MR. TIM RUSSERT: Our issues this Sunday: the nomination of Harriet Miers to the Supreme Court, the war in Iraq, and the investigation into the CIA leak case. With us, three United States senators with very different views: Republican George Allen of Virginia, Republican Kay Bailey Hutchison of Texas, and Democrat Chuck Schumer of New York.
Then, insights and analysis from Stephen Hayes of The Weekly Standard; George Packer author of "The Assassins' Gate: America In Iraq"; and Frank Rich of The New York Times.
But first, three United States senators are with us this morning. Senators, welcome all.
Senator Hutchison in Texas, let me start with you. This was the headline in The Washington Times yesterday. "Insiders See Hint Of Miers' Pullout. White House senior staff are starting to ask outside people, saying, `We're not discussing pulling her nomination, but if we were to, do you have any advice as to how we should do it?,' a conservative Republican with ties to the White House told The Washington Times. ...the conservative political consultant said he had received such a query from Sara Taylor, director of the Office of White House Political Affairs. Miss Taylor denied making any such calls."
Senator Hutchison, do you think there's a possibility the White House may pull Harriet Miers' nomination?
SEN. KAY BAILEY HUTCHISON, (R-TX): No, I do not, Tim. I think they have complete faith in her, as I do. I know her. They know her. She is totally qualified for the Supreme Court of the United States. Her legal background, her absolute leadership in the legal field when she was a practicing lawyer are unqualified.
MR. RUSSERT: Senator Arlen Specter, Republican chairman of the Judiciary Committee, met with her. He believes that she had confirmed with him she believed the right of privacy existed in the Constitution, then called him later and retracted that. Senator Specter has also said this, and I'll show you and our viewers, "She needs a crash course in constitutional law."
Now, do you think that's appropriate? Senator Hutchison?
SEN. HUTCHISON: Oh, are you talking to me? I'm sorry.
MR. RUSSERT: Yes, ma'am.
SEN. HUTCHISON: A crash course in constitutional law? Absolutely not. I think when you look at the background of all the other justices, every one of them have served on a circuit court of appeals. She would be the only one whose entire career up until now has been in the private practice. You know, the Supreme Court handles commerce cases. They handle eminent domain. We've seen a recent opinion where many legislatures have already tried to change their eminent domain laws because they think the Supreme Court went way too far. There are cases on property rights as well as taxation. I can't imagine that we wouldn't want someone with practical real-world experience on the Supreme Court of the United States.
MR. RUSSERT: Senator Hutchison, Senator Feinstein of California said that there is an element of sexism in this. Do you believe that?
SEN. HUTCHISON: You know, I don't think we even have to talk about that. I think we need to talk about her qualifications and her background and the diversity that she brings to the Court in both geography, background and experience, gender, of course. I think we don't have one justice of the Supreme Court. We have nine. We have nine because we want a collegial body. We want a body that can argue from different points of view. And I think she brings a great diversity in general on this Court that is very much needed.
MR. RUSSERT: Senator Allen, this was the front page of The Washington Post yesterday: "Miers Backed Race, Sex Set Asides. As president of the State Bar of Texas, Harriet Miers wrote that `our legal community must reflect our population as a whole,' and under her leadership the organization embraced racial and gender set-asides and set numerical targets to achieve that goal."
Roger Clegg, the general counsel for the Center for Economic Opportunity, said, "Those are quotas." Does that trouble you?
SEN. GEORGE ALLEN, (R-VA): I think that what Harriet Miers has done in the past, whether president of the state bar in Texas or any of her other writings or decisions that she has been involved in, are all probative and can be helpful for us trying to discern what her judicial philosophy is. I'm one who respects that the president has nominated well over 200 other men and women of outstanding qualifications and with the proper judicial philosophy. On that issue, that is a matter for a private organization. I don't know if that would be her views as a judge. There are other things that people have brought up on her questionnaire that she answered running for City Council in Dallas. Now, those are decisions or positions she took as a politician. I'm not sure, and I don't think--I would be surprised if she said, "Well, that's going to be my position on any case," because a judge is different than one running for elected office or, for that matter, being on the bar association, for one.
MR. RUSSERT: But would it trouble you if her views on affirmative action included racial and gender set-asides and numerical targets?
SEN. ALLEN: I think for--the concept of affirmative recruitment and trying to get diversity for the bar association of a state is completely different than setting--having quotas based on race or requiring hiring based on race. Now, there are some aspects to that I think she's going to answer to, because there have been cases come before the Supreme Court, and people ought to be judged by their character, their qualifications, and not by their race. But I do think there's a good legitimate issue in trying to get a diversity and there--and also making sure that the applicant pool has diversity so that everyone has that equal opportunity to compete and succeed in life.
MR. RUSSERT: You have heard the criticisms about Harriet Miers' nomination from Rush Limbaugh, George Will, who wrote a column today; George Will saying that "Any Republican senator who votes for Harriet Miers can never be considered presidential material." Do you agree with that?
