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updated 1/8/2006 2:06:24 PM ET 2006-01-08T19:06:24

MR. TIM RUSSERT: Our issues this Sunday—with ethical charges swirling, Congressman Tom DeLay will not return as House majority leader. Washington lobbyists and fund-raiser Jack Abramoff pleads guilty to fraud, conspiracy and tax evasion. And the hearings for Supreme Court nominee Samuel Alito begin on Monday.

With us, two key members of the Senate Judiciary Committee, Republican John Cornyn of Texas, Democrat Chuck Schumer of New York. Then a debate over abortion rights and the role of women in society. With us, author of “With Liberty and Justice For All,” Kate Michelman. Author of “Women Who Make The World Worse,” Kate O’Beirne. The two Kates square off. Then The New York Times reporter who broke the story of the president ordering domestic wiretapping without court approval has a new book “State Of War: A Secret History of the CIA and the Bush Administration,” with us, James Risen.

But first under pressure from fellow Republicans, Tom DeLay announced yesterday he would not seek to regain his House majority leader post.

(Videotape, January 7, 2006):

REP. TOM DeLAY, (R-TX): Earlier today, I asked Speaker Hastert to convene the House Republican conference as soon as possible for the purpose of electing a new majority leader.

The job of majority leader is too important to be hamstrung by personal distractions.

(End videotape)

MR. RUSSERT: Senator Cornyn, why did your fellow Texan make that decision?

SEN. JOHN CORNYN, (R-TX): Well, I think Mr. DeLay had hoped to have the criminal charges made against him resolved by a quick trial, but that did not appear to be possible. So out of respect for the House and for the nation, he’s chose to put their interests ahead of his own, and I respect him for that.

MR. RUSSERT: Do you think his name being linked with Jack Abramoff who pleaded guilty to multiple felonies last week also was a reason?

SEN. CORNYN: It’s not clear exactly how that all is going to play out, but perhaps that played a part in his decision. But I think he made the right decision.

MR. RUSSERT: How much will the issue of corruption play in the November ’06 congressional elections?

SEN. CHARLES SCHUMER, (D-NY): Yeah, I think, Tim, it’s going to play a great deal, both in itself. After all, when the Republican Party took power in 1994, it was a party of change, and the Democrats were regarded as the party of the status quo and involved in all these various little scandals. And now it seems to have flipped.

Corruption matters in two ways. Obviously, it’s bad in itself, but it also indicates a status quo situation, that a party of change is there too long, becomes too enmeshed in the Washington power structure. And the public, America, Tim, says America’s headed in the wrong direction, and we, Democrats, stand for change not only in trying to clean up this lobbying and corruption but on the meat and potatoes issues like energy costs and prescription drugs and health care. And I think they’re going to be tied together and it’s going to be a good Democratic year in 2006 at least if things continue as they are now.

MR. RUSSERT: Do you think Tom DeLay will run for re-election to his House seat?

SEN. SCHUMER: Well, you’d have to ask him that, but if he does, he becomes part of a symbol of too much entrenched power and need for checks and balances and need for change.

MR. RUSSERT: Would it be better for the Republican Party if Tom DeLay did not seek re-election?

SEN. CORNYN: I think, you know, what would be best if we allow the process to run its course, the charges against him—there’s a lot of informed judgment that he actually will be acquitted of those charges, but I know that Senator Schumer and his party would like to claim that this is somehow systemic, but the truth is right now all we know is that individuals, like Mr. Abramoff, had plead guilty. Others are standing on their right a presumption of innocence and insisting on a trial, and we’ll find out how the chips fall.

MR. RUSSERT: Senator Harry Reid, the leader of the Democrats in the Senate, received $60,000 from Jack Abramoff, says he won’t give it back. Why not?

SEN. SCHUMER: Well, he hasn’t received any money from Jack Abramoff. In fact, I talked to Harry Reid.

MR. RUSSERT: Well, tribal clients. I mean...

SEN. SCHUMER: Well, but the tribal clients are sometimes different. I mean, lots of senators, Democrat and Republican in the West, have relationships—particularly in the West, have relationships with the Indian tribes. And let me say this: The issue here is not simply receiving contributions. The issue is whether services were rendered in return. That’s what the Justice Department is mentioning. The Justice Department has mentioned the names of a group of people—John is certainly right; it’s not everybody, but every single person they mentioned was a Republican. Harry Reid’s name was not mentioned. He’s a person of integrity and I don’t think the two are at all the same.

MR. RUSSERT: But wouldn’t it better for the Democrats for Senator Reid to return that money, the way other Democrats have, just to avoid any sense of taint?

SEN. SCHUMER: Well, let me say, when these things happen—and you’ve been around Washington a long time, Tim—you know, there’s all sorts of allegations bandied about, many of them false and many of them put out by political opponents, and some people do return the money because they feel, “Oh, gee, I don’t want to deal with all those false allegations.”  Others say, “I’ve done nothing wrong, I’m not going to.”  That’s the type of person Harry Reid is. He’s done nothing wrong. He’s a person of integrity. In fact, next week, he’s going to be unveiling a whole plan to clear up the corruption, particularly with lobbyists in Washington. He’s on the right side. He’s on the force for change. And if the Republican leadership would allow his bill or a bill of their choosing like it to come to the floor, I think we could do a lot to eliminate these kinds of problems.

