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Mike Huckabee, John McCain, Roundtable

Fox News Sunday

CHRIS WALLACE, HOST: I'm Chris Wallace. And this is "Fox News Sunday."

It's three weeks from Iowa and we have a pair of major candidates in a "Fox News Sunday" "You Decide '08" exclusive.

First, he started in the second tier. Now he's the frontrunner in some polls. We'll talk with Mike Huckabee about his astonishing rise.

Then we'll sit down with Arizona senator John McCain to discuss a campaign that is now on the rebound.

Also, Oprah campaigns for Obama this weekend. We'll have a report from the trail and explore the value of this celebrity endorsement with our Sunday regulars -- Brit Hume, Nina Easton, Bill Kristol and Juan Williams.

And our Power Player of the Week discusses religion in church and on the campaign trail, all right now on "Fox News Sunday."

And good morning again from Fox News in Washington. We continue our series "Choosing the President" today with two of the frontrunners for the Republican nomination. First, perhaps the biggest story in politics right now, Mike Huckabee.

Take a look at this new poll from Iowa where the former governor of Arkansas has soared to a 22-point lead over Mitt Romney. Well, joining us now from the campaign trail in Florida, the Cinderella man of the GOP race, Mike Huckabee.

And, Governor, welcome back to "Fox News Sunday."

HUCKABEE: Thank you very much, Chris. Great to be back.

WALLACE: As you rise in the polls, I don't have to tell you that your past is becoming more of an issue.

It now turns out that when you ran for the Senate back in 1992, you called for quarantining AIDS patients, you opposed increased federal funding to find a cure, and you also said that homosexuality was a, quote, "sinful lifestyle that could pose a dangerous health risk."

Do you stand by any of that now, Governor?

HUCKABEE: Chris, I didn't say that we should quarantine. I said it was the first time in public health protocols that when we had an infectious disease and we didn't really know just how extensive and how dramatic it could be and the impact of it, that we didn't isolate the carrier.

Now, the headlines yesterday started saying that I called for quarantines, which if you'll go back and read my comments, I did not.

I had simply made the point, and I still believe this today, that in the late '80s and early '90s, when we didn't know as much as we do now about AIDS, we were acting more out of political correctness than we were about the normal public health protocols that we would have acted -- as we have recently, for example, with avian flu, which -- I spent hours and hours, and months, in fact, as a governor dealing with a pandemic plan that we were looking at which called for isolating carriers if they contracted that disease.

WALLACE: But, Governor, forgive me. I don't think that's right. All the way back in 1985, this wasn't political correctness. The Centers for Disease Control back in '85, seven years before you made your statement, said that AIDS could not be spread by casual contact.

HUCKABEE: There was also the case of Kimberly Bergalis, who testified before Congress in 1991. She had contracted AIDS from her dentist.

We didn't think that there was a casual transmission. There were studies that showed that. But there were other concerns being voiced by public health officials.

Now, would I say things a little differently in 2007? Probably so. But I'm not going to recant or retract from the statement that I did make because, again, the point was not saying we ought to lock people up who have HIV/AIDS.

I knew people who had AIDS. I had a close friend who died of it in the 1980s. He was a hemophiliac. He contracted it through a blood transfusion. I had other friends of mine, one of whom passed away -- he was, in fact, homosexual.

But my point is that I was trying to talk about the different public health protocols that we were dealing with. I think what it really does show, though, is that when people are digging back into everything I've ever said and done -- and I understand that, it's part of the political process.

But what I'm not going to do is to go back and now try to change every story I've ever had. I'm going to simply say that that was exactly what I said. I don't run from it, don't recant from it.

Would I say it a little differently today? Sure, in light of 15 years of additional knowledge and understanding, I would.

WALLACE: Mitt Romney talked about his faith this week, and conservative columnist Charles Krauthammer wrote a column this week under the title "Huckabee plays the religion card."

He accused you of seeming to take the high road of tolerance by refusing to declare Mormonism a cult; indeed, declaring himself above the issue, yet clearly playing to that prejudice by leaving the question ambiguous while making sure everyone knows that he, for one, is a Christian leader.

Governor, Krauthammer says that you're exploiting religious differences for political gain.

HUCKABEE: You know, Charles is probably one of my very favorite columnists. I don't know of anybody who I love to read more than him, and I love almost every column he writes except the ones he writes about me.

In this case, he's just mistaken. I've not tried to say anything about Mitt Romney or anybody else. In fact, I've done everything I can to say I'll be happy to talk about my faith. I'm not going to evaluate someone else's.

In fact, if people will look through the entire record of my comments, they'll see me defending Hillary Clinton and her faith in this campaign. Several months ago when asked to sort of make a comment when she had talked about her Methodist faith, I defended her.

I said I have no reason to doubt her sincerity. In fact, I said that, you know, her faith may be practiced a little different in the Methodist church than mine is in a more almost charismatic Baptist church where I attend. But I said just because some people eat their soup louder than other people doesn't mean the soup tastes better.

