Transcript: Sen. Richard Durbin on 'FNS'

Published October 17, 2005

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This is a partial transcript from "FOX News Sunday," Oct. 16, 2005, that has been edited for clarity.

CHRIS WALLACE, HOST: Joining us now to discuss Iraq, the CIA leak case and what's ahead for Supreme Court nominee Harriet Miers (search) is Senator Richard Durbin (search), the number two Democrat in the Senate, who is in Springfield, Illinois, today.

And Senator, thanks for being with us again.

SENATOR RICHARD DURBIN, D-ILL.: Thanks, Chris.

WALLACE: How do you read yesterday's vote in Iraq? Doesn't it indicate that real progress is being made toward the development of a democratic government there?

DURBIN: I certainly hope so. The sooner we have a democratic government in Iraq, the sooner we'll have political stability, security, and American troops can come home. But I think it's a little too early to read the results until we actually take a look at the real figures.

At this point, with an overwhelming Sunni turnout, we're not sure if it was a turnout for acceptance or rejection. If it was a turnout of rejection, we have to go back to the drawing board, start all over on the constitution.

WALLACE: You have been very critical, I think it's fair to say, of the president's policies in Iraq, and I want to put up something that you said on the Senate floor earlier this month. Let's take a look.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

DURBIN: Our men and women in uniform have not failed. The political leaders have failed, failed to come up with a plan which said after Saddam Hussein is gone, this is how we will end this war.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

WALLACE: Senator, given the millions of people who went out and voted yesterday, millions of people who couldn't have voted at all or at least freely under Saddam Hussein, do you want to soften those remarks?

DURBIN: I just say this, Chris. Since the overwhelming election in January of this year, we have lost over 533 American soldiers. Thousands have been seriously wounded. I just visited a number of them during the course of this break.

The point I want to make is this. This administration was not prepared after the removal of Saddam Hussein. I saw it when I went to Walter Reed Hospital to find soldiers with their legs blown off because we didn't have armored plating on our Humvee.

I saw it when parents would contact me and tell me that their Illinois soldiers did not have body armor. They were taking up collections at their churches to protect our soldiers. I've seen it when the helicopters we sent into the field, helicopters from Guard units, were not properly equipped to defend themselves against the enemy and the insurgents.

So my point is this. This administration has a responsibility to the American people to do better. America can do better. Our soldiers deserve better than what we've received from this administration.

WALLACE: But, Senator, I mean, the fact is we've had the election of an interim assembly. Now we've had a vote, nine million- plus people voting on the constitution. We'll see whether they vote for it or against it, but even if they vote against it, that's still part of the political process.

There are 32 Iraqi battalions — that's about 27,000 Iraqi soldiers who are trained now to lead counterinsurgency with the support of U.S. forces. I guess the question I have is what's the Democratic plan? What would you do now in Iraq?

DURBIN: Let me also add to the figures you've just given. Over 150,000 American troops now in the field in Iraq, the largest number since the invasion. We now know from disclosures by Generals Casey and Abizaid that only one Iraqi battalion, one out of over 100 battalions, is prepared to stand and fight alone. It doesn't give you confidence that American soldiers will be replaced soon with Iraqi soldiers and be able to come home.

WALLACE: But, Senator, to be fair, as I just pointed out, 27,000 Iraqis are able to lead counterinsurgency and, frankly, in your answer, I still didn't hear a plan.

DURBIN: Oh, I can tell you what the plan is as far as I'm concerned. The plan is to move Iraqis toward political stability and toward their own safety and security, taken up on their own.

And our position on the Democratic side is to make sure that we hold this administration accountable in ways it's not been held before. We can do better in Iraq. America can do better. And we need to have metrics of accountability so that we know exactly how many Iraqi soldiers are prepared to defend that country.

WALLACE: But they're telling you that, sir.

DURBIN: We need to make sure that we know what the reconstruction will...

WALLACE: Senator, they're telling you that. They've told you that there's one level one unit (inaudible) troops, that's completely independent, 27,000 troops, 36 brigades, or battalions, rather, that can lead counterinsurgency. I mean, you're getting those figures.

DURBIN: The figures that we're not getting from this administration to indicate progress are what worry me. That one battalion you point to — a few months ago they told us there were three or four battalions ready. So we see a movement in the wrong direction.

There is less electricity available to the people of Iraq today than before the invasion of Iraq. There is less production of oil today in Iraq today than we had at the time of the invasion.

And so when you look back at the actual metrics of accountability, holding this administration accountable, in many respects, we don't see the progress that we need to bring America's troops home.

WALLACE: Senator, I want to switch subjects to the CIA leak case. New York Times reporter Judith Miller finally came out in today's paper and said that Vice President Cheney's chief of staff, Lewis Libby, told her that the wife of a Bush critic, Ambassador Joe Wilson (search), worked for the CIA.