MR. RUSSERT: Senator Cornyn, your name surfaced as receiving $1,000 from associates of Jack Abramoff. And Ralph Reed, an associate of Mr. Abramoff, was quoted as saying that he helped “choreograph” a response for you when you were attorney general towards a tribal problem. Will you give that money back?

SEN. CORNYN: Tim, it was a legal contribution. I don’t plan on giving it back, which is—you know, to listen to Chuck and to try to have it both ways and say this is a partisan issue—you know, Jack Abramoff and the people, his clients, made bipartisan contributions and through—as long as they’re legal and appropriately reported, I don’t see any reason to give them back. On the Reed e-mail—and this is not Harry Reid, but...

SEN. SCHUMER: R-E-E-D of the—yeah.

MR. RUSSERT: Ralph Reed, formerly of the Christian Coalition.

SEN. CORNYN: Exactly. Those e-mails came out three years after I, as attorney general of Texas, filed an injunction to enforce Texas law against casino gambling. We prevailed because the law was in our favor, and then after the fact, apparently, there were these e-mails I had no knowledge of where Reed and Abramoff were somehow claiming credit and then bilking their Indian clients for millions of dollars, apparently. And I certainly disapprove of that, did not know anything about it.

MR. RUSSERT: Let me turn to the nomination of Samuel Alito to the Supreme Court. The hearings begin tomorrow. Senator Schumer, back in 2001 you wrote a letter to President Bush and you said this: “The ABA evaluation has been the gold standard by which judicial candidates are judged...”

Gold standard.

SEN. SCHUMER: Yes.

MR. RUSSERT: And now we have this from the ABA: “Samuel A. Alito Jr. (nominated 11/10/05), to be an associate justice to the U.S. Supreme Court. Rating: ‘Well qualified’ by unanimous vote of the standing committee” of the ABA. It’s the gold standard. He’s rated well qualified. Game, set, match.

SEN. SCHUMER: Not quite, Tim. Don’t push it. Not that fast. Let me say this: The bar association is the gold standard for the two things they measure, competence—in other words, their qualifications—and their judicial temperament. Judge Alito certainly has a judicial temperament. He went to I think it is Princeton—Right? -- Yale Law School. Very bright man. That’s all the bar association judges. The most important qualification for a judge—and I made this argument in 2001 as well—and that is their judicial philosophy. They have enormous power in this lifetime appointment to be a Supreme Court justice. How are they going to use it?  Are they going to follow the law or are they going to impose their views on the American people in a very ideological way?  And judges at the extreme far right, far left, tend to do that.

The big outstanding question about Judge Alito is the third question. So no one disputes his legal education, the experience he’s had. It’s been very good. No one disputes that he has judicial temperament. There’s a great deal of question on his judicial philosophy. He has said some very, very, very extreme things throughout his career, both when he worked for Ronald Reagan and as a judge.

MR. RUSSERT: But here’s the situation, as many people see it. When Ruth Bader Ginsburg was put forward by Bill Clinton, she had been general counsel for the ACLU. Steven Breyer has worked for Ted Kennedy, and yet they were overwhelmingly confirmed because they had competence and temperament, as you say.

SEN. SCHUMER: Right.

MR. RUSSERT: And even though they had a more liberal, judicial philosophy than many members of the Senate, it was a Democratic president who had the right to make that nomination. If, in fact, Republicans supported Ginsburg and Breyer, why shouldn’t Democrats support Alito, who has been rated well qualified, the gold standard of the ABA, and whose philosophy may be conservative, but is no more conservative than Ginsburg and Breyer were liberal?

SEN. SCHUMER: Well, that’s the $64,000 question. If Alito is within the judicial mainstream, as everyone conceded that Breyer and Ginsburg were—most people didn’t think Breyer was much of a liberal. They thought he was a moderate. If he is within the mainstream, even if he’s a conservative, he will be approved. Some people may vote against him, because they say “He’s not my philosophy,” but there will be no attempt to block him.

That’s what happened with John Roberts. Clearly, I don’t agree with John Roberts’ judicial philosophy or views. I voted against him because he didn’t answer every question that I thought—or the questions in a full way that I think nominees have an obligation to be. But look at Alito. Let me just go over a few things that he’s said and done in his career. He was one of the very few justices to say that the federal government can’t regulate machine guns. Federal government has regulated machine guns since the days of John Dillinger in 1936. He...

MR. RUSSERT: Now, he will say that was the debate over the Commerce Clause. It was not only the possession but also the transport, and said if Congress changed the law to specifically include a reference to that, he would have no problem.

SEN. SCHUMER: Well, I’ve talked to him about this, and let me say he did not—I asked him would he change his position, particularly there’s a new case, Raiche, which even affirms even further the right to do this, and he wouldn’t give me an answer. We’ll see what he says at the hearings. That’s why the hearings are important.

Here are a few others. He said, for instance, that a 10-year-old girl could be strip-searched even though the warrant did not call for her to be strip-searched. Chertoff—Michael Chertoff, then a justice, conservative Republican justice, said that that was wrong and wrote the majority opinion.