Now, if I had defended Hillary Clinton and said let her defend her religion, let me defend mine -- I've done the same thing with Mitt Romney and the same thing I've done with any other candidate.

I think it's my responsibility to answer questions when they're posed to me if they're reasonable and in a context of being president. But I'm not going to go out there and start taking apart every other candidate's faith and trying to evaluate their theology.

WALLACE: I want to come at this a slightly different way, because this raises the whole question of prejudice and, as Krauthammer seemed to be saying, that you were playing the religion card.

Do you think it's intolerant -- do you think it's prejudice -- for voters -- I'm not asking you; for voters to consider the tenets of Mormonism in judging Mitt Romney?

HUCKABEE: I do think that's inappropriate. I think people should judge Mitt Romney on his record. Is he consistent? Does he say and believe the things now that he said and believed before? That's what ought to be the criteria.

I don't think his Mormonism ought to be a factor in it. And I wouldn't vote for or against somebody because they were Mormon. It simply wouldn't be that big of an issue for me.

If it is for others, they'll have to explain that. It isn't for me, and it shouldn't be for anyone.

WALLACE: Let's turn to immigration, because you put out a new immigration plan this week. You called for building...

HUCKABEE: Yes. WALLACE: ... a border fence, for cracking down on employers, for telling illegals to go home.

But last year in an interview, you said something somewhat different. You said this, "I think that the rational approach is to find a way to give people a pathway to citizenship."

Governor, in your new plan, the only path is to go home and to get on the back of the line, which, of course, would mean years of waiting. Why the change?

HUCKABEE: Well, I don't think there's an inconsistency. When I said a pathway, I didn't say what the pathway was.

I now believe that the only thing the American people are going to accept -- and, frankly, the only thing that really makes sense -- is a pathway that sends people back to the starting point.

But this idea of the waiting years -- no, I don't agree with that. In fact, look, if we can get a credit card application done within hours, if we can get passports done within days, if we can transact business over the Internet any place in the world within seconds, do a background check instantaneously -- it's our government that has failed and is dysfunctional.

It shouldn't take years to get a work permit to come here and pick lettuce. So part of the plan that I have is that we seal the borders. You don't have amnesty and sanctuary cities. You do have a pathway that gets you back home.

But that pathway to get back here legally doesn't take years. It would take days, maybe weeks, and then people could come back in the workforce.

Let me tell you why that's important. Two reasons. Number one, the American people say, "Do something. Do it now. We don't want to have this country ignoring the illegal problem." I get it.

Secondly, I want people who are in this country to hold their heads up high. You know, right now there are a lot of people who really are here because they're trying to feed their families. I don't begrudge them that.

I say every day I thank God I'm in a country people are trying to break into, not break out of. But let's give them a means by which they can get here through the door legally, and when they're here they don't have to hide, they don't have to keep their heads down and hope nobody catches them, they have their heads held high.

Everyone living within the borders of the United States ought to do so with dignity and with a sense of pride, not a sense of fear.

WALLACE: Governor, you got touched up this week when it turned out that you didn't know about the National Intelligence Estimate on Iran more than 24 hours after it was released. You said you'd been too busy on the campaign trail. But it reinforced doubts that some people have about your foreign policy experience. And let me ask you about that larger question.

HUCKABEE: OK.

WALLACE: This week you came out against waterboarding and you also came out for closing Guantanamo Bay because you said that it had become a, quote, "symbol," that it represents to the rest of the world about something bad about America.

As president, how important would foreign policy be -- rather, foreign opinion be in your determining your policies?

HUCKABEE: Well, I wouldn't let foreign opinion determine our policies, wouldn't let it dictate it. But we do have to make sure that we live in such a way as Americans that we have friends, not enemies, across the world.

And over the past several years, it seems as we've made even our friends our enemies. We've got to change that.

I don't want to ever give up one ounce of U.S. sovereignty. Our soldiers would never march to the orders of somebody else's generals. I wouldn't give up our territory. I wouldn't give up our rights. I wouldn't give up our strength.

In fact, I'd want to strengthen this country. I think the greatest way to export democracy is not to force it, but rather to build the best possible version of it right here so people are attracted to it.

But I also want to make clear that there is an important role that the United States has as the most powerful nation on earth militarily and economically, to act in such a way that people respect us and that people also realize that we are a great nation, not one that wants to push ourselves on others.

As it relates to that NIE report, it actually, I recall, was released at 10 o'clock that morning, and it was late that afternoon that I sat down with some reporters. You know, there's been a lot of talk about it.

There were 16 different intelligence agencies that contributed to that report. What I think it shows more than anything is not what I didn't know. It shows what our own intelligence community didn't know. They were confused. They had conflicting reports from 2003 to 2005.

One of the things that I would do as president is clearly try to make sure we get some better intelligence-gathering, and that we have more consistency, and that we have intelligence with greater credibility than we obviously have now.