SEN. ALLEN: I think that anybody running for any office is always looked upon by the voters on their whole body of what they have done, their past performance and their record. One's stance and determination, final determination on this particular Supreme Court justice, as well as others, certainly will be part of what people will look at for anybody running for any office.
MR. RUSSERT: But you did say that you did not believe that Harriet Miers was the most qualified person to replace O'Connor. You said, "That's his description," meaning George Bush. "[Sen. George Allen] disagreed with Bush's view that Miers is the most qualified person to replace O'Connor. `That's his description,' Allen said. `It would not be mine.'"
SEN. ALLEN: That's correct. The president said she was the best qualified and somebody asked me, "Do you think she is?" I said, "No. I would have somebody else." I had recommended other people from the 4th Circuit that I know, such as Judge Wilkinson, Luttig and Karen Williams, who actually wrote an opinion on a very--when you want to talk about activist courts, you see, for example, on the 9th Circuit they strike down the Pledge of Allegiance in schools because of the words "under God." Well, we passed such a law when I was governor of Virginia. It was challenged. The 4th Circuit accurately recognized it's not establishment of religion. It is a patriotic exercise.
And the reason why conservatives, Tim, are so concerned about this nomination is this is an opportunity for us to gain ground. Right now there are three conservatives, four activist liberals, two swing votes. This is one to gain ground. We recognize that it is the president's right to make these decisions. He was elected. He gets to call or make this nomination. As a senator, we have responsibilities to advise and consent. I trust the president, but as Ronald Reagan said, "I want to verify"--verify that she, this nominee, regardless of gender--and by the way, Supreme Court justices, while it's nice to have people from different geographic regions, the Bill of Rights applies equally in every region of this country. So that philosophy of that justice when they get this lifetime appointment--I want to make sure that when they put on that robe, they're going--not going to be judges who take away the Bill of Rights, as the court did in this New London, Connecticut, case, where they took people's homes not for a school or a road but because they wanted to derive more tax revenue from that property. Heck, that's amending the Bill of Rights by judicial decree.
MR. RUSSERT: So you're not sold on Harriet Miers right now?
SEN. ALLEN: I'm undecided, but I think she ought to be given an opportunity to present her credentials. And I'm going to talk with her this week and then I'm going to watch very closely the Judiciary Committee hearings.
MR. RUSSERT: Would you have referred Judge Janice Rogers Brown over Harriet Miers?
SEN. ALLEN: I like Janice Rogers Brown, and I--yes, I would have liked Janice Rogers Brown but--and others.
MR. RUSSERT: I want to add one last comment to this and then go to Senator Schumer. David Keene, the chairman of the American Conservative Union, said this: "Most conservatives have stood with Bush from the beginning. Those of us who know him like him. We've swallowed policies we might have otherwise have objected to because we've believed that he and those around him are themselves conservatives trying to do the right thing against sometimes terrible odds. We've been there for him because we've considered ourselves part of his team. No more. From now on, this administration will find it difficult to muster support on the right without explaining why it should be forthcoming. The days of the blank check have ended because no thinking conservative really wants to be part of a team that requires marching in lockstep without question or thought, even if it is headed by the president of the United States."
Do you share that view?
SEN. ALLEN: David Keene is the one who--Tim, he's a person who I really have a lot of admiration for. And he was the one who invited me to be chairman of Young Virginians for Reagan in '76. I think that--again, understand how conservatives feel about this. I was chairman of the Republican Senatorial Committee. You had me in here with Senator Corzine last time. There was no issue that motivated our supporters and inspired them more than the line that I would end every speech in after less taxation, less regulation and President Bush's outstanding nominees ought to be accorded the fairness of an up or down vote and we ought to have judges who apply the law, not invent the law. So this is a big issue, and people are concerned about Harriet Miers, understandably so. But I think that everyone ought to maybe calm down just a little, examine her record. The president's known her for 10 years. The president has an outstanding record of nominating outstanding men and women who share our judicial philosophy. And let's see how she does in the hearings and then I think we make a judgment. She ought to be accorded due process.
MR. RUSSERT: Senator Schumer, you said a few weeks ago that "Harriet Miers was a very capable lawyer and perhaps a consensus nominee." Is that still your view?
SEN. CHUCK SCHUMER, (D-NY): No, I don't think so, Tim. "Perhaps," I guess, was the operative word. You know, I think there are three places where Harriet Miers yet hasn't sort of met the burden of proof. The burden should always be on the nominee to prove they're capable. After all, this is the most important position in the judiciary. The first is qualifications. Does she have a good, firm knowledge of the law, of constitutional law? When I met with her, I found it surprising that she was unwilling to take a position on the Meyer case or Griswold cases did, which Judge Roberts did. Almost everybody who's come by has.
Second is independence. The president seemed to nominate judge Miers or Miss Miers because he knew her, he was close to her. But the Founding Fathers created the lifetime appointment, if you read The Federalist Papers, to provide complete independence. Will she an independent mind once she gets on the Court? And we'll have to make a judgment on that.