He has said, for instance, in the past, that one man, one vote; something that’s accepted as a tenet of our democracy that you shouldn’t have one legislative district or congressional district with 20,000 people and one with 300,000 people. He said that was OK. And, of course, he’s the only nominee, other than Robert Bork, to say that he thought his own view was that the right to choose was not protected by the Constitution.

So he has said a whole number of extreme things, and then, you know, one final thing, very relevant to the times right now, in a speech before The Federalist Society in 2000, he said he believed in the unitary executive. That means the executive has all the power. It would mean you couldn’t have an FTC. It would mean you couldn’t have a 9-11 Commission. It might mean in a time of war, relevant to today, that you could have warrants issued so you could go into someone’s home without going to a judge.

These are things that edge on the extreme. And that’s why the hearings are so important, and that’s why, Tim, questioning Judge Alito is going to be really, really important. I haven’t made up my mind about how to vote and certainly whether to block him or not, whether to urge my colleagues in the caucus to filibuster. But he’s got to answer a lot of questions.

MR. RUSSERT: But you haven’t ruled out a filibuster?

SEN. SCHUMER: Have not ruled it out, no.

MR. RUSSERT: Senator Cornyn, let me pick up on the point that Senator Schumer raised about the right of abortion in the Constitution. As you well know when Samuel Alito applied for a position to be deputy assistant attorney general—and here is his job application. Here you see it, Alito, Samuel A., he wrote this: “...it has been an honor and source of personal satisfaction for me to serve in the office of the Solicitor General during President Reagan’s administration and to help to advance legal positions in which personally believe very strongly. I am particularly proud of my contributions in recent cases in which the government has argued ...that the Constitution does not protect a right to an abortion.”

That seems very clear, his personal view and his legal view, arguing that the Constitution does not provide a right to an abortion. Why can’t Judge Alito come forward and say, “This is my view. I don’t find the right of abortion in the Constitution”?  Why doesn’t he just say it?

SEN. CORNYN: Well, Tim, the—obviously Judge Alito joins other groups of distinguished legal scholars and jurists who have questioned the decision in Roe v. Wade. Ruth Bader Ginsburg and Laurence Tribe and others have said it’s a poorly reasoned decision. But the important issue is not what his opinion was when he applied for a job in 1985 but whether he is going to substitute his personal views for the law. In other words what judges do is not—they don’t have a roving commission to go out and impose their views for what the legislature passes as the law, and overrule precedents of the court. If you’ll let me go back to the ABA...

MR. RUSSERT: But stay on this, because the Supreme Court has overruled precedent, as we know in Brown v. Board of Education.

SEN. CORNYN: Of course.

MR. RUSSERT: If he became a Supreme Court justice he could very well say, “I don’t see a right in the Constitution to an abortion. I don’t think Roe v. Wade was not decided appropriately and I’m overruling it.”  He has that right, and he very well could do it based on what he has said in 1985.

SEN. CORNYN: Everything we know about Sam Alito is that he is not an ideologue. He’s not a judicial revolutionary. There’ve been 33 years pass since Roe v. Wade decided, notably the Casey decision, which sort of created additional precedent for that decision. But here again, this is a man of integrity as—one thing Chuck left out when he talked about the ABA gold standard in terms of finding him highly qualified, they also look at integrity. And some of the left-leaning critics, the outside groups, have tried to undermine this judge’s reputation for integrity by bringing up bogus claims that he somehow failed to recuse when he should have, despite the fact that legal ethicists across a political spectrum, Democrat and Republican alike, have said there was no requirement that he recuse. Despite that, he went above and beyond what the law and ethics required and ultimately had the case re-argued, had another panel replace him and then they ended up with the same decision. The problem is—and Chuck went through the litany, the laundry list of accusations, which I hope I get a chance to respond to here—that have a good answer and that represent these charges, represent a mischaracterization of this good man’s reputation and record.

MR. RUSSERT: But shouldn’t the American people have the right to hear Judge Alito say, “I believe that there is no right to abortion in the Constitution, but I will respect the 30-some-year precedent of Roe v. Wade and not overrule it,” or “I believe the right does not exist, and I therefore am honor-bound to overrule it”?

SEN. CORNYN: I believe that Judge Alito—I don’t know exactly how he’ll handle this; this is really up to him—but I expect you’ll hear from him what you heard from Chief Justice John Roberts, and that is he respects the decision under the principles of stare decisis. Now, that’s not an impenetrable wall toward reconsideration of a previous decision under the Constitution, or else we’d still be living with Plessy v. Ferguson and not have that overruled in Brown v. Board of Education. But I believe that his record as a -- 15 years as a circuit court judge as someone who demonstrates the quality of self-restraint on the bench will not be inclined to go out and willy-nilly overrule decisions that the court—he disagrees with that were decided decades ago.

SEN. SCHUMER: Tim, two points here. First, you’re exactly right. He should state what he thinks. In a sense, he’s not in the position that John Roberts was. John Roberts never said anything about abortion. You couldn’t—you know, he might have represented Ronald Reagan when he worked for him, but no one knew his view. And so when he said, “I will follow precedent,” well, a lot of people said, “OK. I think he will.”

