Chain of Command in CBS Memo Flap

This is a partial transcript of "Special Report With Brit Hume," Sept. 22, 2004, that has been edited for clarity.

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BRIT HUME, HOST: Dan Rather (search) says he still does not think those discredited memos on which that story he had were forged. Question: Does CBS News need now to take further steps?

For answers, we turn to our friend Professor Larry Sabato, head of the University of Virginia's Center for Politics.

Welcome to you, sir. Nice to have you.


HUME: CBS has now appointed two very respected people, Lou Boccardi (search) and former Attorney General Thornburgh (search), a prominent Republican to inquire into this. But so far as we know, everybody else remains in place. Mary Mapes remains in place, Dan Rather remains in place, all executives involved remain in place. Is that enough to sort of hold this tide back, this storm back for the time being?

SABATO: Absolutely not. Look, the important thing is not so much what happens in the end to Dan Rather and Mary Mapes, though one would presume something would happen. Rather, it is more appropriate, I think, to ask the key question whodunit? This was a complicated scam. Anybody who believes that that retired Army National Guard person Mr. Burkett actually produced these forged documents — and please, Dan Rather, they are forged. Everybody else in the world now knows that they're forged. Anybody who believes that Burkett did that alone is smoking something you can't buy at the corner drugstore.

HUME: Of course, he denies doing it at all. He says he's only a conduit.

SABATO: He says that he was a conduit. Well, who provided the information? Who did it? There had to be other people involved. Were they connected with the Democratic Party? Were they connected with John Kerry?

HUME: No evidence of that yet.

SABATO: No, no evidence. But where are the Woodwards and Bernsteins out there who want to get a Pulitzer? This is a mini Watergate. And it's worth investigating. And people should know the results before Nov. 2.

HUME: For CBS' own purposes though, as they try to establish the credibility they may have lost with their audience, is it appropriate to leave these people in place? Mary Mapes, for example, who we now know had another encounter that had to do with her trying to be a go between in a way, that met with criticism from the Bureau of Prisons and the revocation of privilege?

Is it appropriate for her to stand down pending the outcome of this investigation? Would it be appropriate for Dan Rather to step aside during the pendency of this investigation or what?

SABATO: Given what's happened, I am stunned in particularly with this incredible letter from the Bureau of Prisons that Brian Wilson came up with. I am stunned that Mary Mapes has not already announced she's stepping down, at least temporarily during the commission deliberations. Dan Rather, that's up to CBS.

I continue to believe the important thing for the voters is to find out who did this? Was there a political shenanigan involved? Was this partisanly motivated? And if so, it ought to matter in the election.

HUME: I'm wondering if this puts a potentially unfair cloud over the Kerry campaign until it's resolved.

SABATO: Absolutely. They claimed they had nothing to do with it. Now we do know there was contact with Max Cleland, former senator from Georgia who's very close with Senator Kerry and Joe Lockhart...

HUME: But so far as we know, those contacts did not lead to anything. And they suggest that the Kerry camp was finding out, perhaps before the public did that this was coming out, but not well ahead of time. Correct?

SABATO: So far as we know. So far as we know. But again, who provided this information? Who did the research that enabled these documents that were request extremely well done and that did fool some good people to begin with. Who did this?

HUME: When you say extremely well done, you mean the quality of the forgery or the quality of the information?

SABATO: Oh, the quality of information in there. Obviously, they goofed in terms of formatting it through Word instead of an old typewriter. But I mean the information in there it fit. Almost everything fit. There were a couple of little mistakes that gave people a tip-off. But this was a good forgery, not in the quality of the forgery, but in the information contained in the documents.

HUME: And inside job, perhaps?

SABATO: Looks awfully suspicious to me.

HUME: Larry Sabato, always good to have you. Thanks for being here.

SABATO: Thank you, Brit.

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