Ups and Downs for the Week of March 20

This is a partial transcript from "The Beltway Boys," March 25, 2006, that has been edited for clarity.

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MORT KONDRACKE, CO-HOST: Let’s check out our ups and downs this week.

UP: the White House staff. Last week, we put them down because of friendly, frenzied speculation that a shakeup was in the offing. But this week, top aides got a vote of confidence from their boss. Watch.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

PRESIDENT BUSH: These are good, hard-working, decent people. And we’ve dealt with a lot. We’ve dealt with a lot. We’ve dealt with war, we’ve dealt with recession, we’ve dealt with scandal, and we dealt with Katrina. I mean, they had a lot on their plate. And I appreciate their performance and their hard work. And they’ve got my confidence.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

KONDRACKE: Well, the frenzied speculation was stimulated by somebody who wrote a piece in The Wall Street Journal.

BARNES: Somebody?

(LAUGHTER)

KONDRACKE: Yes, saying that the whole lot of them should be shaken up, and Condi Rice and Dick Cheney and Rumsfeld out, and all this kind of stuff. The president did not take your advice. He’s keeping all those people around.

Although there might be some sort of a graybeard who might come in and help out with congressional liaison, which would be a good thing.

FRED BARNES, CO-HOST: Bill Paxon or somebody like that would be good for that, but he’s not really a graybeard. He’d hate to hear you say that.

Look, presidents in their second term often hit a wall, and then for the last few years will decide to limp out of office, achieving practically nothing. And Bush doesn’t have to do that, because a president has one great power, Mort. And you know what that is? He can change the subject.

How do you do that? You give a facelift to your administration, move people around, and name a successor. I think it’d be smart for him to name Condi Rice as his favorite in 2008, by having Dick Cheney resign as vice president, which I’m sure he’d be glad to do anyway, and her become vice president. He would be anointing her as his successor. That doesn’t mean she’d win in 2008, to be the Republican nominee, but she’d certainly have a leg up.

But you can do all this. You can shock the press; you can surprise the political community. It happens all the time. And, and if you do it in a concerted way, you can create this aura of a third term, the feel of a third presidential term.

Look, this president does bold things. He has in the past. He likes to roll the dice. I think it’s time to do it again.

KONDRACKE: Well, the only problem with your theory is that Bush doesn’t want to do it. The second problem is that the confirmation hearings on these people, for example...

BARNES: They’d be great.

KONDRACKE: Oh, no. No, they would give the Democrats a chance to tear the administration apart. Cheney going to Defense, as you advised? I mean, it would bring up back at the whole Iraq war, and there’d be an investigation about subpoena power and everything.

BARNES: You remember how much in the confirmation hearings for Roberts and Alito, how much people loved the Democrats? That’s where you want them — it’s Democrats at their worst.

DOWN: The FBI. The trial of 9/11 conspirator Zacharias Moussaoui has uncovered yet more bungling by the agency. The latest, an FBI agent testifying this week that he warned his supervisors more than 70 times that Moussaoui was a terrorist and that he was plotting to hijack an airplane.

KONDRACKE: Yes, this agent in Minneapolis was tearing his hair out to try to get his superiors in Washington to go for a FISA warrant, in order to open up Mossaoui’s computer, etc.

The guy in Washington who, by the way, the FBI promoted and Charles Grassley, the senator from Iowa, has been investigating it, why, you know, why that happened. But in any event, his excuse seems to be that it was so difficult to get a FISA warrant, and the FISA court was so restrictive, that he didn’t want to do it.

This raises questions and makes a commentary about how difficult it might be to get FISA warrants, which has implications for the NSA spying flap.

BARNES: Mort, that’s a very excellent point, and it’s one of the reasons, for sure, that the president decided to use his constitutional authority to order this wiretapping of a terrorist in one place and somebody in the U.S. as well without warrants, to do it that way, so you could do it immediately and not have to go get a court warrant.

And FISA would not be a rubber stamp for those things. I think the president did the right thing.

DOWN: Actor Charlie Sheen. He’s joined the chorus of theorists who believe that 9/11 was a conspiracy. In a recent radio interview, Sheen wondered aloud whether the collapse of the World Trade Center was a controlled demolition, and here’s what he said: "It seems to me like 19 amateurs with box cutters taking over four commercial airliners and hitting 75 percent of their targets, that feels like a conspiracy theory. It raises a lot of questions."

(LAUGHTER)

(CROSSTALK)

BARNES: I say, no wonder Denise Richards, his wife, dumped him. I mean, he seems to pay as much attention to facts and the truth as he did to his marriage vows.

KONDRACKE: You know, the conspiracy theory here is that Bush did it.

BARNES: Oh, yes, of course.

KONDRACKE: That’s one conspiracy, but Bush didn’t do this.

(CROSSTALK)

KONDRACKE: But the whole theory is that Bush did this in order to provide an excuse to invade Afghanistan and Iraq. I don’t think so.

BARNES: You don’t believe that?

KONDRACKE: No, I don’t.

BARNES: Is there a shred of evidence for that?

KONDRACKE: Well, the evidence that these people adduce is that Bush did not leave that little classroom in Florida, therefore, he knew that, he wasn’t the target, you know.

(LAUGHTER)

KONDRACKE: That’s all right.

BARNES: The buzz, which will be better than that theory, is up next.

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