Judge Alito has stated unequivocally, just as you said, not only his personal view on pro-life, on pro- choice—we approved lots of judges who were pro-life. I’m very strongly pro-choice, but I voted for 190 judges who were pro-life that the president has nominated. But he has stated his constitutional view, his legal view, and that is that the Constitution does not provide for a right to an abortion. The worst thing that could happen with Judge Alito is if he tries to duck the question. Let him say, as you said, one way or the another, he doesn’t agree but he’ll respect precedent or this is one of those precedents that should be re-examined and turned over. But if he says, “I can’t answer that question ‘cause it might show bias,” which is what John Roberts said, he can’t do that because he’s already shown bias not in a pejorative sense. He’s shown his view on this.

MR. RUSSERT: Well, if he has 51 votes, he can do it.

SEN. SCHUMER: Well, you know—but that’s the issue here. And we Democrats...

MR. RUSSERT: If he did that, would you filibuster?

SEN. SCHUMER: Well, it would certainly—if he continued to do that on all of these issues that I mentioned, if he ducked the question, the American people have a right to answer and we know what’s going on here. Seventy percent of the American people say they don’t want a justice nominated who would overturn Roe v. Wade.

MR. RUSSERT: No, but on the question of abortion, if he in your mind ducks that question, is that enough to filibuster?

SEN. SCHUMER: You can’t judge on one specific question. If he continuously given his previous record refuses to answer questions and hid behind this shibboleth, I can’t answer this ‘cause it might come before me, it would increase the chance of a filibuster, absolutely.

MR. RUSSERT: Senator Cornyn, the whole issue of presidential power and how Judge Alito would come down on that issue—we have this debate now about eavesdropping on domestic citizens without a court warrant. You entered the fray with this comment in late December, “None of your civil liberties matter much after you’re dead.”  Is that a kind of...

SEN. SCHUMER: Well said.

MR. RUSSERT: No, does that phrase represent your views on this subject and the kind of views that you think Judge Alito may share with you?

SEN. CORNYN: No, what I meant by that statement, which, of course, was part of a much longer statement, was the most certain deprivation of your civil liberties would be death at the hands of a terrorist. So as we’ve always done in this country, we need to balance our desire for security, which is number one responsibility of the federal government, with our desire to exercise those civil liberties. And during the course of the country’s history, there’s been sort of movement along the continuum between security and civil liberties, but clearly I think Judge Alito believes as we all do that civil liberties are important.

But on the issue of presidential power, here again some of the far-left outside groups have misrepresented what he has said on this subject. He has never said a word on the issue of electronic surveillance, but yet some on the left, including the 22 senators who voted against John Roberts who are looking for a justification to justify a no-vote on Alito have misrepresented what he has said. All he said in this area consistent with what the Carter administration said when President Carter was president that public officials should have some protect against frivolous lawsuits for money damages if they are alleged to have overstepped the bounds of their authority.

MR. RUSSERT: Does he believe that the executive, legislative, judicial branches are equal?

SEN. CORNYN: Well, I don’t know. We’ll ask him, but I assume he would, that they’re co-equal under—that is basic high-school civics course.

MR. RUSSERT: Will you pro-Judge Alito on this whole issue of presidential power and eavesdropping?

SEN. SCHUMER: It’s one of the major questions that we will have to ask him because again in his cases, in his history as a judge, he has more than just about any other judge on the 3rd Circuit, the circuit in which he serves, sided with the executive branch in terms of their ability to do things. He’s dissented in a whole number of cases in that regard. And, therefore, it’s certainly a question, particularly in light of everything that’s swirling about now with the wiretapping and everything else. And, again, the key here for Judge Alito is to answer the questions directly, not to duck. Then we’ll all have to make a judgment. But the thing that would deprive the American people more than anything else of their right to know how this process works and what the judge is all about is if Judge Alito continues to not answer questions—I shouldn’t say continues. If Judge Alito decides not to answer the questions and try to avoid them.

MR. RUSSERT: Will he be confirmed?

SEN. CORNYN: I believe he’ll be confirmed unless there’s this extraordinary use of the filibuster, abuse of the Senate rules, in order to prevent it, as has happened with a number of President Bush’s nominees. But I go back—the gold standard, as Senator Schumer himself said, was the American Bar Association Committee on Judicial Evaluation. They looked not only at temperament and qualifications, but integrity. This is not a person who’s outside the mainstream. He may be outside the liberal mainstream, which is the main complaint of some of the outside groups who are pressuring Democrat senators to filibuster and to oppose this nomination. And I hope that we’ll have a fair hearing. I hope he’ll be allowed to answer the questions. I’m sure there’ll be plenty of answers to all the questions. And there’s obviously been a lot of information already produced from this nominee. We know much more about this nominee than we knew about John Roberts when he was confirmed by a vote of 78-to-22 as chief justice of the United States.

SEN. SCHUMER: The key question, Tim, simply put, is: Is he, even if he’s conservative, within the mainstream or is he outside that mainstream?  We won’t know till the hearings.

MR. RUSSERT: Senator Chuck Schumer, Senator John Cornyn, thanks for your views.

SEN. CORNYN: Thanks, Tim.

MR. RUSSERT: Next up, the two Kates, O’Beirne and Michelman, with very different views on abortion rights and feminism. They’re next, right here on MEET THE PRESS.

(Announcements)

MR. RUSSERT: Two books with very different views about women. Then the New York Times reporter who broke the story about domestic spying without court approval. His new book, after this brief station break.

