This is a rush transcript of "Special Report With Brit Hume" from September 5, 2007. This copy may not be in its final form and may be updated.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SEN ARLEN SPECTER, (R) PENNSYLVANIA: We would still like to see Senator Craig fight this case. He left himself some daylight, Chris, when he said he intends to resign in 30 days. I would like to see Larry Craig go back to court, seek to withdraw his "guilty" plea, and fight the case.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BRIAN WILSON, GUEST HOST: Well, indeed, it does now appear that Senator Larry Craig is taking very seriously the words of his colleague Arlen Specter and is considering whether or not he should fight his decision to resign, saying he used that word "intent." And we're going to have much discussion about that.

Here for some analytical observations on all this, Fred Barnes, the Executive Editor of The Weekly Standard, Nina Easton, Washington Bureau Chief of Fortune Magazine, and Mort Kondracke, Executive Editor of Roll Call — FOX news contributors all.

Good to have you here in New Hampshire, it's good to be with you. Fred, let me just start. First of all, he says — look, something must have happened in the bathroom stall in Minneapolis. We do not know what. The facts maybe, are in a bit of dispute. But he decides he is going to plead guilty.

Then he says, "No, maybe it was a bad idea." And then he decides, "Well, I'm still going to have to resign." And now he decides maybe resigning is a bad idea.

And you add to that the chaos that comes with him leaving this phone message on the wrong phone. This is not exactly a guy who is inspiring a great deal of confidence at the moment.

RED BARNES, EXECUTIVE EDITOR, WEEKLY STANDARD: No, and he is not pleasing many Republicans, either, who think that every day he lingers in office is a bad day for Republicans.
This is a case that everybody knows about, probably the entire world, as a matter of fact. Not that it is the most important one, but it is the kind of thing that really gets through to people.

And now, here is what it is. The senators who would like to have him resign immediately, such as Senate Republican Leader Mitch McConnell, do not have any leverage anymore.

He's not planning on running for reelection anymore, so denying him campaign funds would not do any good. But what they figure is that he will not get the case overturned in Minneapolis at all. The chances are very slim.

And what he told Senator McConnell today when he called—he called exactly at the time I was supposed to be interviewing McConnell, but McConnell was not available because he was getting this call from Larry Craig. Craig said, "I will resign on September 30 if I don't get the case overturned."

And here is why it is unlikely. I have his guilty plea here, in which he says, and he signed it, he says, "I understand this court will not accept the plea of guilty from anyone who claims to be innocent. I now make no claim that I am innocent of the charge to which I am entering a plea of guilty."

He signed it. This is a legal document. I think it is going to be hard to get that overturned.

WILSON: Mort, what do you think?

MORT KONDRACKE, EXECUTIVE EDITOR, ROLL CALL: The law in Minnesota is that in order to have a guilty plea overturned, you have to demonstrate that a manifest injustice was done, and that there was a defect in the plea process.

Now, this signature here was to a document, as Fred said, that he said that he is not innocent. He said that he understood the charges against him, and so on.

And even if this case—even if he succeeded in overturning this by September 30—very unlikely—he could be charged with the more serious offense, that they dropped, of a gross misdemeanor of interfering with privacy, which is the peeping tom offense. And the trial would be horrendous for him, I would think.

NINA EASTON, WASHINGTON BUREUA CHIEF OF FORTUNE MAGAZINE: He is determined, again, to prove the point that goes to the core of his being, that he is not gay. That is really at the end of the day what this is all about.

And yes, Minnesota is the one state that has a bit of wiggle room in this question about whether you can get a guilty verdict overthrown. He has got these superstar lawyers who are latching onto that with some hope.

But even on a personal level—his political career is over. Even if you read the police report, and this was a guy who was peeping through bathroom stalls, and has a wide stance, and was playing footsies with the officer, his political career is over. This becomes a personal issue for him.

But the problem is, for Republicans, it is a political issue. They want this done and gone. As Mitch McConnell said today, "This episode is over."

WILSON: Nobody seems to be rallying to his support, with the exception of Arlen Specter.

KONDRACKE: Well, even Arlen Specter is backing off, too.

BARNES: Yes, he is backing off. But the way it looks is, on Friday, Craig called Senator McConnell and said, "I will resign on the 30th." Then Craig gets a call from Arlen Specter, telling him you really ought to challenge this case.

So he changes what he is going to say. And when we see Craig again on Saturday, he adds that word "intent." "I intend to resign on September 30." Now we know that he does not intend to if he can get the case overturned.

WILSON: Republicans have got to be beyond apoplectic about this.