WALLACE: Governor, we've only got a couple of minutes left. What do you make of the CIA destroying the tapes of those two investigations -- or those two interrogation interrogations? And as president, what would you do about it?

HUCKABEE: Well, it goes back to this whole issue whether or not we should have torture. You're about to have a guest on this program for whom I hold in high esteem, and that's Senator John McCain.

I think it's absurd, and I've said this many times, for anybody running for president to think they know more about torture than John McCain.

One of the reasons that I came out this week -- and I had said so earlier, but nobody was paying attention. Now people are paying attention to what I'm saying. But I don't believe that we ought to torture. I think it's a policy that is beneath us. It is obviously unproductive.

And every single military person with whom I've spoken, people who actually have been trained and who have been on either side of this issue, either being tortured or being asked to do it -- I've got to tell you, I can't find anybody who says that ought to be the policy of the United States.

So when we start destroying documents, what are we destroying them for? Are we doing it for security purposes or to cover somebody's rear end?

If we're covering somebody's rear end, we need to expose their rear end and kick their rear end for doing something that's against the best interest of the United States and the responsibility and the respectability of this country.

WALLACE: Governor Huckabee, we're going to have to leave it there. I want to thank you for joining us, as always, for giving us some straight answers, and we'll see you along the campaign trail, sir.

HUCKABEE: Chris, I look forward to it. Thank you.

WALLACE: Up next, the candidate well positioned to pull off an upset in New Hampshire or a big win in South Carolina -- we'll talk with Senator John McCain when we come right back.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

WALLACE: We're joined now by another of the top Republican contenders, Senator John McCain, who's also on the campaign trail in Florida.

And, Senator, welcome back.

MCCAIN: Thank you, Chris.

WALLACE: Let's start with this report that the CIA destroyed tapes of its interrogation of two terror detainees.

Do you believe that the agency was trying to hide what may have been actions against the law?

MCCAIN: I do not know. But the actions, I think, were absolutely wrong. I'm glad that the attorney general is going to investigate it.

Chris, what this does in a larger sense is it harms the credibility and the moral standing of America in the world again. There will be skepticism and cynicism all over the world about how we treat prisoners and whether we practice torture or not.

Could I just mention to you that in Iraq, I met a former high- ranking member of Al Qaida? He said two things really helped them in the past several years.

One was the total chaos that existed in Iraq after our military victory, and the second was Abu Ghraib. He said it was the best recruiting tool that they had in motivating people to join their cause to kill Americans.

This destruction of tapes is now going to contribute to the cynicism and skepticism that people have all over the world, and we're in an ideological struggle. This can't help us in the ideological struggle we're in against radical Islamic extremism.

WALLACE: Now, CIA director Hayden says the tapes were destroyed to protect the safety, the identity, of the officers involved in the interrogation in case those tapes should leak out. Do you buy that, sir?

MCCAIN: I think it should be investigated. We certainly want to do everything we can to protect the identities of these brave people who are serving our country in the CIA.

But he was advised not to do it by several people, including, I understand, high-ranking members of the administration. And did the tapes have to be completely destroyed? All of that is going to come out in the investigation.

But we're also setting up a false argument here between torture and moral high ground. That doesn't have to be. We have to keep the moral high ground. We can do it without torturing people.

Torture gives you reliable and unreliable information. That's the reason why most people in the world don't do it. That's why I met with the head of the prisons in Iraq who said the Army Field Manual gives them every tool they need to get the information that they need.

So this idea that you have to torture people in order to protect national security is a false argument, and I reject it.

And at the end of the day, torture can harm us in the big war struggle we're in against radical Islamic extremism.

WALLACE: Senator, let's turn to another intelligence issue. As you well know, the new National Intelligence Estimate was released this week which indicated that all the way back in 2003, they say with a high -- with high confidence, Iran halted its nuclear weapons program.

It has continued enriching uranium, but it had halted the weapons program. Does that basically now take the military option off the table?

MCCAIN: The military option is always the ultimate last option, but I don't believe that it's, quote, "off the table."

I would remind you that enrichment is a longer process. Weaponization, which is the other half of the equation, can be done rather rapidly.

Iran remains a nation dedicated to the extinction of the state of Israel. Iran continues to export the most lethal explosive devices into Iraq, killing Americans.

They continue to be a state sponsor of terror in the case of Hamas and Hezbollah. And they intend to -- they continue to seek to exert influence throughout the entire region and the age-old ambition of Persian hegemony, including their increasing influence in the Basra area in southern Iraq.

So I think they remain a significant threat and challenge, and so, no, I wouldn't take the option, quote, "off the table," and I'm glad to see some of the European friends are staying in there with us in the need for sanctions.

WALLACE: Well, but let me ask you about that, because even some neocons like Robert Kagan are saying that this is going to have -- this National Intelligence Estimate and the fact that Iran has not since 2003 had a weapons program is going to have such a dramatic effect on international opinion that the best thing the U.S. could do now is directly negotiate with Iran without preconditions.