(Announcements)

MR. RUSSERT: And we are back. Kate Michelman, Kate O’Beirne—the Kates. Welcome both.

MS. KATE O’BEIRNE: Thanks, Tim.

MS. KATE MICHELMAN: Thank you.

MR. RUSSERT: Kate O’Beirne, let me start with you. “Women Who Make the World Worse”—Who are they?

MS. O’BEIRNE: Tim, they’re the kind of women who—apropos our discussion this morning—hype the phony gender gap in order to intimidate politicians. They’re the kind of women who claim to celebrate women’s choices when it comes to family and career, but they only think there’s one responsible choice, which is following a male career pattern. People think that feminism is sort of a spent force. And my book makes the point that no, it’s not. The modern women’s movement is enormously influential. Their premises have been widely accepted in our institutions. They engage in social engineering in our schools, trying to—very hostile to little boys and boyhood; have enormous influence on our university campuses. We certainly saw that with the dispute over President Larry Summers at Harvard. And our institutions, I argue, are weaker as a result of these feminist ideologues.

MR. RUSSERT: What do you think of that philosophy?

MS. MICHELMAN: Well, I think that the conservative movement has spent a lot of years denigrating, demonizing feminism, and the word has received a lot of flak for—interesting—for a simple belief in the social, political and economic equality of the sexes. I mean, that’s what feminism was and is about and continues to be important in addressing the inequities in society that exist for women. And I don’t think feminism is dead. I do agree that the word has been so demonized that many young women don’t identify with the word, but interestingly enough, the irony is that even though some young women don’t identify with the label feminism—actually, they’re rejecting all kinds of labels today—they fully embrace the ideals that feminism set forth; you know, equal opportunity, equal education, equal pay, reproductive freedom and choice, the right to determine the course of one’s life. That is what feminism was really about. And...

MS. O’BEIRNE: I endorse all of those goals. I endorse the equal opportunity. I endorse the equal pay. Discrimination in pay, of course, has been outlawed since 1963 and education since 1972. Those are the phony goals.

MS. MICHELMAN: Well...

MS. O’BEIRNE: I don’t believe that men and women are interchangeable. I don’t believe marriage is a patriarchal plot. And along with an awful lot of other women, I don’t believe that women’s equality rests on an unrestricted right to an abortion. And that position on the part of feminists has cost them the allegiance of millions of other women who also don’t believe that Roe v. Wade, the most radical abortion policy in the Western industrialized world, is so key to women’s equality.

MR. RUSSERT: Can you be a pro-life, pro-anti-abortion rights feminist?

MS. MICHELMAN: You can be a feminist and oppose the act of abortion on moral and ethical, religious, on personal grounds; absolutely can be. And, in fact, many people who are pro-choice in terms of their beliefs that the policies of this nation should respect the diversity of views on these issues related to pregnancy and childbearing, abortion, and reproductive matters, that there is a diversity of views and they are informed by one’s values, as they are mine. My personal values informed my decision about abortion.

But you can be absolutely anti-abortion, if you will, and pro-choice; believing that women ultimately, not the government, not Dennis Hastert and Tom DeLay and Bill Frist, but women themselves must determine the course of their lives, and central to that determining the course of their lives is determining when and under what circumstances they will become mothers. Because the thing that most women want is to be successful at mothering. And the first ingredient is being able to determine when that time is right and not being forced by the government and by politicians or by judges to bear a child under circumstances of one—not of one’s choosing. So I...

MS. O’BEIRNE: Well, as Kate just explained, you cannot believe that there ought to be legal protections for the unborn and not be read out of the modern women’s movement, and this, as I say, is what’s cost them the allegiance of so many women. It’s why abortion rights activists fight so to keep the abortion issue in the courts. While they claim to enjoy broad public support for their agenda, they do not want this issue decided on the democratic process, because that’s when they lose. When Kate complains that since 1995, 400 abortion restrictions have been enacted across the country, when they complain what what they call pro-choice politicians run the White House and Congress, have the majority in Congress, it seems they believe some strange alchemy has delivered these political wins on the part of voters who supposedly support their agenda.

MS. MICHELMAN: Well...

MS. O’BEIRNE: But they haven’t because the democratic process would see the Roe v. Wade abortion on demand for nine months regime quite cut back at the hands of voters.

MS. MICHELMAN: Could I speak to this “abortion on demand”?  I have to comment about this because I hear it over and over and over again. First of all, I ran a Planned Parenthood affiliate for years. I have been with women who have faced the decision about whether or not to have an abortion. I have never heard a woman demand to have an abortion. I think that that language reveals the lack of respect that those who oppose abortion have for women who face crises. We’ve got to get rid of that language.

MS. O’BEIRNE: But we do agree...

MS. MICHELMAN: And Roe does not guarantee women a right to abortion without restrictions. It balanced rights of women to have an abortion in the earlier stages of pregnancy, and allows the states to restrict in the post-viability, roughly last trimester.

MR. RUSSERT: Let me pick up on the political...

MS. MICHELMAN: OK.

MR. RUSSERT: ...atmosphere, because it’s important to our...

MS. MICHELMAN: Yes.