KONDRACKE: But I think they are hoping that this is all going to go away, which is why you haven't had one Senator after another coming out and saying more about it, because they figure that it is going to die in the Minneapolis court system.

WILSON: All right. Well, we are in New Hampshire for the big debate tonight among Republican candidates who want to be president. When we come back we'll talk about that with the all stars.

And then after that we will talk to Brit Hume about the questions he might have in mind for tonight.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: How are you folks at the debate tonight? Sharp elbows, time to make contrast with Republicans, time to get this campaign serious?

RUDY GIULIANI, REPUBLICAN PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: No. This campaign is all about laying out what you are all about and making contrast with the Democrats. I'm running against a group of Democrats.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

WILSON: There is Rudy Giuliani. All the candidates come into the hallway here in New Hampshire, as they do before all these debates, and look over the room, get a sense of the lighting, and that kind of thing. People were filing through here today.

The big arena you see behind me now is normally used for hockey. But tonight the GOP hopefuls for the presidency will be in the room. Let's talk about that with our panel of all stars.

Nina, first of all, let's start. How important is this factor, the Thompson factor? He is the guy a lot of people are talking about right now. His campaign, as we reported earlier, seems to be in a bit of chaos. He is not here. How much of an impact will that have on tonight's event?

EASTON: Well, I think—first of all, full disclosure, my husband advises Romney.

But, I think, on the Fred Thompson factor—look, none of the debates so far have unsettled the race. Everything is sort of set. You have had Giuliani as the lead, the national lead. We've got Romney with the leads in Iowa and New Hampshire. We do have McCain, who has gone from a front-runner, basically, to an underdog.

The question now is, can they mix it up? And I think one of the people that they will be attacking tonight is Fred Thompson. But I don't think it is going to stop there. It is Labor Day. We are out of the gate now.

And I think we saw some of this by McCain today, who came out and said, "I am the one with foreign policy experience," dissing the idea that a major like Giuliani would have foreign policy experience, criticizing these guys, his contender, the other contenders, because they didn't go after Rumsfeld for the conduct of the Iraq war the way he did.

So I think certainly from McCain we are going to see some sharp elbows. I bet we see it from other candidates as well.

WILSON: Mort, who is the guy that needs to score a big victory tonight to puncture through to the public consciousness?

KONDRACKE: Well, there are two levels. People have got to puncture through Mitt Romney, who is the leader in New Hampshire, where this debate is taking place, and in Iowa as well. And they have to try to puncture through Rudy Giuliani, who is the leader nationally.

So I would think that you would see some attacks for example, on Romney, for his distancing himself from the Bush position on the Iraq war. As we were talking yesterday, he has basically come out for an Iraq Study Group kind of position, where you get the troops out of combat, which is different, and I would think McCain would go after that.

Romney, himself, has been going after Giuliani on the immigration issue. So I think you could expect some mixing it up tonight. And Thompson is not here to do any mixing. And I do not know that anybody is going to refer to him, unless they are asked. But I think he is a loser here.

WILSON: Fred, speaking of the topics in campaign, what about all these reports of the campaign's being in some sort of chaotic situations? There is a lot of turmoil there.

BARNES: I tend to dismiss those as not being important, because what is important is the candidate. And what has to happen with Fred Thompson is he has to come out strongly.
If you have seen his speeches in recent weeks, and I saw one, it was very disappointing. It was not strong at all. He was vague even on his goals.

But if he can come out on “Leno” tonight and in the next few days and start to convince people that he is a strong, attractive candidate, and that he is the consistent conservative. Remember, the Republicans are the conservative party—the consistent Republican arguing that Romney is not consistent, he's flip-flopped, and Rudy is not a conservative.

And I think that he's the guy you can trust to be conservative when he is in office, like Ronald Reagan. That is a tough case to make. But he is going to get such attention that he did not need to be in this debate tonight.

EASTON: I think this is going to be a helium balloon for about a week or two. He is going to take off. But at that point, you are going to see—the press attacks will start, candidate attacks.
And also people who have left his campaign are disgruntled and have a lot to say. I think we are going to start hearing from them.

BARNES: There are those people, but I do not think they matter. The candidate matters.

KONDRACKE: This Web cast that he is launching his campaign with at midnight tonight is pretty vague. It talks about controlling the borders, and it talks about fighting terrorism. But there is no signature initiative on his part, and he is not really distinguishing himself from other Republicans.

WILSON: It is going to be a great event. The arena you see behind us here is going to be packed to the gills, and the floor will be filled, and all of the candidates here.

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