This is a rush transcript of "Special Report With Brit Hume" from February 21, 2008. This copy may not be in its final form and may be updated.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
JOHN MCCAIN, (R) PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: Obviously, I'm very disappointed in the article. It's not true. At no time have I ever done anything that would betray the public trust, nor make a decision which in any way would not be in the public interest and would favor anyone or any organization.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
BRIT HUME, HOST: What he was talking about is the story in today's New York Times that appeared on the Times Web site last evening which basically says that eight years ago or more, aides to Senator John McCain, only one of whom is named, became so concerned about his relationship with a female lobbyist that they approached the woman, or that they approached McCain and the woman separately, and urged that they knock it off.
And, fortunately, neither for The New York Times at least, McCain and the women deny that they had any kind of romantic relationship. And the one aide that was named in the story says that he didn't tell McCain nor any other aide that we have been able to find and tell McCain to knock it off.
Moreover, the aide admits he met with the lobbyist, but that was, he says, to tell her to stop going around town bragging that she had great influence with McCain, who was then chairman of the Senate Commerce Committee.
So, as for The New York Times and why it did this story and why it did it at this time, the Executive Editor of the paper, Bill Keller, said today "On the substance," he says, "we think it speaks for itself. On the timing, our policy is we publish stories when they are ready."
Some thoughts on this now from Bill Sammon, Senior White House Correspondent for "The Washington Examiner," Mort Kondracke, the Executive Editor of "Roll Call," and the syndicated columnist Charles Krauthammer, FOX News contributors all.
Bill, let's start with you on this. It seems to me we knew a lot of this back in December when the fact that the Times was pursuing this leaked out and got on "The Drudge Report" on the Internet, and a lot of us went running after this story. What about it?
BILL SAMMON, SENIOR WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT, WASHINGTON EXAMINER: Well, it wasn't ready in December, and, unfortunately, it's not ready now.
I'm all for nailing somebody to the wall if you've got the goods on them. I've been a newspaper reporter for 25 years, so I know something about doing an investigative piece and making sure you can back up the lead, as we call it. They couldn't back up the lead with this story.
There are basically two accusations, one that he was having a romantic affair with this female lobbyist, and, two, there was an insinuation that there was some sort of quid pro quo because of this. Neither of those things were backed up in the story.
So what happened is that the story has backfired spectacularly. Virtually all of the outrage that has been sparked by the story has been directed at The New York Times and not John McCain, the target of the story, and, furthermore, I think will inoculate him against any possible follow-ups because people on both sides of the aisle are saying the Times overreached on this story.
MORT KONDRACKE, EXECUTIVE EDITOR, "ROLL CALL": I agree with everything that Bill said, and the McCain campaign is stomping on this story and trying to make it go away.
But I don't think it will go away for a couple of reasons. First, there will be follow-up to find out what exactly McCain did for Ms. Iseman's clients and what he did didn't do.
HUME: Let me interrupt you for a second. What we do know is, and what the Times cites as really it's only specific example is that he wrote letters to accelerate an FCC decision which was dragging well behind when the FCC usually makes such decisions, but specifically said he wasn't urging that the FCC decide the case one way or the other, only that they go ahead and decide it.
KONDRACKE: Although he was reprimanded by the FCC chairman for doing it, for intervening.
But in any event, the point I wanted to make is that Barack Obama makes lobbyists, in general, out to be, if not the focus of evil of the modern world, than at least the reason why we can't get anything done in Washington, and he has expunged them from his campaign, wants them nowhere around, and stuff like that.
The other parts of this story, the non-sexy aspects of this story, trace a history of McCain's rather cozy relationships with lobbyists — flying on corporate jets, including Ms. Iseman's company, accepting money during his 2000 campaign from interests with business before the Commerce Committee, forming this reform institute which, after soft money was abolished because of McCain-Feingold Bill, which accepted soft money in large amounts from other interests.
So he's going to have to explain all of this. And he may as well start explaining it right now.
HUME: What does he have to explain about it?
KONDRACKE: Lobbyists — what is his connection with lobbyists? What has he done for them and what has he not done for them?
Believe me, this is going to be a major issue in the campaign. It is what Obama makes out to be the major issue of his campaign right now.
