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Transcript: Cross, Mikva on 'FNS'
Written by Chris Wallace / Published December 14, 2008 / Fox News Sunday
This is a rush transcript from "FOX News Sunday With Chris Wallace," December 14, 2008. This copy may not be in its final form and may be updated.
CHRIS WALLACE, HOST: The Illinois general assembly meets in special session tomorrow to consider what to do about Rod Blagojevich. The Democratic governor was arrested Tuesday for allegedly trying to sell the Senate seat of President-elect Obama.
Joining us now from Chicago are House Republican Leader Tom Cross and former federal judge and Obama mentor, Abner Mikva, who was advising the Illinois attorney general in the case.
Well, gentlemen, one of the first things the state house will consider when it meets in special session tomorrow is whether to strip the governor of his power to appoint Barack Obama's successor to that Senate seat.
Representative Cross, before we get into all the complications of how you actually make that a law, why a special election? Why not basically give the powers to the lieutenant governor that the governor now has to appoint Obama's successor?
TOM CROSS, ILLINOIS HOUSE REPUBLICAN LEADER: I think you have to eliminate any appearance of impropriety. We've just been shocked as a state over the last four or five days and in order to restore whatever integrity we have left in this state, we have to make it as transparent as possible.
We have to give the voters an opportunity in a special election. We have to have the media involved. And the only way you can do that is to completely open up this process.
Everybody in this state on the Democrat side and, to a large degree, the Republican side knows everybody and I think you have to completely open it up to restore whatever integrity we can.
WALLACE: Judge Mikva, isn't that the small deed, the most democratic way of settling this, especially with the cloud hanging over the appointment of Mr. Obama's successor, to basically let the voters decide who's going to hold that Senate seat?
ABNER MIKVA, FORMER FEDERAL JUDGE: I don't have any problem with that and, again, the federal Constitution indicated that there were two ways of deciding it, by the legislature, either the — there would be a special election or the governor would fill the vacancy.
The only problem with a special election is it'll be some time before that's resolved. It won't be until April that we finally have a Senator from Illinois. It'll cost the taxpayers money.
But again, if the legislature decides that's what they want to do, that's fine. Again...
WALLACE: Do you think this is really good government...
MIKVA: ... I think the worst...
WALLACE: Judge Mikva, do you think this is really good government or do you think it's a power play by the Republicans to get a Senate seat that they wouldn't get if a Democratic lieutenant governor appoints a Democrat?
MIKVA: Well, my feeling is that they won't get the seat, in any event, if the Democrats come up with good candidates.
But I think this is a decision that the legislature ought to make. The lieutenant governor has gone both ways on this. I think that President-elect Obama has indicated that he sees nothing wrong with a special election.
It's only the problem that for four months, there will not be a second Senator from Illinois and that, of course, is sad.
WALLACE: Representative Cross, let me present another problem and perhaps the biggest obstacle is even if the general assembly passes this law, the governor still has to sign it, that is, Governor Blagojevich.
Do you have any indication at all that that governor is voluntarily going to give up any of his powers?
CROSS: I don't think anybody knows that right now. The ability to predict what he may or may not do is almost impossible.
I think the — backing up a little bit. The Democrats actually proposed the special election to us earlier in the week and I think they even know, in order to rehabilitate the problems they're going to have over the next weeks and months and even longer because of this, is to have this special election.
We will be ably represented in Washington, D.C. with Dick Durban and also having the president of the United States from the state of Illinois.
So I think the length of time of having to wait for a special election is not a problem we have.
Again, this is an issue of restoring a little integrity into a system that has been shocked.
WALLACE: Representative Cross, the next question that you're going to have to face starting this week, and you've got a busy agenda, is how to try to remove Blagojevich from office.
Now, the Illinois attorney general, Lisa Madigan, on Friday, filed a motion with the state supreme court to remove the governor or strip him from his powers on the basis that he's unfit.
Why is impeachment a better way to go than this motion to the state supreme court?
CROSS: I'm not at all disagreeing with the attorney general has done. I think most of us would say let's take whatever track works to have the governor removed.
The one question about her approach, though, is that it doesn't bring any finality to the situation. Impeachment is clear. Once we're through with that, there's closure, there's finality.
That's not the case with the approach that she's taken. The question now is whether the speaker of the house, who happens also to be the state party chairman for the Democrats, is willing to let us move forward on impeachment.
I think you'd find that most Republicans and Democrats in the state believe it's the right way to go if he doesn't resign.
WALLACE: Judge Mikva, where do you stand on the impeachment versus temporarily stripping of powers?
And more specifically, on the attorney general's case, she's doing it under something called Rule 382. Isn't that really about disability in the sense of a physical disability or a mental disability, not an inability to tell right from wrong, as we apparently have with this governor?
MIKVA: Well, the word "physical" or "mental" are nowhere used in there. It's true, this is a case of first impression and lawyers and attorney generals are always uncomfortable when they're in deep water.
But the problem with impeachment, and, certainly, it is the final answer, I couldn't agree more with Senator Cross that the ultimate answer is for the legislature to act and it won't be final until they do.
