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Special Report Roundtable - March 16

FOX News Special Report With Brit Hume

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

VALERIE PLAME WILSON, FMR CIA OFFICER: It was a terrible irony that administration officials were the ones who destroyed my cover. Furthermore, testimony in the criminal trial of Vice President Cheney's former chief of staff, who has now been convicted of serious crimes, indicates that my exposure arose from purely political motive.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

WILSON: Valerie Plame Wilson on Capitol Hill today. She hasn't spoken a great deal, but she had some things to say in an open hearing. Time for some analytical observations on this from Fred Barnes, executive editor of the Weekly Standard; Mort Kondracke, executive editor of Roll Call; and syndicated columnist, Charles Krauthammer -- FOX NEWS contributors, all.

Well Charles, she got a chance to say her piece, others followed on and had different views, your thoughts about this hearing.

CHARLES KRAUTHAMMER, SYNDICATED COLUMNIST: What we just heard her say was complete nonsense. What the trial showed was that the leaker was Richard Armitage who was not a political opponent of hers or of her husband. If anything, he was a political opponent of Cheney and the vice president's office who was, in fact, if anything, an opponent of the war. And his leak was obviously not a political act at all.

So, the entire premise of her story is false. There's a fable that she and her husband have constructed of this attempt to discredit him as revenge. In fact, what they were doing was rebutting his story which had all kinds of -- of facts in it which were untrue. For instance, there's this story about she denies that she was the one who recommended him, and she explained it today in a very odd way.

She said she was discussing the request for sending someone to investigate a story of Niger when an underling upset about this request and someone happened by, and that other person is the one who said well, let's send your husband.

Well -- and then she says she and the mysterious stranger then went and spoke with the supervisor, and her husband got sent, she was asked to write a memo. Well, I'm inclined to believe that if she can produce the mysterious stranger. Has she? I'm not sure. Has anybody asked who the mysterious stranger is?

WILSON: Mort, your thoughts?

MORT KONDRACKE, ROLL CALL: Now look, she was a covert agent. The head of the CIA approved a statement that she was covert, she was classified. If there's a 101 lesson, you know, government 101, it is that you protect the identity of covert agents. It may not have been a crime that her name was revealed, but it was certainly reckless on the part of a State Department, I mean, that Richard Armitage just sort of babbles around, oh, yeah, her wife works at the CIA. Bob Novak just looks it up, you know, and found out what her name was in "who's who." But nonetheless, Armitage triggered all this.

Meanwhile, at the White House, there was a lot of chatter about her with reporters. Scooter Libby talked to Judith Miller. Ari Fleisher talked to a couple of people. You know, they were trying to discredit Wilson, but they did so in part by revealing that the wife was a CIA -- now furthermore -- wait a minute. Wait...

FRED BARNES, WEEKLY STANDARD: (INAUDIBLE)

(CROSSTALK)

KONDRACKE: There were ways to do it.

BARNES: There were better ways to do it.

KONDRACKE: Yes, exactly.

BARNES: If anybody triggered the exposure of her as an agent and it's very unclear what "covert" actually means because it's not clear that under the act that actually designates whether an agent is covert or not, whether that applied to her or not. But she has her husband to blame. He is the one who triggered it.

Now, her husband goes over there and then he leaks stories to newspaper reporters, then he writes a piece for the New York Times and the critics attacking the Bush administration, saying they lied about what Saddam Hussein was doing, whether he sought uranium in Africa or not, which turned out to be absolutely false. But weren't people going to ask -- obviously, they were going to ask, how did this guy, a known opponent of Bush, a critic of the war in Iraq, why was he sent over there?

They were going to ask that question and the answer was obviously going to come about that, well, his wife was a CIA agent. And that's what led to it right there. If her husband had gone over there, done his so- called research and left it at that, that would have been one thing. But obviously, he is a man of great vanity and egotism, and he had to write it in the New York Times and leak it to reporters and that's what led to her exposure.

WILSON: There was testimony from later in the day from Victoria Toensing, who wrote extensively about this, and in fact wrote part of the law that's in question here and she says it wasn't a violation of the law.

KONDRACKE: Well, she says it wasn't a violation of the specific act that -- wait a minute, just a second -- of a specific act. And we're not necessarily saying that there was actually a crime committed here. But what -- I thought the most devastating thing that came out all day today actually was after the White House had said oh, we're going to investigate this, the security people at the White House said there was never an investigation, that's a lie.

KRAUTHAMMER: Look, if there wasn't a crime, then all of this is a scandal that shouldn't have been. I mean it was not -- if it wasn't a crime, what happened? It was an indiscretion on the part of Armitage who was not an enemy of these people. It should not have happened, but it's certainly not a crime. It's not a conspiracy. And Plame herself today had said, when asked about her own status as a covert agent, said, "I'm not a lawyer. I don't even -- I don't know." If she didn't know her own status, how does she expect the White House and others to know her status?