What do you think of that?

MCCAIN: I have the greatest respect for Bob Kagan. I saw the reaction of Chancellor Merkel and President Sarkozy which I think was -- that they were very skeptical, and they think that the Iranians still pose a significant threat.

And look. The most overrated aspect of our dialogue about international relations is direct face-to-face talks. BlackBerries work. Emissaries work. There's many thousands of ways to communicate.

The question is are you going to have direct talks, and does that enhance the prestige of the president of Iran, who has said all these things about us, and has announced his country's continued distinction to the extinction of the state of Israel, or does it reach a successful conclusion?

That's the question you have to ask when you talk about, quote, "face- to-face talks."

So anyway, I'd remind you that when we stopped the bombing in Vietnam, we were going to talk in Paris. It took 2.5 years because of the shape of the table. Bombing started of Hanoi. And guess what? Negotiations started again.

WALLACE: Let me turn to another subject. Mitt Romney is putting out a mailer in New Hampshire now that says that you support Social Security benefits for illegals, which is not true.

I want to ask you -- I'm going to test your straight talk express.

MCCAIN: Sure.

WALLACE: What do you think of Mitt Romney?

MCCAIN: I think he's a good man. Everything I know about him, which is not a lot -- I've only met him on several occasions -- is that he is a good man. In straight talk, I do know that he has changed many of his positions from those he held previously.

But that is something he has to explain to the voters, not to me.

WALLACE: And what do you think of this mailer that he's putting out saying that you support amnesty and that you also support giving Social Security benefits to illegal immigrants?

MCCAIN: Of course, neither is true. But maybe it means that he's getting a little concerned about where we're moving in the polls in New Hampshire, which we are pleased about.

WALLACE: Well, let me ask you about that. Let's talk a little bit of horse race in the moments we have left, Senator. You, last time you were on this show, said flatly that you're going to win New Hampshire. Do you stick by that?

MCCAIN: Yes, sir. Yes, sir. And I'm going to convince the voters that I'm the one who understands the challenges of the 21st century, with radical Islamic extremism and two wars. I have the experience and the judgment.

And I'm also going to try to convince them that I'm the conservative that can defeat the Democrat a year from -- less than a year from now.

WALLACE: You -- and I don't have to tell you -- have very limited resources. Are you going to have to make a tough decision in the next few days whether or not to pull the plug in Iowa and to focus your resources in New Hampshire and South Carolina?

MCCAIN: No, I don't think so, Chris. We're going to be out there for a debate, as you know, in just a few days. And we'll be doing some town hall meetings out there.

Look, we're struggling in Iowa. I understand that. I don't support ethanol subsidies and other farm subsidies. I think they need to be phased out.

But there's a lot of good people out there. We've got a great organization on the ground and a lot of support. And you know, we'll keep fighting, my friend.

WALLACE: Finally, one of the keys to your victory over George W. Bush in the New Hampshire primary back in 2000 was the fact that you had a lot of support from independents who in New Hampshire can vote in either party.

This time, you've got a tough race in the Democratic side as well. A lot of independents look and like Barack Obama. Could that conceivably siphon some of the independent support from you, sir?

MCCAIN: I just think that's too early to tell, you know, at this time. In 2000, it was whether it was going to be Senator Bill Bradley or me.

I can tell you that I detect increased enthusiasm at town hall meetings. The turnouts, the stops at the diners, and the restaurants, and the stores and stuff -- I can detect it.

Now, whether it's wishful thinking on my part, which probably part of it is -- a little straight talk. But I'm pleased with the way things are going, and I'm loving this part of it, because now people are really getting engaged.

And the town hall meetings -- they're tough -- tough questions. And we're having a lot of fun. This is the part of it that for me is what America and democracy is all about, and I'm loving every minute of it, seriously. WALLACE: When you see the kind of fluidity that we're seeing in the Republican race, with Huckabee surging from nowhere up to a lead -- you drop, now you're coming back up -- is it just possible that the base of the Republican Party really isn't all that sold on any of the five frontrunners?

MCCAIN: I think part of it is that there's no establishment candidate. We Republicans, for -- since going back to Reagan, we've sort of had the establishment candidate each time.

When you go through them, you know, Bush 1, Dole, Bush 2, et cetera -- and there's not one this time. And there's a lot of issues out there.

But have no doubt that our base is angry about spending. Our base is not happy with our performance. I mean, there's no doubt about that.

WALLACE: Senator McCain, we're going to have to leave it there. We want to thank you so much for taking a break from the campaign to be with us, and we hope to see you again soon, sir.

MCCAIN: Thanks again, Chris.

WALLACE: If you're wondering why you haven't seen more Democratic frontrunners besides Hillary Clinton on the show, well, we're wondering, too.