CHARLES KRAUTHAMMER, SYNDICATED COLUMNIST: But this story does not demonstrate any serious ethical allegations in terms of accepting a favor from a lobbyist.
Look, whenever the highbrow media want to are run a sex scandal story, it's wrapped in the brown paper wrapping of a money or corruption story. On Giuliani, it was the story allegedly about the accounting irregularities of the security detail around his mistress. While, the accounting stuff melted away, and what was left was the word "mistress," which hurt Giuliani.
Here, the only reason we have a big story is because at the center of is a blond 30 years his junior who is attractive, and the implication, allegation, innuendo of an affair. All of this ethical stuff, as Jim Angle had shown in his report, at least in this story, is vapor.
SAMMON: The irony is that this story is having the political effect of causing conservatives who had been very skeptical of McCain, at least some of them, to start to rally around him, and beat up on The New York Times, which is seen as the symbol of the liberal mainstream media.
The McCain campaign sent out a fund-raiser today citing this story as a reason for people to give money to the McCain campaign.
HUME: Yes, they turned it into a fundraising — the Republican Party sent out a fundraiser.
SAMMON: In other words, when The New York Times endorsed McCain, that was a bad thing from the conservative perspective. Now that they're beating up McCain, conservatives are saying "Maybe this guy is not so bad. Maybe he is one of us."
KONDRACKE: I think this could be inoculation for McCain on the lobbyist charge. If the press sifts through all of his connections with lobbyists, what he did and didn't do in February —
HUME: Is it possible to be a chairman of a committee, as he was, and not have dealings with lobbyists?
KONDRACKE: Well, dealings, of course. Do you accept money from them? How close are you around them?
HUME: Campaign contributions from lobbyists?
KONDRACKE: Campaign contributions, having them around. I'm raising questions. I'm saying the questions have to be answered and they will be.
HUME: When we come back with out panel, the Serb protestors attack the U.S. embassy in Belgrade after the declaration of independence by Kosovo. Stay tuned.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
SEAN MCCORMACK, STATE DEPT. SPOKESMAN: The security that was provided was completely inadequate to the task, and we expected them to act immediately, and we did not expect a repeat of the situation in the future.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
HUME: That is what the State Department said to the Serbs after the U.S. embassy, as you saw there, was being attacked by a mob in Belgrade, not a particularly big mob compared to all of the people in the streets.
The U.N. Security Council, you will be pleased to know, has not denounced this attack as a terrible thing, I guess, and I am sure that was send chills up the spines of the Serbian protesters.
But what about this development? This, of course, is about Kosovo, it's declaration of independence supported by the U.S and other western countries. What implications for American policy, Bill?
SAMMON: I think the person to watch is Putin, Russia's president, because he has the potential to throw gasoline on the fire of this thing. Obviously, Russia and Serbia have long historical ties, and, also, he is upset that the U.S. keeps getting in his way with Eastern Europe — they keep joining NATO, these counties, there is the missile defense thing.
So I think Putin has the opportunity to ratchet this up, but hopefully he will not.
KRAUTHAMMER: And one way he could do it, and he has sort of hinted at this, is that the Russians have troops and are in essentially control of two areas in Georgia.
And the implication he made in a speech last week was if the west insisted on splitting up Serbia, an ally of Russia historically, the Russians might encourage a declaration of independence in these areas of Georgia.
It raises the question, what exactly have regained with this declaration of independence? It creates a very small state that is a basket case protected by NATO troops, administered by Europeans. It has 60 percent unemployment — it does not produce much.
In fact, it reminds me of Bismarck remark that the Balkans produce more history than they can consume. It is producing instability in this area, and we are going to be in that region for, as McCain would say, 100 years, and unlike Iraq, which has huge strategic importance in that region —
HUME: You think our policy was a mistake?
KRAUTHAMMER: I think it was a mistake in the 90s. I opposed out intervention in the Balkans because the inevitable result was a string of small, weak states that we are going to have to protect forever.
HUME: Mort, you have the last word.
KONDRACKE: The reason we intervened was because the Serbs were going to commit genocide. They were committing genocide, and they would do in Kosovo if they could.
This is a majority Albanian place, a vast majority of the people are Albanians. This is a matter of self-determination. The Balkans have been re-balkanizing ever since Tito died, and this is the last move in that.
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