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Special Report Roundtable - March 20

FOX News Special Report With Brit Hume

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

GEORGE W. BUSH, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: These extraordinary steps offered today to the majority in Congress to demonstrate a reasonable solution to the issue; however, we will not go along with a partisan fishing expedition aimed at honorable public servants. Initial response by Democrats, unfortunately, shows some appear more interested in scoring political points than in learning the facts.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

HUME: And so what were the extraordinary steps outlined by the president. Well, he says, they've already a quantity -- an unprecedented quantity of documents, e-mails mostly, up to the Hill to examine that issue of why the eight attorneys -- the eight U.S. attorneys were fired or let go or not permitted to stay on. And he says, he's going to allow -- he's going to insist that the attorney general and other officials at the Justice Department go and explain themselves. But he will not allow the subpoenaing or the questioning of under oath, of senior White House aides or former White House senior aides. He will allow then, however, to be informally interviewed, no transcripts please, no oaths.

Some thoughts on all this now from Fred Barnes, executive editor of the Weekly Standard; Mort Kondracke, executive editor of Roll Call; and Nina Easton, Washington bureau chief of Fortune magazine.

And for the benefit of anybody who may have wondered about these spots on my face, the reason is that I went to the dermatologist today and part of my face was removed, but other than that, I'm doing fine, thank you.

He also, obviously, made it clear, he said, as far as Gonzales is concerned, when asked a question about declining Republican support, he said he's got support with me. He also indicated that Gonzales was going to do some splaining (ph) up on Capitol Hill.

Fred, you saying, last week, if memory serves, that the president would need to make a tough, aggressive statement and soon, to stop the hemorrhaging of support for Gonzales and stop the scandal from mushrooming on Capitol Hill. Was this is it?

FRED BARNES, WEEKLY STANDARD: Well, this is what he should have said, and in even stronger terms, a week ago, because it did mushroom on Capitol Hill, with all of these calls for Gonzales to resign. And importantly, he gave Republicans and other people, who might support his administration, in this case, nothing to rally. The president, in his first press conference in Mexico last Wednesday was apologetic, "mistakes have been made. I'm standing by Gonzales," but he sort of chastised him, as well. He needed to come out fighting.

I wouldn't call this exactly fighting, but since he already let this week go by, this is probably as strong as he could be. I mean, he knows perfectly well the Democrats aren't going to accept this compromise and he's going to be in for a fight. But I would say this was reasonable rather than ringing and was probably the best he could offer under the circumstances, now that he let happen.

MORT KONDRACKE, ROLL CALL: It was pushback, you know, he gave a little, he said that he -- knowing, I think, full well, that the Democrats wouldn't accept it, but he accused them of basically, indulging in fishing expeditions and witch hunts -- which is exactly what's happening.

I mean look, there is not a shred of evidence, yet, that there was any attempt on the part of the administration to torpedo a legitimate investigations of Republican politicians, which is what they -- which is would constitute the kind of wrongdoing that would make this into a real scandal.

They haven't got any proof of this. They're making allegations, they're finding inconsistencies of explanations and stuff like that, but they don't have any proof of it and yet they want heads, they want heads on a pike. They Gonzales' head for sure, they want Karl Rove's head, if they can get it and so on.

And I think they're going to work on Gonzales. They're going to get Gonzales up there, and they're going to beat him like a punching bag. But they're not going to get Rove, I don' think, unless the courts insist on it.

NINA EASTON, FORTUNE: Well, I think if he wanted to defuse all of this, he didn't do that today. What he could have done, he could have stopped halfway through and said we have all -- we're turning over all of this information, we have nothing to hide. We're offing our officials for interviews, we have nothing to hide. But, when he started talking about show trials and we're going to go to the mat to protect our officials against subpoenas, I'm sure that Chuck Schumer just said, yeah, sure, right.

HUME: You view is that he should have been more conciliatory?

EASTON: I think he should have been more conciliatory to diffuse it. To diffuse it. To act like we had nothing to...

HUME: Well, but...

EASTON: But wait, here's -- let me tell you what -- here's what's going to happen. They're going to go ahead and issue subpoenas. The administration is going to refuse to...

HUME: Yeah, but challenge the subpoenas in court, right.

EASTON: No, what's going to happen is the House Committee can hold the official in contempt, which is what they did during the Clinton administration against Janet Reno and against Jack Quinn, the White House counsel. So, at that point, previously that has diffused the crisis and, you know, the White House ended up turning over documents during the Clinton administration. But the House can hold...