We extended invitations this week, as we have throughout the campaign, to Barack Obama and John Edwards to appear on our program, but they have turned us down every time. We'll keep trying.

Coming up, the Oprah factor. How much will she help Obama? We'll see her in action and get analysis from our Sunday panel. All that after these messages.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

WALLACE: This remarkable campaign has taken another twist this weekend with one of America's most popular figures, Oprah Winfrey, out on the trail to support her candidate, Barack Obama.

Fox News correspondent Major Garrett is along for the ride.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

MAJOR GARRETT: Oprah Winfrey stepped a bit timidly into the world of presidential politics, trying to coax legions of middle-aged women, the most reliable of all Iowa caucus-goers, onto the Barack Obama bandwagon.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

OPRAH WINFREY: And it feels like I'm out of my pew, I'm out of my terrain. Backstage somebody said, "Are you nervous?" I go, "You damn right I'm nervous."

(LAUGHTER)

(END VIDEO CLIP)

GARRETT: For Oprah, doing something different means measuring experience differently.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

WINFREY: I challenge you to see through those people who try and convince you that experience with politics as usual is more valuable than wisdom won from years of serving people outside the walls of Washington, D.C.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

GARRETT: With that echo of a longstanding Obama dig at Hillary Clinton, Oprah dug in a bit deeper on Clinton's vote for the war.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

WINFREY: And long before it was the popular thing to do, he stood with clarity and conviction against this war in Iraq.

(APPLAUSE) (END VIDEO CLIP)

GARRETT: For Obama, there wasn't much to do but bask in his moment and try to make it Iowa's. Later in Cedar Rapids, another sellout.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

OBAMA: Now's our time to stand up.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

GARRETT: Hillary Clinton brought her mother, Dorothy, and daughter, Chelsea, to Iowa, stopping for breakfast in Des Moines. She waved off a question on the Oprah effect.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

CLINTON: I'm having a good time. I'm not sure I'm going to eat all of this in front of all of you.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

GARRETT: Former president Clinton was in South Carolina one day ahead of today's Obama-Oprah event in this stadium in Columbia, South Carolina. Upwards of 80,000 people are expected.

For "Fox News Sunday," I'm Major Garrett.

Chris?

(END VIDEOTAPE)

WALLACE: Thanks so much, Major.

And it's time now for our Sunday group -- Brit Hume, Washington managing editor of Fox News, and Fox News contributors Nina Easton of Fortune Magazine, Bill Kristol of The Weekly Standard, and Juan Williams from National Public Radio.

Well, there are celebrities and then there's Oprah. I was doing a little bit of research this week, and 46 million people watch her for at least a few minutes every week. I must say occasionally I watch her.

In Iowa, more people watch her in the afternoon than watch either ABC or NBC prime time at night. And of course, we all know that she can instantly make a book a best-seller.

So, Brit, do you think there's an Oprah factor in politics?

HUME: I think there is now. I wouldn't have said so a week ago or two weeks ago, but I think there is now. She has uncommon access to people, beyond almost -- she's a mega celebrity, really, beyond almost anyone we can think of. The only question I would have is this. You saw the enthusiastic reaction of those people who were Obama fans anyway, suggesting that this is going to go very well.

But the Iowa caucus-goers are a strikingly independent, serious- minded group of people, and they may not be quite the same people, at least all of them, who sit and watch Oprah in the afternoon.

So it's possible that the target audience may be less susceptible to Oprah's appeal, which is considerable, than ordinary Iowans.

EASTON: I mean, I think it is dangerous sometimes when you see these big crowds and there's a celebrity there. We saw that with Springsteen and John Kerry in 2004.

But yes, I think she does carry more weight than your typical celebrity. There was a Pew research poll that came out that said 17 percent of women and 28 percent of blacks would actually be more inclined to support a candidate if she had her stamp of approval. Now, those may be already Obama supporters. Who knows?

What's really interesting about this, too, though, is that Barack Obama is trying to go after Hillary's women base, which is really what's building her lead. And that's going to have an impact in Iowa and New Hampshire.

But what people also don't know is that she actually does better among blacks than Obama does. And this may help him a little bit in some of those other states where she was counting on leads, like...

WALLACE: Particularly like South Carolina...

EASTON: ... the South Carolina -- yes.

WALLACE: ... where African-Americans are such a huge part of the Democratic vote.

But I must say it's more than just these rallies, Bill, because I was reading that the Obama camp is trying to use these appearances as an organizing tool.

They gave VIP tickets to these rallies to people who have been big Obama supporters. They gave tickets to people who have gone to his, Obama's, caucus camps where he teaches people how to caucus.

So could this have an effect in mobilizing his support?

KRISTOL: It could. And you know, Steve Hayes from our magazine was out in Iowa with Obama this week. Obama is thought by people who know Iowa politics to have a very good grassroots operation, perhaps better than Hillary Clinton's.