MR. RUSSERT: ...discussion. Howard Dean, the chairman of the Democratic Party said this recently: “I think we need to talk about abortion differently. ... Republicans have forced us into a corner to defend abortion.”  Then he went on to say: “If I could strike the words ‘choice’ and ‘abortion’ out of the lexicon of our party, I would.”

John Kerry met with supporters after barely losing the 2004 election, and this article from Newsweek: “When Ellen Malcolm, president of the pro-choice political network EMILY’s List, asked about the future direction of the party, [John] Kerry tackled one of the Democrats’ core tenets, abortion rights. He told the group they needed new ways to make people understand they like abortion. Democrats also needed to welcome more pro-life candidates into the party. ‘There was a gasp in the room,’ said Nancy Keenan, the new president of National Abortion Rights Action League Pro-Choice America,’” a group which you headed.

Are the Democrats changing their vocabulary on abortion, because to Kate’s point, the political—the politics are changing?

MS. MICHELMAN: You know, I think those public comments and that public angsting after the 2004 presidential election was unfortunate because the principle that underlies a pro-choice position are the principles of dignity and privacy for women. Abortion rights and reproductive freedom and choice needs to be seen in the larger context of individual liberties, of women determining the course of their lives and having control over their lives. I think that was unfortunate. I’m reminded of the ‘92 election when President Clinton was elected. The House and the Senate were under control of Democrats. The political pundits were writing the obituary of the right wing and the conservative movement, and you didn’t see the conservatives sort of back away from their values or their principles. They didn’t give up and start publicly talking about changing their language.

MS. O’BEIRNE: Tim, they...

MS. MICHELMAN: What they did is they stayed focused on their values and that’s what we need to do.

MS. O’BEIRNE: Tim...

MS. MICHELMAN: And the right to choose is an ex—the right to choose, the right of the individual woman to be guaranteed, to be free from the government and political interference in making this decision is a right that is embraced by the majority of Americans. There may be different views on the individual act of abortion, but in terms of who should make the decision, whether it’s government and politicians or women, there is universal acceptance that women must make...

MR. RUSSERT: But the Democrats want to recapture control of the Congress and the White House.

MS. MICHELMAN: They do, on they can do it on these principles.

MR. RUSSERT: The Democrats have a candidate in Pennsylvania...

MS. MICHELMAN: Yeah.

MR. RUSSERT: ...Bob Casey...

MS. MICHELMAN: I know him well.

MR. RUSSERT: ...who is a “right-to-life” candidate, quote, unquote...

MS. MICHELMAN: Yeah.

MR. RUSSERT: Because they believe he can win that seat and he is correct on a lot of other “Democratic issues,” quote, unquote. And yet you think it was wrong for the Democrats to gravitate behind someone who may win the seat.

MS. MICHELMAN: Well, you know, to be honest, Tim, what I thought was a problem in that situation was the early intervention of the Democratic Party to select very publicly early in a Democratic primary a candidate in the context of this public angsting about whether the election had to do with abortion or not, which it didn’t—we all know—to publicly endorse a candidate who was opposed to a women’s right to reproductive freedom and choice. Now that was my problem, was the process had not really played out yet, and I just felt that that was not a good thing for the Democratic Party to do.

MS. O’BEIRNE: Tim...

MR. RUSSERT: Kate O’Beirne, many observers believe that the Republicans like to have the issue of pro-life, but with a Republican president and a Republican-controlled Congress, they won’t try to pass a constitutional amendment to ban abortion. They don’t want to overturn Roe v. Wade because they’re afraid of the political fallout.

MS. O’BEIRNE: Tim, I think the Republican Party has clearly benefited by being broadly the pro-life party. The Democrats have paid a very heavy price for supporting this unrestricted right to an abortion. Look, 25 years ago, there were 292 members and a Democratic majority in the House. A hundred and twenty-five of them were pro-life Democrats. On the other hand, when it comes to the abortion issue, far too many Republicans, sort of the opposite of what’s generally the case, walked the walk but won’t talk the talk. And part of that is the intimidation, frankly, of the women’s movement, as I said, by hyping the phony gender gap. It was first talked about in 1984, for instance, with Ronald Reagan. He was pro-life. He opposed the ERA. Geraldine Ferraro was making history on the other ticket and Ronald Reagan carried 56 percent of women voters. There’s no monolithic women’s vote. There are no monolithic women’s issues, but the intimidation of the women’s movement has convinced far too many politicians that that is the case.

MR. RUSSERT: Do you think the Republicans want to overturn Roe v. Wade?

MS. O’BEIRNE: I think they would be unsettled by it as with the public initially—of course, the public misunderstands and thinks Roe v. Wade only commits abortion in the first three months, but should it be overturned and go back to the Democratic process and let the 50 states divide their policies, I do think at the national level the issue would stop helping Republicans as it has in recent years.

MR. RUSSERT: You just heard Senator Schumer, Kate Michelman, say that even if Judge Alito will not answer questions about Roe v. Wade, that in itself is not grounds for filibuster.

MS. MICHELMAN: Well, I would say that, you know, what we have to remember about Samuel Alito is that he—and I have to say that, you know, I’ve been involved in many Supreme Court nomination battles, and for me, personally, this is the most important and it’s the most important because it’s the first time that one justice could take away the right of women to make the most intimate decision of their lives and give that...