And third, and most importantly, and in this one I would agree with George Allen and some of the very conservative people, we have to know her judicial philosophy. These decisions have huge ramifications in every one of our lives. And to nominate a judge when we have no idea of their judicial philosophy is something that I don't think we should do. And we know so little about Harriet Miers' judicial philosophy. I'd say on that one we know less about her than just about any nominee in recent memory, and I don't see--of course, she has the hearings to convince us to--to show us what her philosophy is. But so far she hasn't done that in any way. I don't think she's advanced a day from her nomination to today in giving us some idea of that.
MR. RUSSERT: Do you think the White House should consider pulling her nomination?
SEN. SCHUMER: Well, Tim, I don't think the White House will. George Bush, say whatever else you want about him, does not back away from a fight. I will say this, if he were to withdraw the nomination, it would be a stunning defeat for George Bush, and here's what I think it would show. I think it would show that a small group way over at the extreme had power over the White House. After all, not a single Republican senator has at this point called for Harriet Miers' resignation. And so if President Bush is going to march to the drum of a group that I think most Americans would consider out of the mainstream, it's going to be a real revelation to the American people and that's why I think he can't do it.
MR. RUSSERT: Politically speaking, Senator, The Wall Street Journal suggested that this fight amongst conservatives has brought a smile to your face, that you couldn't have written a better script. Fair enough?
SEN. SCHUMER: Yeah, I don't think that was a compliment to George Bush, the fact that his moves have made me happy.
MR. RUSSERT: Let me show you that questionnaire that Harriet Miers filled out when she ran for City Council in Dallas. It was asked whether she was for a human life amendment to the Constitution prohibiting all abortions except to the prevent the death of the mother, she said yes. If Roe v. Wade was overturned and the decision for abortion was returned to the state, would she support legislation that would reinstate abortion which said only abortion except those necessary to prevent the death of the mother? Yes. Would she participate in news conferences to promote the goals of pro-life movement? Yes. Will she use her influence as an elected official within the confines of her oath of office to promote the pro-life cause? Yes.
Does that trouble you, Senator Schumer?
SEN. SCHUMER: Well, I think it confuses me more than troubles me. About six months before she filled out that questionnaire, she sent $1,000 to the Democratic National Committee, hardly an organization that had those views on those issues. And she has said in her questionnaire how she would rule as a judge is different than how she would be as a legislator, which we accept. So I think the big question here--and this is the same for George Allen and myself, people who have strong views on these things--is: What are her views? For instance, does she think Roe v. Wade is settled law? John Roberts said it was. Most of the nominees who have come before us have said it was. We have to know answers to those questions, and thus far when asked, she has demurred. That is not going to work at the hearings.
MR. RUSSERT: Senator Schumer, what are the odds of her being confirmed?
SEN. SCHUMER: Well, that's a very good question. I've been thinking about that, Tim. I think if you were to hold the vote today, she would not get a majority either in the Judiciary Committee or on the floor. I think there is maybe one or two on the Judiciary Committee who have said they'd support her as of right now, and I think you have concern on these three areas, qualification, independence, judicial philosophy, by people of both parties and all political stripes.
Now, having said that, the hearings are going to be make or break for Harriet Miers in a way that they have not been for any other nominee. And she's going to have to do real well there. Right now she has a rough road to hoe.
MR. RUSSERT: Let me turn to the situation here in Washington, the CIA leak investigation, very much tied in obviously to the war in Iraq and the way it was presented to the American people. And bringing you all back to September 30, George Bush addressing the American people and he said this.
(Videotape, September 30, 2003):
PRES. GEORGE W. BUSH: If there's a leak out of my administration, I want to know who it is. And if the person has violated law, the person will be taken care of.
MR. RUSSERT: Now, one week later, Scott McClellan was asked specifically about Karl Rove and Scooter Libby whether they had been involved in disseminating information about Valerie Plame, the wife of Ambassador Joseph Wilson, and this is what Mr. McClellan said.
(Videotape, October 7, 2003):
MR. SCOTT McCLELLAN: They are good individuals. They're important members of our White House team, and that's why I spoke with them so that I could come back to you and say that they were not involved. I had no doubt with that in the beginning, but I like to check my information to make sure it's accurate before I report back to you. And that's exactly what I did.
MR. RUSSERT: "They were not involved." Senator Allen, is that statement still operative?
SEN. ALLEN: I don't know. I wasn't in any of the grand jury investigations, and I think that from what you're saying and most indications is the prosecutor, special prosecutor Fitzgerald, will be coming out with whatever the resolution of those grand jury investigations are. So I don't know what the testimony is, what the evidence is, and I guess we'll find out sometime this week.
MR. RUSSERT: Based what's in the public domain from Judith Miller when she wrote in The New York Times and others have said publicly, do you believe that Karl Rove and Scooter Libby discussed Joseph Wilson's trip and his wife's employment at the CIA?
SEN. ALLEN: I don't know. I know that's rare from a politician. I don't know. I've been more focused on Harriet Miers' qualifications and reducing energy prices and others, and I'll leave this to the prosecution and by the way, again, due process rather than a lot of speculation on what actually is known or not said in testimony in a very closed grand jury proceeding.