HUME: Well, what happens then? They hold them in contempt, then what?

EASTON: Then it goes to the floor of the House. It's more complicated in the Senate, but in the House, it can go to the floor, and the floor can vote to hold them in contempt. And I'm told, believe...

HUME: Then it goes to the Senate.

EASTON: No, but I'm actually told, that the House can, actually this has never happened, but can take possession of the person. There's actually a...

(CROSSTALK)

HUME: Oh yeah that's right. That would mean -- so, presumably, we'd see the U.S. Capitol police over trying to...

EASTON: But any -- my point is that this could -- the -- I think at this point, that there -- no there wasn't corruption, but there was a lot of ineptitude, and it's in the White House interest to diffuse things that can turn...

BARNES: When they've gone this far, there's no way to diffuse it. I mean, the -- it's -- there are fires all over town, I mean, you can't put them all out at once. The president...

HUME: Yeah, I mean, it does suggest to me that you're thinking that if he just hadn't said those unkind things about witch hunts then everything would be OK?

EASTON: No, I think you can be forceful and you can say there's nothing to hide. We're turning everything over and you guys want to make a political show about it, but we're turning everything over.

BARNES: You have to start from this premise, as least I do, there is no scandal, there is no evidence of wrongdoing, there is no anything there. Democrats know this. They can't get any legislation passed so what do they have to do? They have to turn to these investigations, which have one goal in mind, and that's to weekend and crippled this president and this administration. And I'll have to say, they're off to a good start.

EASTON: But Fred, they're empowered. That's the problem.

KONDRACKE: Just a second. Look, wait a minute. Wait a minute.

All of these documents were handed over. They were documents from the White House to the Justice Department. If there's hanky-panky involved, if Karl Rove is writing, or some aide to Karl Rove is writing to Gonzales, saying fire this guy because he's investigating, you know, this Duke Cunningham investigation is going too far, you know, it's there.

(CROSSTALK)

Well, I know, but I mean, you know, if the follow on investigations, we want to stop this, if it's there in black and white, then they've got it -- then they've got a case otherwise...

HUME: Let's go back to -- finally here, before we wrap this up, to the question of Gonzales. He said, "he has support with me," he said that quite firmly. However, he also said that Gonzales is going to go up there and explain himself. Is it anybody's sense that the president is reserving final judgment until he sees how Gonzales performs?

BARNES: Of course.

HUME: Or is he going to stand by him, period?

BARNES: Well, look, if he goes up there and bumbles and fumbles, Gonzales is in trouble. The president...

HUME: Will he go up there and bumble and fumble -- Mort.

KONDRACKE: Well, I'm afraid he will and...

HUME: Why?

KONDRACKE: Because he's going to be under intense pressure. You know, I'm not sure that he's -- that his I.Q. is all that high and...

(CROSSTALK)

Well, I'm not sure that he's all that smart. I mean, the way he's been handling this stuff is not very -- it doesn't say good things about him.

HUME: Inspire confidence?

KONDRACKE: You know, he doesn't even know what his own chief of staff is doing when he's colluding with the White House about firing these people? You know, if he doesn't...

HUME: Colluding?

KONDRACKE: Well, you know, arranging, whatever you want to call it. He doesn't know what is going on in his own department. That's not evidence of brains.

HUME: So, is he -- so, the conventional view has been, this week, and on this panel, by you and others, that he's gone. Is he gone?

EASTON: The White House...

HUME: Eventually? Sooner or later?

EASTON: ...signals. I said last week he's gone, I still think he's going to be gone.

HUME: Gone?

KONDRACKE: He's better off today than he was...

HUME: Yesterday.

KONDRACKE: ...yesterday, and he may survive, but I think not.

BARNES: In trouble, but not gone.

HUME: When we come back with our panel, we'll talk about those YouTube political videos that are getting so much attention. Stick around, folks.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

HILLARY RODHAM CLINTON, (D-NY), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: But, I'm believing and trying to do it, and it really helps this conversation about this country to get started.

I'm going to keep this conversation going (INAUDIBLE) November, 2008.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

HUME: That folks, was an advertisement run by Apple Computer back in the 1980's to challenge the supremacy of IBM as the maker of personal computers and the idea was that you had all of these people marching in lockstep and it was adapted to make it appear that Hillary Clinton is running the similar campaign. It was posted by someone who, at the time, was anonymous to all who saw it on YouTube. But it was very cleverly done and very -- and technologically rather sophisticated, or so it seemed, and the next thing you know the thing was not only ricocheting around the Internet, but was being played on cable TV channels everywhere.