MR. RUSSERT: So unless he pledges to uphold Roe v. Wade, he should be filibustered.

MS. MICHELMAN: Well, I don’t think Roe v. Wade and whether Roe v. Wade is going to be overturned is really the issue. That’s a parlor game inside of Washington. What is at issue is the individual right to privacy and dignity for American women and the issue of who’s going to get to decide the most intimate aspects of our lives. Judge Alito replaces Justice Sandra Day O’Connor, a justice who was the critical and decisive fifth vote that protected women’s legal rights, including their right to reproductive choice, and Judge Alito’s record indicates very clearly that he approaches the law very different from Justice O’Connor, that he will swing the court dangerously and differently against women’s rights and not just our right to reproductive freedom but, you know, our rights to affirmative action.

MR. RUSSERT: But you have said if a judicial candidate has those views he should be filibustered.

MS. MICHELMAN: He should be—he should be—should not be confirmed. If it takes a filibuster, it takes a filibuster. But this is a dangerous moment for the court, and I think a Judge Alito confirmation will consolidate the Scalia-Thomas philosophy on the court, and that is not a good thing for the future of women.

MR. RUSSERT: I’ll give you 30 seconds on Alito.

MS. O’BEIRNE: Well, I don’t think it’s peculiar to Sam Alito. Let’s not forget that Kate Michelman and her allies were arguing that David Souter, should he be put on the court, the tag line in that campaign was “Women will die.”  Any Republican president’s nominee is going to meet up with this kind of opposition and get confirmed, nonetheless, because a majority of the public and women don’t support this unrestricted right Kate does.

MR. RUSSERT: To be continued. The two Kates: Kate O’Beirne, “Women Who Make the World Worse”; Kate Michelman, “With Liberty and Justice for All.” Thank you very much.

MS. O’BEIRNE: Thanks, Tim.

MS. MICHELMAN: Thank you, Tim.

MR. RUSSERT: Next up, James Risen, author of “State of War: The Secret History of the CIA and the Bush Administration.”  He’s next right here on MEET THE PRESS.

(Announcements)

MR. RUSSERT: And we are back.

James Risen, welcome.

MR. JAMES RISEN: Thank you.

MR. RUSSERT: In The New York Times and in this book, you broke the story about the National Security Agency eavesdropping on phone calls of American citizens with al-Qaeda operatives, the president would say, without a court warrant. How did you find out about that story?

MR. RISEN: Well, people in the government who had been told about it or were involved in it came to me because they were deeply troubled. They felt that there was something going wrong in the government. They believed that there was illegal activity. And my colleague, Eric Lichtblau, at The New York Times also began to hear the same thing from other people. And we happened to sit next to each other in the Washington Bureau of The New York Times and we began to compare notes, and we realized we were hearing about the same thing.

MR. RUSSERT: The president said that we’re in a state of war, that this was an important program to find out what the enemy was up to, and it was a shameful act for people to leak that information to you.

MR. RISEN: Well, I disagree with the president, respectfully. I think that they are patriots. I think that these people who came forward did so in the best tradition of whistle-blowing and they did so for the best reasons, and that is because they believed that there was illegal activity going on. Whether the—it was illegal or not is something that will now have to be determined.

MR. RUSSERT: Did you guarantee your sources that you would never identify them, even if it meant going to prison?

MR. RISEN: Well, I don’t want to get into my conversations with my sources, but I—you know, I—they are anonymous sources, and I don’t want to get into anything beyond that what—depending on what the status of the leak investigation becomes, because...

MR. RUSSERT: But rather than identify your sources, would you be willing to go to prison?

MR. RISEN: Well, if I have to I will. But I hope that that never happens.

MR. RUSSERT: Amid much speculation as to why the The New York Times held this story, you had written it, you had finished it, you knew it was—what reflected what your reporting had shown. It may have played a role in the election of 2004 if it had been published in October. Why was it held?

MR. RISEN: Well, I—you know, I can’t get into all the details of what happened at The New York Times. I think I’d rather focus on the fact that it’s been a great public service by The Times that we published this story, and that, you know, this was something that has been now made public in a way that we can have a national debate. And I think I’d rather focus on the fact that The Times has, as I said, performed a public service. And we did scoop everybody else. Everybody forgets that we had it first.

MR. RUSSERT: But it was a national security decision or a political decision which caused The Times to hold the story?

MR. RISEN: Well, you know, as the president has said, you know, they have argued that this was a breach of national security to reveal this. I would argue that this was something that the public had to know.

MR. RUSSERT: Another story that was not published by The Times that has created an uproar in the intelligence community was Operation MERLIN, which you talk about it in your book. And let me show it on the screen. “Operation MERLIN has been one of the most closely guarded secrets in the Clinton and Bush administrations. And it may not be over. Some officials have suggested it might be repeated against other countries. ... It’s not clear who originally came up with the idea, but the plan was first approved by President Bill Clinton. After the Russian scientist’s fateful trip to Vienna, however, the MERLIN operation was endorsed by the Bush administration, possibly with an eye toward repeating it against North Korea or other dangerous states.”