MR. RUSSERT: Senator Hutchison, you think those comments from the White House are credible?
SEN. HUTCHISON: Tim, you know, I think we have to remember something here. An indictment of any kind is not a guilty verdict, and I do think we have in this country the right to go to court and have due process and be innocent until proven guilty. And secondly, I certainly hope that if there is going to be an indictment that says something happened, that it is an indictment on a crime and not some perjury technicality where they couldn't indict on the crime and so they go to something just to show that their two years of investigation was not a waste of time and taxpayer dollars. So they go to something that trips someone up because they said something in the first grand jury and then maybe they found new information or they forgot something and they tried to correct that in a second grand jury.
I think we should be very careful here, especially as we are dealing with something very public and people's lives in the public arena. I do not think we should prejudge. I think it is unfair to drag people through the newspapers week after week after week, and let's just see what the charges are. Let's tone down the rhetoric and let's make sure that if there are indictments that we don't prejudge.
MR. RUSSERT: But the fact is perjury or obstruction of justice is a very serious crime and Republicans certainly thought so when charges were placed against Bill Clinton before the United States Senate. Senator Hutchison.
SEN. HUTCHISON: Well, there were charges against Bill Clinton besides perjury and obstruction of justice. And I'm not saying that those are not crimes. They are. But I also think that we are seeing in the judicial process--and look at Martha Stewart, for instance, where they couldn't find a crime and they indict on something that she said about something that wasn't a crime. I think that it is important, of course, that we have a perjury and an obstruction of justice crime, but I also think we are seeing grand juries and U.S. attorneys and district attorneys that go for technicalities, sort of a gotcha mentality in this country. And I think we have to weigh both sides of this issue very carefully and not just jump to conclusions, because someone is in the public arena, that they are guilty without being able to put their case forward. I really object to that.
MR. RUSSERT: Senator Schumer, do you believe that comments from the White House are still credible?
SEN. SCHUMER: Well, Tim, I have a different take on this than Kay Bailey Hutchison. As you know, I was very involved in this. I had called for an investigation, had helped George Tenet talk to the FBI about why he was outraged and asked for a special counsel.
Patrick Fitzgerald is above reproach. He is totally non-political. He is a prosecutor's prosecutor. And nobody has called into question his motives. He's the type of prosecutor who will not indict just because an indictment would make headlines or he's done this for a year and a half. Nor would he shy away from an indictment if it were for real.
I, for one, am prepared to say here this morning that I will abide by Patrick Fitzgerald's decision. I think we all should. I think that Kay and George should do the same. Because Patrick Fitzgerald is a prosecutor's prosecutor, and we should abide by that. I would say one other thing about this. I think the president should make clear--he's been all over the lot on what he would do if there were indictments in the White House. And I think the president should make clear what his standard will be before prosecutor Fitzgerald makes his decision, so no one thinks that what the president does is aimed at a particular person, whether it be a secretary or the top people in the White House.
So I think it would be very, very advisable for the president to say: "Here is what my standard will be in terms of whether these people will remain in their positions should they be indicted." But Fitzgerald, prosecutor's prosecutor, totally non-political. I am willing to accept his decision, and I have no idea what it will be. I think everyone, Democrats and Republicans, should do just that.
MR. RUSSERT: Senator Schumer, there's been a widespread discussion that this is bigger than just Joseph Wilson and Valerie Plame and White House aides; that it really goes to the core of the Iraq War, what cases were made to the American people about weapons of mass destruction and other systems and other analyses and other intelligence data. Based on what you now know today, do you regret having voted for the war?
SEN. SCHUMER: Well, no, Tim, because my vote was seen and I still see it as a need to say we must fight a strong and active war on terror. But I would say this, Tim, and I would take your point in a slightly different direction. I think what we've seen in the last several months is a White House in some real degree of disarray: the war in Iraq where nobody knows what the game plan is; the budget, which is just out of control and nobody seems to have a handle on it and could wreck our economy; the prescription drug bill, the major accomplishment and everyone's confused about how it's going to be administered. The Web sites don't even work. And, of course, Katrina.
And, you know, when President Reagan was in a similar situation in his second term, he brought in a whole lot of new faces, Howard Baker, Colin Powell, and these were people who could work in a bipartisan way, whose reputation for competence was aboveboard, and I think it's time now for the president to seriously consider bringing in some new blood into the White House. He's just sort of--you know, sort of staggering along on issue after issue, and this investigation is just one of many examples of that.
MR. RUSSERT: Senator Allen, you agree with that?
SEN. ALLEN: No, I don't agree with it. And Senator Schumer is a good partisan, articulate Democrat. And I don't think the president ought to be taking advice from Senator Schumer on some of these. And you can--Karl Rove, who's a very smart, sharp and very able advisor to the president--I like Karl Rove a great deal. And, of course, the Democrats would like to have Karl Rove out. Insofar as the war in Iraq...
MR. RUSSERT: But if Mr. Rove--if Mr. Rove and/or Mr. Libby is indicted, should they step down?
SEN. ALLEN: That'll be--I think they will step down if they're indicted.