The Obama camp said we didn't have anything to do with it. The question arises about this sort of thing. When somebody puts a compelling video up there, the temptation is to use it. It is on thing if the video is old tape of the candidate, himself or herself, saying something that may contradict what they're saying now. This is something different, though. The question arises is -- how do -- what kind of standards should there be for picking this stuff up and using it?

KONDRACKE: Yeah, well...

BARNES: You're saying that wasn't a real campaign rally for Hillary?

(LAUGHTER)

Gee, I thought that was...

HUME: Well, what about it?

BARNES: Look Brit, you know what the rules are in journalism, now. Anything goes, there are no rules. They can put up anything that they want. There's no accountability. There are no roadblocks or restrictions, so anything you want to put on YouTube, go ahead.

And I see Obama -- you know, that woman throwing whatever it was -- a pickax or something...

HUME: Had an Obama shirt on.

BARNES: Had an Obama shirt on. While they denied authorship, Obama didn't seem to be -- he certainly didn't apologize, not that he had to. He didn't seem to be all that unhappy about it.

HUME: He didn't do it. There's no evidence the Obama campaign had anything to do with it.

(CROSSTALK)

HUME: It ends with the thing -- it gives Obama's Web site.

BARNES: And there's no evidence they were unhappy about it being on YouTube.

HUME: Well that may be, but the question is, should we as people to do television, right -- should we be taking this stuff off of the Internet -- origin unknown, and going with it? It is a knock on Hillary Clinton -- is it not there for an anonymous, unfair knock on her?

KONDRACKE: Yeah, my -- look, I think we're in for brave new world here. The name on that was "Hillary in 1984" and this really a brave new world of a whole new era when we don't know what the rules are. And my guess is that everybody who gets zapped with a nifty ad is going to be and victim on this (INAUDIBLE) ad...

HUME: This was not an ad!

KONDRACKE: It wasn't an ad, but it...

HUME: It looked like an ad.

KONDRACKE: It looked like an ad. Now look...

HUME: Didn't they have to...

KONDRACKE: There is worse. There is worse on the Internet. Also using the same old Apple commercial with -- it's a thing called, something like, "What a woman has to fear from Hillary Rodham Clinton," and it brings up the Juanita Broderick case, where, you know,...

HUME: OK, so...

KONDRACKE: ...really savage and vicious.

HUME: So, that should not be used, right?

KONDRACKE: I don't think it ought to be used. But the point is...

HUME: Should this have been used?

KONDRACKE: You know, I think it ought to be used as an example of what's to come because it's out there. Look, it is out there and it is going to get broadcast...

HUME: I know but, it is one thing for it something to make the rounds on the Internet. There is certainly an added note of credibility and legitimacy added when mainstream media organizations -- large national news organizations, like this one and others, pick the thing up. The question is, should they? Your thoughts -- Nina.

EASTON: Well, I think that's a -- I think they should. As Mort said, they have to -- it's in the public domain, we're going to see more of this. It's -- you know, that campaigns are going to lose -- are increasingly losing control of their own message, you sort of saw it with the swift boats and the Moveon.org on the other side during the 2004 campaign...

HUME: Yeah, but the swift boats were different. We knew who they were.

EASTON: They're independent -- we knew who they were...

HUME: They came forward by name. We could determine whether they were actually there at the time that they said Kerry did or did not do certain things. We knew who those guys were. We could look them up, we could find out about them. This was completely anonymous. Should that sort of thing be picked up?

EASTON: Well, it depends...

KONDRACKE: I'll agree with you. I will say no, but it doesn't make any difference what I say, because it's going to get used.

HUME: I know, but -- well, it makes a difference to me, Mort. I care about what you say. And you say, yes.

(CROSSTALK)

HUME: Fred.

BARNES: No.

KONDRACKE: Furthermore, Obama, if he's the man who he claims to be, ought to say, we don't do things like this.

HUME: The question first comes to us. Should we do this -- should we pick this stuff up?

BARNES: Of course not.

HUME: OK.

BARNES: But we're going to.

HUME: I've got two out of three.

For more visit the FOX News Special Report web page.

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