WILSON: All right, we're going to leave it right there. When we come back with the panel, trouble for the White House as calls increase for the attorney general to step down amid a growing controversy surrounding those eight fired U.S. attorneys. Back in a moment.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SEN CHARLES SCHUMER (D), NEW YORK: I think there will be a crescendo for Attorney General Gonzales to resign. I think the odds are very high that he will no longer be the attorney general.

DAVID RIVKIN, NATIONAL SECURITY LAWYER: It is entirely appropriate from time to time to consider injecting fresh blood or look for people whose policy preferences, frankly, are close to their own. There is absolutely nothing wrong with that.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

WILSON: We are back with our panel and the topic is whether or not Alberto Gonzales is going to remain as the attorney general. There's a lot of buzz in this town, right now. A lot of people saying this thing about the U.S. Attorneys is a problem. There are questions about e-mails, the drumbeat in Washington has begun. Fred, your thoughts?

BARNES: Well, the drumbeat has begun for sure. I don't know whether it'll reach a crescendo, but when you have Republicans already, two senators and one House member have called for his resignation, if that picks up -- we know what Democrats say, I mean, they're exploiting this issue shamelessly for political gain and trying to weaken the Bush administration. And you know, the trouble is with Gonzales, he's on the slippery slope. It's hard to get off.

And while I've thought up -- probably up until this very moment that he would probably last and the president obviously be reluctant to fire him. If it does pick up some steam, if you start slipping more, he's going to have to go. It will be unfair because this is a totally trumped up issue by Democrats. I mean, they have all this stuff he wasn't at the White House who said something when? So what? The president has perfect authority to appoint and fire U.S. attorneys.

WILSON: Mort.

KONDRACKE: Yeah, I mean, what's happening here is that the Democrats are trying to execute somebody before there's even been a trial. We don't know whether there was true wrongdoing involved in the firing of these people. Now, there's some allegations that they were fired in some cases because they were investigating key Republicans in states, some congressmen, some governors. If that were to be the case, then, you know, this could be a scandal.

If they were fired because they didn't tow the administration's line on immigration policy or on voter fraud or on the death penalty or something like that, the president is perfectly within his rights to fire them. And the whole idea -- the latest Schumer thing, they're after a scalp. They want Gonzales' scalp. They'd really like Karl Rove's scalp and Chuck Schumer today said "ah, the evidence shows that Karl Rove was in this from the beginning," and in fact, the evidence only shows that Karl Rove asked a question about what the process was, here.

KRAUTHAMMER: Gonzales is a dead man walking. He's finished. And the reason is, not the finality, but complete incompetence. He should have said so what at the beginning and said the president has a right to hire and to fire and if White House people were involved, of course the White House -- if the president is the one at whom these people are serving at his pleasure, these people are serving, his staff are the ones who ought to inquire how are they doing, should I retain them or fire them?

It's a perfectly legitimate thing. He had a three-foot putt. He muffed it. He sent up staff members to the House to gave the testimony that was not accurate. They had the whole process wrong and in doing that, he completely -- he created a scandal out of what was essentially nothing. And if you're attorney general and you're serving a president, you've to go after that.

KONDRACKE: Well, there's another piece of incompetence, too. That is he claimed he didn't know what his own chief of staff was doing. You know, his chief of staff was doing this shuttle e-mailing between himself and the White House and apparently was in charge of this thing, and Gonzales said he didn't know what he was doing. Now, that's evidence of bad management at a minimum.

BARNES: Mort, have you ever missed a three-foot putt? Boy, I have. I have missed a lot of them. You know, Mort talked about if there is evidence of true wrongdoing, then this whole non-scandal takes on a different coloration.

There is no evidence. There is none whatsoever. I mean, Democrats are fishing for evidence, but there is none whatsoever. This was a perfectly legitimate firing of eight U.S. attorneys and whether in the aftermath, in explaining it, trying to explain what happened, Gonzales bungled that, well, that's too bad. I personally do not think he should be fired, and if he is, it will weaken the Bush administration.

WILSON: Charles?

KRAUTHAMMER: Look, allowing your staff to go up and to give misinformation, inadvertently, is something that an administrator of a department ought not do, particularly in a situation in which the Democrats are leading a lynch mob. You create a scandal out of nothing and you ought to go on account of that.

KONDRACKE: Well and there's...

WILSON: Last word.

KONDRACKE: There's another point, here. Gonzales said that there was no effort to bypass senators from the states in which these attorneys were serving, and the chief of staff's e-mails indicates that that's exactly what he was up to, trying to skirt around them. So there's the question of integrity, here.

WILSON: And with a 10-second answer, a lot of people are saying this is all, again, about memories and hazy recollections -- Fred.

BARNES: No, it's all about a Democratic effort to make a scandal out of a non-scandal.

WILSON: All right.

KRAUTHAMMER: Mike Dukakis said it's about competence.

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