MR. RUSSERT: And they should?
SEN. ALLEN: Yes, I do think that's appropriate that--I don't see where--if they're in the midst of an indictment. But let's not say that they have been indicted. Let's--I will take this point from Senator-- from Charlie Schumer, and that is: Let's see what happens rather than get into all this speculation and so forth.
Now, the war in Iraq, and Senator Schumer voted for it, based on the evidence; a lot of us voted for it. Now, he's talking about not having a game plan. There has just been a truly monumental benchmark achieved. Now, they're still counting the votes, but it appears that the people of Iraq, in stronger numbers that even in January of this year, have come out and voted for this constitution. It is a constitution that respects individual rights, men and women having freedom of expression, religious freedom, where rights are not enhanced nor diminished on account of religious beliefs. They do have the rule of law. I think this is a very important benchmark and date of progress for the people of Iraq. It will give them a motivation of what they're fighting for, for themselves, for their children. And the terrorists have nothing to offer other than wreaking havoc, disrupting and intimidating. And I think this is great progress and we ought to celebrate it.
MR. RUSSERT: But there has been no weapons of mass destruction.
SEN. ALLEN: Well...
MR. RUSSERT: We have not been greeted as liberators as such. Senator...
SEN. ALLEN: In some places.
MR. RUSSERT: Senator Chafee, Republican from Rhode Island, your colleague, said--"After the hearing [with Sec. Rice], both Republicans and Democrats expressed disappointment about her testimony. Sen. Lincoln Chafee (R-R.I.) said the committee had hoped for `more of a grip on reality. ...The administration is just determined to cast this as an exercise that is going according to plan, and it isn't.'"
Do you agree with that?
SEN. ALLEN: No, I don't agree with that. I think that's an inaccurate portrayal. Granted, things are difficult. Standing up a government, especially having people come out and vote where they can't even drive to the polls, as we do, and you walk maybe 50 or 100 feet. They have to walk on long distances, on dusty roads, like slow-moving targets. They're being threatened with death. They end up with a 60 percent turnout. If we ever had a 60 percent turnout, they'd say, "Oh, phenomenal. Great turnout."
The people of Iraq are choosing to select the leaders that they want, a constitution, a principle that will guide their country. They're controlling their own destiny more and more. And as that happens, more and more Iraqis will stand up to protect their streets, their communities and their country. And as the president says, and it's very logical, as more Iraqis stand up, more Americans can stand down. And we will have planted that tree of liberty in a free and just society in Iraq.
MR. RUSSERT: According to testimony before the Senate...
SEN. SCHUMER: Yeah.
MR. RUSSERT: ...there's this one battalion of Iraqis that is fully capable and combat-ready.
SEN. SCHUMER: Exactly.
MR. RUSSERT: But more on this...
SEN. ALLEN: Well...
MR. RUSSERT: To be continued. To be continued. Senator George Allen, Senator Kay Bailey Hutchison, Senator Charles Schumer, thank you all.
Coming next, our roundtable: Stephen Hayes of The Weekly Standard, and then George Packer of The New Yorker and Frank Rich of The New York Times. What does Patrick Fitzgerald do this week? All coming up right here on MEET THE PRESS.
MR. RUSSERT: The war in Iraq and the CIA leak, after this station break.
MR. RUSSERT: And we are back.
Frank Rich in New York, let me start with you and read for you and our viewers your column from this very Sunday morning in The New York Times: Headline: "Karl and Scooter's Excellent Adventure. For Mr. Rove and Mr. Bush to get what they wanted most, slam-dunk midterm election victories, and for Mr. Libby and Mr. Cheney to get what they wanted most, a war in Iraq for reasons predating 9/11, their real whys for going to war had to be replaced by fictional, more salable ones. We wouldn't be invading Iraq to further Rovian domestic politics or neocon ideology; we'd be doing so instead because there was a direct connection between Saddam and Al Qaeda and because Saddam was on the verge of attacking America with nuclear weapons. The facts and intelligence had to be fixed to create these whys; any contradictory evidence had to be dismissed or suppressed. ...Should Mr. Libby and Mr. Rove have lied to investigators or a grand jury in their panic, [Special Prosecutor Patrick] Fitzgerald will bring charges. But that crime would seem a misdemeanor ext to the fables that they and their bosses fed the nation and the world as the whys for invading Iraq."
Frank Rich, you're suggesting that the war in Iraq is much on trial as perhaps individual behavior may be.
MR. FRANK RICH: I believe so, Tim. I think there's no doubt about it. You look at someone like Joseph Wilson, who's at the center of the whole leak story, he's a very minor figure. In fact, I would imagine that the Bush administration probably regarded him as something of a gnat or an obscure person and yet they launched this campaign. We don't know whether they illegally outed his CIA wife or not. They launched this campaign against him, this over-the-top campaign. I think what they were protecting was their whole story of the run-up to the war and the whole issue of exactly how the American people were told that mushroom clouds and nuclear bombs fueled by uranium were going to hit American soil and that's why we should go to war against Saddam Hussein.