An operation where an agent would present fake blueprints to “help” Iran or another country build a nuclear bomb, but because it was fake, it would, in effect, delay their operation. The CIA has issued a very sharp comment about you, and let me read it. “It is most alarming that” the author “discloses information that he believes to be ongoing intelligence operations, including actions as critical as stopping dangerous nations from acquiring nuclear weapons. Setting aside whether what he wrote is accurate or inaccurate, it demonstrates an unfathomable and sad disregard for U.S. national security and those who take life-threatening risks to ensure it.”

By revealing this operation, which you acknowledge may be ongoing, aren’t you violating national security?

MR. RISEN: No, I don’t believe so. First of all, this operation in particular took place six years ago, well before—you know, long before 9/11. And the reason that I think it’s important to talk about this is because there are people who believed that it was mishandled, and it’s possible we actually aided the Iranian nuclear program rather than try to stop it; that this operation was conducted so poorly, it reflects the larger issue of one of the issues that I deal with in my book, which is the failure of the CIA to adequately deal with weapons of mass destruction and intelligence related to weapons of mass destruction. They now have a long history of repeated failures and repeated mistakes when you deal with—on WMD issues, as we saw in Iraq. And I think that the agency’s credibility on the issue of weapons of mass destruction has to be in question.

MR. RUSSERT: Aren’t you tipping the Iranians and the North Koreans as to what might be an ongoing operation?

MR. RISEN: I don’t believe so. I think that this—as I said, this operation took place six years ago, and I think Homer first revealed the sources and methods of the Trojan horse a long time ago.

MR. RUSSERT: But you do say it may be used against North Korea.

MR. RISEN: Well, you could use similar kinds of things, not this specific operation.

MR. RUSSERT: You also write about another situation where a CIA agent at Langley sent out an e- mail, which got in the wrong hands, and it created the roll-up, in your words, of CIA agents in Iran and that we went blind there. People in the intelligence community say that is just dead wrong, that there are not any CIA agents in prison, there was no roll-up. How do you respond?

MR. RISEN: Well, I think they now argue—they don’t deny that this huge mistake happened. They --  what they, I believe, say, is that the damage wasn’t as severe as I say it was. That’s possible. It’s possible that they’ve done a damage assessment recently since I first heard about it. But I think that the point of that incident was the complete breakdown of their safeguards in protecting their sources in Iran shows a—to me, just a huge mistake.

MR. RUSSERT: But there may not have been a roll-up and we may not be blind in Iran, as you suggest.

MR. RISEN: It’s—well, I think it raises—what they did was they put their entire network at risk, and so I guess there’s a question of whether all of them were rolled up or not.

MR. RUSSERT: There is another issue that has been brought up and that is the—quoting the president’s conversation with CIA Director George Tenet, about who authorized putting him on pain medication, talking about Abu Zubaydah, the al-Qaeda operative. Are you convinced that that conversation took place, that the president actually said that?

MR. RISEN: Well, I say in the book that there is a dispute about it. And I make it clear in the book that it’s unclear whether it happened, but there were sources who said that they had been told about this. And then I quote other sources saying they’re not sure. The point of that was to show that there were a number of people in the intelligence community who believed that they were getting signals from the White House that the gloves were coming off in the war on al-Qaeda. And the larger point I was trying to make was that the CIA, very quickly after 9/11, was transformed into an agency that became a—had a whole new secret infrastructure to detain prisoners, to interrogate them and to deal with them in ways that the CIA and the United States had never done before.

MR. RUSSERT: But if the president didn’t say that, the link to the White House to torture...

MR. RISEN: Well, there are other more open signals that the White House was sending about taking the gloves off.

MR. RUSSERT: Iran—excuse me, Iraq, weapons of mass destruction, you write that the CIA approached 30 relatives of Iraqi citizens who are now living in Cleveland and...

MR. RISEN: In the United States, and also in—yeah.

MR. RUSSERT: In the United States and some in Cleveland—to go over there and talk to their relatives about the weapons of mass destruction.

MR. RISEN: Right.

MR. RUSSERT: And they found nothing.

MR. RISEN: Right.

MR. RUSSERT: And what happened?

MR. RISEN: Well, the—I had written about this actually first in The New York Times a year or two ago about this program, and what they had was they decided in the—around 2001, 2002, that they needed to find some way to get new information out of Iraq and they didn’t have enough spies of their own in Iraq, and so they began to send relatives to go find their own relatives who are—had been involved in the WMD programs in Iraq in the past. And I wrote about one woman, a doctor from Cleveland, who is an Iraqi-American who was asked by the CIA to go to Baghdad and meet with her brother who was a nuclear—who had been in the nuclear program. She went to Baghdad in 2002. Her brother said, you know, the nuclear program’s been dead for a decade. And she came back to Washington and told the CIA that and they didn’t believe her.

MR. RUSSERT: And we went forward.

MR. RISEN: Yes.

MR. RUSSERT: James Risen, to be continued. “State of War: The Secret History of the CIA and the Bush Administration.”  We thank you for joining us and sharing your views.

MR. RISEN: Thank you very much.

MR. RUSSERT: And we’ll be right back.

(Announcements)

MR. RUSSERT: Start your day tomorrow on “Today” with Katie and Matt; then the “NBC Nightly News” with Brian Williams. That’s all for today. We’ll be back next week. If it’s Sunday, it’s MEET THE PRESS.

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