKE: I mean that's just -- that's you know...

LIASSON: The reason why the original Murtha proposal, which didn't get enough support in the Democratic caucus, was potentially embarrassing for the White House is because the president would have to justify why they don't have certain body armor or why these tanks aren't...

HUME: But that idea died aborting.

LIASSON: Yeah, that died aborting because it was too clever by half for a lot of Democrats.

HUME: When we return with our panel, former ambassador Joe Wilson takes another turn in the spotlight after the conviction of Scooter Libby. More on that with the all-stars, next



JOSEPH WILSON, FORMER AMBASSADOR: Clearly, the evidence that was -- that came out during the course of the trial demonstrated that there was an obsession not with getting the facts out, but with destroying and impugning my integrity and they used my wife's employment and her status as a covert officer to do so.


HUME: Well, there he is, that nattily dressed fellow with a beautiful wife who formerly worked at the CIA and who was outed, it is said, by the column written by Bob Novak. Joe Wilson, back in the news, back in the headline and back on the cable channels, once again, in the aftermath of the Libby verdict. He's claiming a measure of vindication. What about that?

BARNES: Look, what he says about the trial, it didn't show that at all. He's saying that it demonstrated the testimony there, that there was a smear campaign against him. What it did show was that there was certainly great interest at the White House and why in the world the CIA had sent this guy, a retired diplomat an opponent of the war in Iraq, to Niger to study whether the Iraqis had sought to have -- to buy uranium there.

And of course, he come back and said he'd debunked the whole idea that they had, when in fact, what he reported was that the Iraqis had come...

Hume: He reported to the CIA.

BARNES: Reported to the CIA that the Iraqis had come in 1999, at least, to Niger, seeking a commercial relationship, which, the only thing you wouldn't want there, the only thing that ever exported from this country was uranium.

So, to the CIA, as they testified before the Senate Intelligence Committee, they found his report to be confirming this Iraqi role rather than debunking it. I mean, that is the fundamental thing to do with this trip and he lied about it.

Even the Washington Post said he was full of falsehoods and we know he was when he said -- he said his wife hadn't sent him over there and she played a role in it. We know she did. That he'd been sent there Vice President Cheney. He wasn't. That Cheney and Bush had seen this report that he'd sent back and he was asked about that and he had some reason -- well they're in the government and my report went around the government. Look as the Post said, this is a man who was a fountain of falsehoods and still is.

KONDRACKE: Yeah, this was Washington Post editorial, by the way, it was not just buried -- it was not some columnist and everybody ought to read it. It is perfectly wonderful, about how this case besmirches everybody who touched it -- that Wilson is a blowhard and a liar. That Libby clearly lied under oath, that the administration misused information and that Fitzgerald probably never should have brought the case. And we didn't learn anything about Iraq. So, it's a great piece of work.

But look, I think that this whole case is another rancid example of a rancid custom in Washington and that is the criminalization of politics and the worst example of it, that I've seen in my time in Washington, is the impeachment of Bill Clinton. And this is, you know, this the ruination of Scooter Libby.

HUME: I thought what was wrong with the impeachment of Bill Clinton was that it was a criminalization of sex.

KONDRACKE: Well, it's the criminal -- it's the criminalization of political opposition and it was a low crime and misdemeanor that was treated as a high crime.

LIASSON: Yeah, I agree.

BARNES: That wasn't a crime, that was a political -- that was a political effort, it wasn't criminalization.

LIASSON: No, that was an indictment, that's what an impeachment is, That's what an impeachment is.


HUME: Hold it Mara! Hold it. Mara, it's your turn.

LIASSON: That's what an impeachment is, it's an indictment by the House of Representatives. However, I -- look, I agree with Mort on this. That what's going to happen now, I guess, if Wilson gets the civil suit that he wants, is now his allegations will be tested in court. They haven't been up until now. The case that just finished has had nothing to do with his allegations that somehow there was an illegal (INAUDIBLE). It had to do with whether Libby lied under oath.

HUME: Given the set of facts that Fred just laid out, and they have been -- these are facts that have been presented by such -- such places -- or such institutions as the Senate Intelligence Committee and others -- is it clear to you that this case as much of a future?

LIASSON: Well, civil -- I don't think that he's going to be able to prove his allegations because so far, we haven't seen evidence to support them, we've seen evidence to contradict them. But, I think he can go forward with discovery and there'll discovery done from the defense side, too, which will means that he'll have to back up his statements. And I think this case has a future in terms of that it'll be played out. Do I think he's going to win? That he's going to prove his charges? I think it's going to be very hard.

KONDRACKE: And furthermore, it's going to be hard to prove damages because in so far as he's sold I don't know how many thousands of books and there's a movie coming out and he's getting rich on the lecture circuit. I mean, he's made out like a bandit, here.

HUME: Yeah, he's a regular hero.

BARNES: Here's why his case is bound to fail. He alleges that there was a conspiracy by the White House to smear him and by ruin -- by revealing his wife's name that she was a covert agent there. OK, but there's no proof of that, at all, whatsoever, it just didn't exist. Was the White House interested in rebutting what he'd said, what he wrote in the New York Times? Of course they were and perfectly legitimately. But some conspiracy? Nonsense.

For more visit the FOX News Special Report web page.

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