MR. RUSSERT: We're watching play out here, in Washington particularly, an emergence of the real infighting that went on within the Bush administration that Frank Rich alluded to in his column. Here's The Washington Post from Thursday: "Colin Powell's right-hand man at the State Department, [Col.} Larry Wilkerson"--who was his chief of staff--"...said the vice president and secretary of defense created a `Cheney-Rumsfeld cabal' that hijacked U.S. foreign policy. ... Wilkerson accused Bush of `cowboyism' and said he had viewed Condoleezza Rice as `extremely weak.'"
We have Brent Scowcroft in today's New Yorker magazine in an interview. Brent Scowcroft, the national security advisor for former President Bush, Bush 41, saying that the neocons brought the country to war and that "Dick Cheney is a good friend I've known for 30 years, but Dick Cheney I don't know anymore."
Stephen Hayes, what are we watching? What are we witnessing?
MR. STEPHEN HAYES: Well, I think you're right. I mean, I think we are seeing sort of these fissures exposed in a way that they weren't before. I mean, they were to a certain extent. We knew that the State Department or that Colin Powell had reservations about going to Iraq. We had seen leaks from the State Department, I think, calling into question some of the war plans, some of the planning or lack of planning. We now, I think, have a good idea of where some of those leaks came from.
But I think there are two things to say about Larry Wilkerson's speech the other day. One, one of the things that the critics aren't mentioning about Wilkerson's speech is that he also talked about how he believed that Iraq had weapons of mass destruction, how the French, the Germans, the Russians also believed that Iraq had weapons of mass destruction. So I think you have to factor that in when you--if you're going to use the war was a lie mime, have you to consider that.
And the other thing that I think Wilkerson said that was revealing, at least in my reading of his remarks, was that he called it an Oval Office cabal in addition to calling a Cheney-Rumsfeld cabal. Now, it's an Oval Office cabal because the president of the United States is elected. The vice president of the United States is elected. Mr. Wilkerson might think it's appropriate for the chief of staff for the secretary of state to be running the country. The people who elected the president and vice president probably don't.
MR. RUSSERT: George Packer, you have a new book out, "The Assassins' Gate: America In Iraq." And in it, you right this. "The story of the Iraq War is a story of ideas about the role of the United States in the world, and of the individuals who conceived and acted on them. It has roots deep in history, yet there was nothing inevitable about the war, and the mere fact of it still sometimes astounds me. During the nearly interminable buildup to war I never found the questions about it easy to answer, and the manner in which the country argued with itself seemed wholly inadequate to the scale of what we were about to get into."
There was no robust debate about the war, and to Steve Hayes' point, Bill and Hillary Clinton supported the war. John Kerry supported the war. John Edwards supported the war. Where was the debate?
MR. GEORGE PACKER: There was a debate in Congress. There was a debate in the press. I think what Larry Wilkerson was saying was there was no debate within the administration. And Richard Haas, who was Colin Powell's chief of policy planning until 2003, said to me, "The decision was never made to go to war. It happened. And you can't say when it happened. There was a tipping point. There was an accretion." And I think what Wilkerson was getting at was a dysfunction in the decision-making process of the administration. Vice President Cheney, Secretary of Defense Rumsfeld were going around the normal process of making these really crucial national security decisions so that people like Colin Powell were cut out. And I think another point that Wilkerson made was the former national security adviser Condoleezza Rice was part of that. She enabled it by not forcing this known disagreement at the heart of the administration to be resolved. So instead a decision happened and the bureaucracy, the administration was not all on board and didn't all understand why it had been made.
MR. RUSSERT: You are a self-described liberal hawk who supported the war initially, but you write this in your book on page 448. "I came to believe that those in positions of highest responsibility for Iraq showed a carelessness about human life that amounted to criminal negligence. Swaddled in abstract ideas, convinced of their own righteousness, incapable of self-criticism, indifferent to accountability, they turned a difficult undertaking into a needlessly deadly one."
MR. PACKER: And one example of this is this Wilson-Plame affair that's now consuming Washington. In the summer of 2003, the White House seemed to be determined to discredit one of its critics, Joseph Wilson. What was happening in Iraq in that summer? An insurgency was beginning to gain real traction. I was in Iraq and anyone who was there and was paying attention understood how serious the insurgency was becoming. What we're getting from Washington, from the Pentagon and the White House was that there is no insurgency. It's a bunch of dead-enders. It was not taken seriously. The politics of the war were taken more seriously by this administration than the war itself. And, unfortunately, Iraq was not under their control. That was the one piece of it that they couldn't control. And Iraq keeps undermining everything the administration has tried to do in keeping control over this war.
MR. RUSSERT: Frank Rich, you heard Senator Schumer say that he does not regret his vote for the war. I mentioned that Bill Clinton, Hillary Clinton, John Kerry, John Edwards--how do Democrats handle this issue now having voted for the war and saying that Saddam had weapons of mass destruction when, in fact, that has not been the case?