So it's not just a matter of excitement and big crowds and college students. I think the reason Obama is now ahead of Clinton in the polls is that he's got both. He's got the excitement and he has a real campaign very well run by David Axelrod, a real organization, and I think he's going to win Iowa.

WALLACE: You're on the record now? He's going to win Iowa?

KRISTOL: I think he should. I mean, you never know. At this stage in 2004, 42 percent of Iowa Democratic caucus-goers had not made up their mind.

In the exit polls, about 40 percent or more had made up their mind in the last two weeks. So obviously it's silly to make a firm prediction, but I think he's probably ahead by a little. He has momentum.

I think the Clinton campaign has had a tough time dealing with him. I mean, remember when Bradley caught up to Gore in Iowa at one point about two months out, and then Gore went after Bradley hard on health care.

It's a little tricky to go after Obama in the way that Gore went after Bradley, because Obama could maybe jujitsu that -- you know, this is the old politics of personal destruction, to use a phrase that the Clintons are familiar with, I'm above that.

He's run a very clever campaign, I think.

WILLIAMS: I think he's running an extremely impressive campaign. And so Axelrod -- but Obama the candidate deserves a great deal of attention.

But unlike you, I think the margin of error is pretty close between Obama and Clinton in Iowa. And clearly, she still has a substantial lead nationwide, so I'm not buying that the campaign is in the bag for Mr. Obama.

But when you think about what Oprah Winfrey is doing, Oprah Winfrey's impact, I think, is to bring newcomers into the game. There's some rewards for people who are part of that structure that you mentioned that has been put in place so effectively by Obama in Iowa.

But really, what she does is bring people in who may be on the fence or weren't going to go to a caucus, and specifically dealing with women. And so when she says this thing about -- you saw that sign that she had up there in front of her that said, you know, change we can believe in.

When she talks about being tired of the status quo, I think she's appealing to people who feel disaffected from the political process and saying that Obama is the real change agent in the campaign.

WALLACE: Meanwhile, on the Republican side, the big news this week was Mitt Romney's speech about his faith. Let's take a look.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

ROMNEY: I believe in my Mormon faith and I endeavor to live by it. My faith is the faith of my fathers. I will be true to them and to my beliefs.

Some believe that such a confession of my faith will sink my candidacy. If they're right, so be it. But I think they underestimate the American people.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

WALLACE: Brit, despite the Romney camp's denials, clearly, one of the reasons that he made this speech is because he's getting dinged up in Iowa and other places by the Christian evangelical support for Mike Huckabee.

Do you think this helps him with that group of voters?

HUME: I think unquestionably it helps with that particular group of voters. Iowa is a sweet spot, really, for Mike Huckabee. The composition of the Republican electorate out there is heavily Christian, conservative. Mike Huckabee is a natural candidate for them to favor.

People in the primary voting season tend to go with the person who is most closely aligned with their own views and, in some respects, their own selves.

But down the road, and perhaps in Iowa as well, this speech, which was well written, well delivered and, I think we can all agree, quite well received will certainly help Romney. And it may have the effect in the long run of simply taking his faith off the table.

WILLIAMS: I didn't think it was well received. I mean, I think that there were people who said, "Oh, you know, it's going to be something like what JFK did back in '60." And I didn't think so at all.

I think that this was a guy who was playing the victim card, making everybody who had questions out to be some kind of religious bigot, as if there's an attack on Christians nationwide in America and that he's standing up.

HUME: Wait a minute. Could you just give me some quote or portion of the speech...

WILLIAMS: When he talks about there's a pressure to create some kind of secular nation and not to allow people to express their religious faith, what is he talking about?

It seems to me this is a guy who, you know, has flip-flopped all along. His problem is not Mike Huckabee and Mike Huckabee being a Baptist minister. No.

His problem is that he has not stood strong in terms of conservative conviction and principle, and people are calling...

HUME: Well, that's a different issue.

WILLIAMS: And that's why Huckabee's going up in the polls and he's going down.

HUME: That's a different issue from this speech.

WALLACE: All right. Let me add a couple of things. We have a couple of other clips from his speech that haven't been quite as well received. Let's put them up on the...

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

ROMNEY: Freedom requires religion just as religion requires freedom.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

ROMNEY: I believe that Jesus Christ is the son of God and the savior of mankind.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

WALLACE: Bill Kristol, let me ask you about that, because he says -- Romney says there should be no religious test for office. Some people cite some of those statements as contradicting that.

KRISTOL: I think he's entitled to give us his personal religious views while saying there shouldn't be a religious test. I thought it was a perfectly fine speech. I don't think it will change things.

Look, the big story isn't...

WALLACE: But wasn't part of the argument that he was basically saying to the Christian evangelicals, "I'm as Christian as Mike Huckabee?"

KRISTOL: No. He was saying he respects -- well, that he is a believer in Jesus and that his faith is important to him, both of which I think are true and fair for him to say.