She also says Libby's lawyer didn't want her to testify unless she was going to clear him. Libby's lawyer, we should say, denies that. What do you make of all that?

DURBIN: Well, I think the administration has some explaining to do. When we look back at the early comments by the administration that they had no knowledge of any of this reaching the highest levels of the White House, and now we see Mr. Rove returning to the grand jury for extended interrogation, now Mr. Libby, the vice president's chief of staff, has been implicated directly by Miss miller, there's a suggestion there that what happened is very clear.

In an effort to discredit Ambassador Joe Wilson, who said some things critical about the deceptions that led up to the invasion of Iraq, they, in fact, outed the identity of his wife. Exactly who did it has never been clear.

Patrick Fitzgerald, the prosecutor in this case, I can guarantee you, is going to stick with this to the end. He's a professional prosecutor. And I trust him to be totally non-partisan in this effort that is now reaching the highest levels in the White House.

WALLACE: But, Senator, you have said that even if this prosecutor, Fitzgerald, does not charge Rove or Libby, you've said that Rove — and I assume you agree you would add Libby — should resign or should be fired.

Question, is there something here involving the criminalization of politics, that what we do now is destroy, in this case, Republicans who have been whipping Democrats for years?

DURBIN: Let me go back, Chris. I didn't call for the firing of either Rove or Libby. I'm not sure where you got that quote. I've said if it ends up that either one of them is indicted, of course, traditionally, they've been removed from the White House during that period of time.

WALLACE: No, actually, Senator, you said at one point last July that you thought that Rove should either — that the president should fire him and/or he should lose his security pass.

DURBIN: The point that I was making is that he had to come out clearly and tell the prosecutor in this case, Mr. Fitzgerald, of his involvement in this case. The idea that he wasn't going to make a statement, a clear statement to the American people, that he had no involvement left some shadow of doubt.

Now look at it a year later. He just spent 4.5 hours before a grand jury in the District of Columbia. The point I want to make is this. You want to generalize that there's some criminalization of politics. Well, take a look at what's happened.

Tom DeLay (search), the number two Republican in the U.S. House of Representatives, facing two indictments in Texas. The Republican leader of the Senate under investigation by the Securities and Exchange Commission. Mr. Abramoff, this well connected lobbyist on Capitol Hill — everything he touches is radioactive.

They had to remove the name of Tim Flanagan, who was nominated for the number two position in the Department of Justice, for fear that he would face a public hearing where he'd have to discuss whatever Tyco's relationship was with Mr. Abramoff.

These are not isolated incidents. They turn out to be a pattern that suggests that there's some at the highest levels in this government, in the Republican party, who are not sensitive to what the American people ask of them.

The point I want to make in closing is this. There are good and honest people in the Congress, in government, in both political parties. It's time for everyone who believes that we need to give the American people a government as good as they are to step forward and say this kind of conduct isn't acceptable.

WALLACE: All right, Senator. We've got about a minute left, and I wanted to go to one last subject, which is Harriet Miers. After everything you've heard, what do you think of her as a nominee for the Supreme Court?

DURBIN: Well, I don't know much about her. I met with her personally, and I was happy that she came by the office, and I'm looking forward to the hearings with the Senate Judiciary Committee. But she's been subject to vicious attack by the Republican right.

I also have to say that I don't think the president did her a favor this last week by bringing up her religion as part of the reason why she should be considered positively as a nominee.

I believe that's the first time in history that any president has pointed directly at a nominee's religion in suggesting that's what qualifies them to serve on the court. It's going to make for a very difficult line of inquiry at our hearing, but we have to understand what she's all about, what her values and beliefs are, so we can make an informed judgment.

WALLACE: Senator, I have to ask you — I was going to ask you about whether the White House was hypocritical, but now I've got to ask whether you were hypocritical, because you talked with Judge Roberts about his faith, the faith that you share, the Catholic faith, and what role that would play.

So aren't you playing — didn't you bring up the religion issue just as much as the White House?

DURBIN: The difference, of course, Chris, is that was a private and personal conversation which I have never disclosed. What we have...

WALLACE: Well, nothing's private and personal. We all found out about it, sir.

DURBIN: Well, what you found out about it, unfortunately, was not true. The disclosure that was made was not accurate.

But look at the actual hearings. The questions were made — were given to Judge Roberts from both sides of the aisle about his personal religious beliefs, but no one ever said of John Roberts that his best qualification for the court, when you look at it, is his background, his life and his religion.

What the president has done is set up a standard for Miss Miers which is going to make it very difficult for her at the hearing.

WALLACE: Senator Durbin, we want to thank you so much for joining us today and answering all our questions.

DURBIN: Thank you, Chris.

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