MR. RICH: Well, I think the Democrats have a real problem, and I think the first thing that they have to do is perhaps on occasion admit they were wrong, just as the president is loath to admit he was wrong. The Democrats didn't look hard enough. Some did, but they did by and large vote for the war. They did it in the pressure cooker, by the way, of a mid-term election. These resolutions went before Congress in October. There was a kind of fear, I think, of dissenting on anything in what was thought to be a patriotic mission and they didn't ask the hard questions. And the Democratic Party which is in disarray in so many ways I don't think can begin to get itself together until they own up to their own past and talk truthfully about mistakes that they made, too.
MR. RUSSERT: Stephen Hayes, you agree with that?
MR. HAYES: I don't. I mean--and here's what's interesting. I think it was interesting to hear Senator Schumer to tell that he would vote again for the war in Iraq and that he voted for the war because he was serious about the war on terror. Now, that has not been the Democratic line really for the past two years. The two have been separated in the rhetoric of Democratic politicians and pundits.
I think, you know, the problem with the Democrats admitting mistake, as Mr. Rich suggests, is that it conflicts with this Bush lied narrative that has been constructed. And the Democrats, in order to push the Bush lied narrative, have to almost pretend that they were never on board in the first place. So you have people like Jay Rockefeller who said there was unmistakable evidence of Saddam's nuclear program now basically saying, "We knew all along that this was phony."
MR. RUSSERT: We now, George Packer, are going to be confronted with the midterm elections in 2006. Carl Levin, the Democrat from Michigan, predicted on this show the Bush administration would withdraw 50,000 American troops out of Iraq before that election.
MR. PACKER: Yeah. And when I hear Senator Allen saying before we came on that the constitution is an important benchmark, 60 percent turnout, all of that is true. And the political track in Iraq is an achievement, but it's always been undermined by the war. Those political benchmarks, we've been hearing about them since the capture of Saddam: the transfer of sovereignty, the January elections. They've never made a difference in the war. And this referendum isn't either. And, in fact, it may well worsen the war because Sunnis voted no and the constitution is going to pass anyway. December will tell us a lot. If Sunnis participate in the upcoming elections, that could make a difference. But Americans should be under no illusions about how long this war is going to last and how hard it's going to be. And I'm afraid the administration has not prepared the country for that.
MR. RUSSERT: But do you think politically, the administration would be willing to pull out 50,000 troops in order to say, "We're making progress"?
MR. PACKER: Well, we keep hearing that we're going stay there as long as we need to, but I think there's going to be so much pressure from within the Republican Party next year to show something to the constituents before the elections that there will be withdrawals. And I don't think those withdrawals will be pegged to actual achievements in Iraq. I think they'll have more to do with our own domestic politics.
MR. RUSSERT: And let me turn again to the CIA leak and show our audience and our panel the comments I showed our senators, from the president and Scott McClellan, because I think the country's going to be seeing a lot of these this week. George Bush, September 30, Chicago, Illinois.
(Videotape, September 30, 2003):
PRES. BUSH: If there's a leak out of my administration, I want to know who it is. And if the person has violated law, that person will be taken care of.
MR. RUSSERT: And again, a week later, Scott McClellan, asked specifically about the roles of Karl Rove and Scooter Libby in the dissemination of any information in this matter, said this.
(Videotape, October 7, 2003):
MR. McCLELLAN: They're good individuals. They're important members of our White House team, and that's why I spoke with them so that I could come back to you and say that they were not involved. I had no doubt of that in the beginning, but I like to check my information to make sure it's accurate before I report back to you. And that's exactly what I did.
MR. RUSSERT: Frank Rich, how is the White House going to square those comments?
MR. RICH: Those comments are very important. First of all, they're not going to be able to square them clearly. They can't square them now because whether it was illegal or not, we now know that these guys were involved in disseminating information about the Wilsons. But here's the interesting thing to me, Tim, about those two statements. People forget that Patrick Fitzgerald was not always on this case. And in September of '03 when the investigation opened, it was a Justice Department investigation. It was something that Ashcroft nominally was in charge of, delegated to Justice Department officials.
So when they were making the statements, they did not see a tenacious, tough prosecutor like Patrick Fitzgerald having them in their crosshairs. They thought this was in the hands of the Justice Department. It was not until the end of that year, December 30th, that Ashcroft recused himself and turned it over to a prosecutor who would turn out to be Fitzgerald. So I think there's a--it's my theory, I can't prove it, but I think people were playing a little bit fast and loose then, thinking this thing was sort of in the bag.
MR. RUSSERT: Frank Rich, what did you think of Senator Hutchison's comments about perjury and obstruction of justice?
MR. RICH: I thought they're obviously--I thought they were a real bellwether, that they're extremely nervous. Those are the charges clearly they think are coming, and there's a story in The Washington Post by Walter Pincus today that gives further evidence that that might be the case. And so now they're trying to trivialize those crimes, and the Martha Stewart defense, which Senator Hutchison adds, to me, it's like a Twinkie defense. I don't think it's going to go very far. And it's clear to me that if there are indictments--and we don't know--this prosecutor has been leak-proof. He's sort of the un-Ken Starr in that way. It almost would have to involve these crimes because we have to assume that Robert Novak, even though he hasn't said so, told the prosecutor who talked to him long ago, and why then would that not be the end of the story if the only crime is the possible leaking of a covert CIA operative's name? There's been something else going on for months.