But I think there's an awful -- kind of a patronizing tone about the Christian evangelicals and about Mike Huckabee. Mike Huckabee is second in the national polls. He's not just popular in Iowa where there happen to be, according to people inside the Beltway, a lot of wacky Christian evangelicals.

Huckabee is rising everywhere. He has been a very good candidate. He's not particularly my favorite. But you've got to give credit where credit is due. He is running a heck of a campaign, and it's not just in Iowa.

He's second in every national poll since Thanksgiving. Romney's problem is that he hasn't been able to rise in the national polls, though spending about, what, 20 times more money than Mike Huckabee.

WILLIAMS: How many ads has he had?

WALLACE: Nina?

EASTON: Full disclosure, my husband is a Romney adviser.

But I think on the Romney speech, I think short term it could hurt, just in that it reminds people that he is Mormon.

But I think long term, it was a chance for people to see who he really is. I mean, he looked presidential. I've had a number of people come up to me and say that he -- that they thought they saw a glimpse of the real Romney for once.

And I thought, you know, it was a good moment for him, and I do think it will have some long-term impact.

WALLACE: All right. We need to take a quick break here.

But coming up, did the CIA destroy videotapes of terrorist investigations to cover up wrongdoing or to protect its own officers? A fair and balanced debate when we come back.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

WALLACE: On this day in 1990, anti-communist leader Lech Walesa was elected president of Poland in a landslide. Walesa was president for five years and helped guide Poland into a free market economy.

Stay tuned for more panel and our Power Player of the Week.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

KENNEDY: When the new Democratic Congress is demanding answers, the administration is feverishly covering up its tracks. We haven't seen anything like this since the 18.5-minute gap in the tapes of President Richard Nixon.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

WALLACE: That was Massachusetts senator Ted Kennedy's reaction to word that the CIA destroyed videotapes of its interrogation of two terrorism suspects.

And we're back now with Brit, Nina, Bill and Juan.

So we now learn that back in 2005, the CIA destroyed tapes of these two interrogations. You've got one argument from Ted Kennedy and others that it's a cover-up, another argument from CIA director Hayden that it was done to protect the safety of the officers involved in the interrogation.

Brit, which argument do you find more persuasive?

HUME: Well, you've got to feel sorry a little bit for Kennedy. He seems so out of tune with some of the facts.

He says this is done while the new Democratic Congress was seeking new information. In fact, it happened during the old Republican Congress. So that's out the window, just to cite one example.

And you know, my sense about this is that Hayden's explanation doesn't quite get it done. It may be right, but one sense is that knowledge of these interrogations and the techniques used and so forth is there, that, as somebody suggested, you could probably hold on to the tapes, work on them so that the identities of the questioners are obliterated, and then destroy the originals or whatever, so you wonder.

But I don't think we really know. And what's puzzling about this is - - despite Senator Kennedy's claims, is the White House and Justice Department, the Bush White House and the Gonzales Justice Department, we're now given to believe, urged the CIA not to do this. The CIA went ahead and did it anyway.

WALLACE: Well, in fairness, it wasn't the CIA director, Porter Goss at the time. He supposedly didn't know anything about it.

HUME: Right.

WALLACE: It was the director of operations.

HUME: Now, we wonder what kind of authority he had to do that, whether this was in his authority, whether he needed to secure permission, why advice was sought, and apparently it was, from the Justice Department and the White House on this.

So there's a lot yet to learn. We're just at the beginning of this.

EASTON: Yes, I think there's a lot of questions that on a broader level -- and another piece of this story that's come out today is that in 2002, senior members of Congress were briefed about water boarding, including Democrats, including Nancy Pelosi, and reportedly there were some members of Congress that thought the interrogation techniques should be even rougher.

HUME: Democratic members of Congress. EASTON: And I think this all goes to this broader question. There's a terrorist analyst in 2002 -- I remember reading this -- Bruce Hoffman, who said this is a different kind of war and it's going to test the precepts of this humanitarian democracy that we've built.

And at the time -- I think what this all shows is at the time, when there was an imminent threat, there was much more stomach for these kinds of techniques. And then we get out and -- you know, many years later, and it's starting -- all these questions are starting to surface about it and all those criticisms are starting to surface by some of the same people who supported it.

KRISTOL: These tapes were destroyed at the direction of the director of clandestine operations at the CIA, a 24-year CIA veteran praised on his retirement earlier this year by the Democratic chairman of the House Intelligence Committee.

The idea that Ted Kennedy -- the idea that this is like Watergate, it's politically motivated, is on its face ludicrous. Ted Kennedy should be ashamed of himself, but I don't know if that's possible.

Look. We don't know what's on those tapes. These tapes apparently were destroyed shortly after the existence of the secret prisons abroad was leaked. Obviously, people in the CIA were very concerned about leaks.

There could be very sensitive information on these tapes. Zubaydah may have given up the names of people whom we then turned -- whom we, you know, bugged, who we eavesdropped on. That could have been the real fear, that really important American intelligence assets would be revealed if these tapes or transcripts of these tapes were leaked.