The problem is that that is going to take a long time, certainly, if there's going to be due process afforded to the government, which I'm sure the legislature will try to do.
But there's nothing in the lawsuit that the attorney general filed which suggests anything other than that the legislature should move ahead with impeachment as quickly as they can.
WALLACE: Representative Cross, let me switch to another aspect of this fascinating and somewhat troubling story.
There are reports that Obama Chief of Staff Rahm Emanuel had conversations with members of the Blagojevich team about a list of candidates for the Senate who would be acceptable for Mr. Obama, to succeed him, and that at least some of those conversations were captured on the government wiretaps.
Representative Cross, does that raise any questions, in your mind, that possibly Rahm Emanuel did something wrong?
CROSS: Well, people are going to ask that. I think it's a little premature for any of us to speculate on what was said or what wasn't said or how this is going to impact people.
Clearly, the governor, on those same tapes or at different times with tapes, talks about, in essence, selling the U.S. Senate seat. I'm not sure what Rahm Emanuel said and surely there are those that would like to carry this further.
I think time will tell and I'm sure the U.S. attorney's office is — this is really the early stages of, I suspect, an investigation that's going to take some time. But I'm not sure, at this point, what all Rahm Emanuel has done or hasn't done.
WALLACE: Judge Mikva, even if there's no legal exposure, the fact that Emanuel is captured on these conversations reportedly with members of the Blagojevich team, could that embarrass the president- elect and certainly undercut his image as a new kind of politician?
MIKVA: Well, Governor Blagojevich has embarrassed all the citizens of Illinois and most especially the officeholders and former officeholders and Democratic officeholders.
But I think President-elect Obama can take credit out of the fact that Governor Blagojevich knew who he was dealing with and spoke about President-elect Obama's unwillingness to be involved in any of these shenanigans, in no uncertain terms, in no uncertain and unprintable terms.
WALLACE: So you don't see any possible or potential embarrassment, not talking about legal exposure, but embarrassment to President-elect Obama from the conversations between Rahm Emanuel and Blagojevich's staff.
MIKVA: Well, as I said, Blagojevich's actions and his self- dilutions are embarrassing to everybody. It certainly was appropriate for Rahm Emanuel to have discussion with the governor both about the vacant seat for the Senate and also about his own impending vacancy.
Under Illinois law, a Congressman, when he resigns, resigns to the governor. So it would be impossible for Rahm Emanuel not to have had some communication with Governor Blagojevich when he was becoming chief of staff.
The problem is, as Representative Cross said, none of us knows what was said on those tapes, what the context was, and it's pretty clear that Blagojevich was never given any reason to think that he could make any kind of a deal with the Obama forces.
WALLACE: Representative Cross, I want to get into one final area with you and that is that when New York Governor Eliot Spitzer got in trouble with a prostitute, he resigned within the same week, in fact, two days after the story broke and he initially apologized to the citizens of that state.
Why do you think Blagojevich is holding on? It's now five days and counting.
CROSS: I this was, my guess is, a complete shock to him what happened Tuesday morning. I suspect there are three things going on.
One, by nature, he's a fighter. Two, I suspect that he, unlike Eliot Spitzer, has got to figure out how he lives day to day without a job. And third, I suspect he's also talking to his legal team about how to handle this situation with the U.S. attorney's office, does he plead, does he not plead, is it best to resign.
Those are all things I suspect he's talking about. I clearly haven't talked to him.
But at the end of the day, for the people of the state of Illinois, in order for us to get back to the business of the people of the state of Illinois, the best thing would be for him to resign.
If he doesn't do that, we have to go through the unpleasant task, it's not something any of us revel in, but go forward with impeachment.
We've got to move forwards, because there are a lot of issues facing this stage.
WALLACE: And finally, Judge Mikva, and we have less than a minute left, what's your best guess as to what Blagojevich's angle is now as we go into the end of the first week of him in this kind of limbo?
And secondly, as somebody — and I know personally — who has been representing Illinois for the better part of a half of a century, how do you explain the continued political corruption in your state?
MIKVA: Well, first of all, I don't know what's going on in Governor Blagojevich's heads. I hope he resigns. I agree with Representative Cross. It would be the best thing for the people.
Secondly, perhaps out of this dismal situation, maybe something good will come. As I listened to Representative Cross today and as I have been reading the newspapers over the last few days and hearing what's going on, perhaps this will bring a little bipartisan spirit in Illinois to try to reform our structure.
We have never paid enough attention to laws regarding pay to play or ethics that we should. Paul Simon and I went back — go back 50 years trying to pass some of the laws that the legislature is just beginning to come around to look at.
And I hope that this enthusiasm of our cleaning up this mess will continue after the impeachment and Democrats and Republicans can come together to restore the good name of the state of Illinois.
WALLACE: Judge Mikva, Representative Cross, I want to thank you both for coming in today and talking with us, and you're both going to have a very busy week.
Thank you, gentlemen.
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Chris will sit down with former Clinton Chief Strategist Joel Benenson, to discuss what he blames for turning voters away from Hillary Clinton just days before the election.