MR. RUSSERT: Stephen Hayes, when Scott McClellan says they were not involved, is that still operative?
MR. HAYES: No. It seems like it's not. We now know, I think, if we are to believe all these reports and all these leaks, that they were involved in fighting back against Joe Wilson. I happen to think that, you know, unless they broke the Agents' Identities Protection Act or have subsequently committed perjury or created--or tried to obstruct the investigation, that it's perfectly defensible for them to have tried to counter Joe Wilson's claims.
We have to remember, Joe Wilson came back, and when he went public, first anonymously then later with his name attached, claims that he had debunked forgeries that suggested an Iraq-Niger uranium deal, the chronology doesn't work. Wilson was in Niger in February of 2002. The U.S. government came into possession of those forgeries in October of 2002. He could not have done what he said he had done. So if you're in the White House at the time, why would you not say, "Gosh, who is this guy? Why is he saying these things that we know aren't true? And how do we fix this?"
MR. RUSSERT: But it's interesting; in terms of the sale of uranium, the State Department found his findings much more credible than did other parts of the government. We saw that--again, that division play out.
MR. HAYES: We saw--I mean, the CIA analyst who received Mr. Wilson's information or report, oral briefing, on March 5, 2002, believed that it actually enhanced the possibility that such a transaction had taken place because Wilson spoke with the prime minister of Niger.
MR. RUSSERT: And the State Department thought the exact opposite?
MR. HAYES: The State Department was on the other side.
MR. RUSSERT: Let me show you, Stephen Hayes and George Packer--this is a Web site that went up suddenly on Friday night on the Department of Justice Web site. It says their Office of Special Counsel, Patrick Fitzgerald, special counsel--suddenly, a Web site which has created another whole uproar in Washington.
MR. PACKER: Yeah. Well, people around Patrick Fitzgerald say it's coincidental timing. They've been trying to get this Web site up for weeks. They finally got it up in the week that he may well reveal his findings of his investigation. And it's also a rather bare-bones Web site. It doesn't have a lot to tell us yet. But who knows what we'll all be reading there in a few days?
MR. RUSSERT: Frank Rich, a lot of discussion about what is going on at your paper, The New York Times. Bill Keller, the executive editor, said that Judy Miller may have misled the Washington bureau chief, and then added, "...if I had known the details of Judy's entanglement with Libby, I'd have been more careful in how the paper articulated its defense, and perhaps more willing than I had been to support efforts aimed at exploring compromises."
And your colleague Maureen Dowd let loose with this on yesterday: "Woman of Mass Destruction. Judy told The Times that she plans to write a book and intends to return to the newsroom, hoping to cover `the same thing I've always covered--threats to our country.' If that were to happen, the institution most in danger would be the newspaper in your hands."
What is going on at The New York Times?
MR. RICH: Nothing good. It's a very traumatic time for the paper, and a lot of people, including myself, are in agony about it. We really don't know all the facts. The facts we do know, that The Times has tried to put out, suggests that Judy Miller might have had other opportunities to avoid going to jail that would not have compromised principle, but we're still--you know, she is in the hands of a lawyer now, Bob Bennett. She stonewalled some New York Times journalists last Sunday by refusing to answer certain questions about the whole history of this affair, and it's very troubling and it's very upsetting. And I think we need still to learn more about the story, and we also need to learn the part of the story about our own WMD stories that Judy Miller and others were contributors to, which put out some of this what we now know to be erroneous information about WMDs that were used to publicize the war and the run-up to the war in Iraq.
MR. RUSSERT: Stephen Hayes, based on all your reporting and what you know, what's your sense what's going to happen this week?
MR. HAYES: Well, I think there is a strong possibility that we'll see indictments of one or two or maybe a handful of Bush administration officials.
MR. RUSSERT: And then what?
MR. HAYES: And then I think, as Senator Allen said, I think it would be difficult for those officials to remain in their positions if they were indicted, even though indictments don't mean convictions. If they were indicted, it would be tough for them to stay and provide that advice.
MR. PACKER: We seem to see this every second term. Iran-Contra, the Lewinsky affair and now the Bush administration. The difference this time is we're at war and that we were not at war under Reagan and under Clinton. And it's pretty concerning to imagine if the White House has handled the Iraq War as badly as it has with its--without indictments, without the immense political pressure that it's now under, how is it going to handle the next year in Iraq with key aides possibly having to leave, with a sense of siege at the White House, with Republican Party pressure to see some kind of a change in Iraq? I worry about how this is going to affect the situation in Iraq.
MR. RUSSERT: To be continued. George Packer, "The Assassins' Gate: America in Iraq," "The Connection" by Stephen Hayes, and Frank Rich, we read you every Sunday in The New York Times. Gentlemen, thank you.
We'll be right back.
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.
© 2013 NBCNews.com Reprints