And I do not think it is unreasonable...

WALLACE: Why aren't you the spokesman for the CIA?

KRISTOL: I do not think...

WALLACE: That's the best argument I've heard so far.

KRISTOL: Well, yes. Well, I don't know quite -- I mean, maybe -- well, you can't say that if that's true, because, you know, again, that gives out way too much more information.

So maybe Director Hayden was right to simply say we wanted to make sure there was no trouble for the people doing the interrogations. But we don't know what's on those tapes, and I think it was probably prudent to destroy them. Nothing could have been gained by keeping them around.

WILLIAMS: Well, wait a second. Wait a second. First of all, I agree with Chris. I like your argument, if that's the case, but let me know.

But Director Hayden didn't say that. He said it was to protect the identities of the people doing the interrogations.

KRISTOL: Well, he's not going to tell -- he's not going to tell some guy in Pakistan or Afghanistan that we might be -- have cottoned onto him because Zubaydah gave away his name.

WILLIAMS: He wouldn't have done that. He wouldn't have done that. He would have indicated in the course of a Democratic government exactly why he was taking the action that he did.

WALLACE: I love that we're arguing now about an explanation that hasn't been given...

(LAUGHTER)

... and that Bill Kristol just made up.

KRISTOL: I don't want a job as CIA spokesman, though. I want to make that clear.

WILLIAMS: But the hard case to be made here is that there was a judge who requested such tapes and such information about interrogation.

WALLACE: As did the 9/11 Commission.

WILLIAMS: And the 9/11 Commission, and Congress. And so this was destroyed, I think, in defiance of legitimate accountability standards, and saying -- it was a thumb in the eye to anybody who was saying, "We want to know what you're doing."

So unless they're going to be a runaway agency, I don't think you can defend them.

HUME: The other question is this. There has been a running conflict between the Bush administration and intelligence agencies, especially the CIA, which the administration has suspected of trying to undermine its policies because key players out there didn't agree with the policies on the Iraq war and on other things.

It's hard to tell whether this is another chapter in that or not. It doesn't look like it on the face of it, because what we have is the kind of aggressive interrogation techniques that the president has consistently and repeatedly defended.

So this is -- you know, my sense about this is that we can have an interesting conversation about this, but until we know more, it's awfully hard to judge.

WALLACE: But let me just, Nina, bring in another issue, because that segues perfectly into the National Intelligence Estimate that was released this week which contradicted one from two years ago saying that Iran gave up its weapons program -- not its uranium enrichment, but its weapons program -- all the way back in 2003.

Question: What does this do to the administration's Iran policy? EASTON: I think it complicates efforts, that we were almost in a consensus internationally about what to do with Iran. But the NIE report did not say that Iran is not still a threat. I mean, it said there isn't a weapons program.

It said that they still have the technology, the enrichment technology. It still poses a threat. It's still a threat. Their Arab neighbors and Israel still consider the country a threat.

But one of the interesting things that it also, I think, brings up is that in 2003, there's some thinking that the weapons program was stopped because a -- the elite, the thinking elite in Iran, was objecting and embarrassed that its regime was hiding things from international weapons inspectors.

And so I think it does show that there's a more -- that this is a complicated country and that there are lots of avenues to look at, not just -- and there's probably some carrot avenues to look at, not just stick.

KRISTOL: Well, if Iran halted the weapons part of its nuclear program in 2003, one has to ask what happened in 2003. Why might they have thought it as a prudent idea to put this on hold for a while?

I believe we invaded a neighboring country in 2003 and removed their dictator, and that sent shock waves through the region. And at the time people were quite worried. Gadhafi gave up his program. He dismantled his. We took it out.

Iran didn't dismantle anything. That's why it remains a threat. They halted it. Maybe they've restarted it; maybe not. But this is yet another feather in the cap for the invasion of Iraq, it seems to me.

I mean, those who are happy...

WILLIAMS: What's this argument? So you want us to start invading everybody everywhere, that will stop all kind of nuclear proliferation around the world?

KRISTOL: Well, if the invasion of Iraq got Gadhafi to give up Libya's program and got Iran to halt their program, that's a pretty good thing.

WILLIAMS: Look. You are the iron glove here. You want to beat everybody up.

But I think that what we are on the verge of here is an opportunity to once again, really -- and I think this is what Robert Kagan said in the column that Chris Wallace mentioned earlier -- have direct talks, really help to get this thing started, because from what we know, if they had halted development of any weaponry in 2003, as the report says, well, they can't have anything going before 2010.

So that means that, really, now it's the next administration that will have to deal with it, and this administration -- really like Nixon to China, this administration could be the ones who go to Iran and say, "Let's talk and let's see what we can work out here between the U.S. and Iran."

WALLACE: We've got to leave it there. And guess what? You get the last word again. You played out the clock.

Thank you, panel. See you next week.

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