This is a rush transcript of "Special Report With Brit Hume" from January 21, 2009. This copy may not be in its final form and may be updated.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
PRESIDENT OBAMA: The executive orders and directives I'm issuing today will not by themselves make government as honest and transparent as it needs to be, and they do not go as far as we need to go towards restoring accountability and fiscal restraint in Washington.
But these historic measures do mark the beginning of a new era of openness in our country.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
BRET BAIER, HOST: President Obama today on day one, the White House releasing some photos of him working in the Oval Office and saying that he is trying to create a more responsible, more accountable government, signing a list of executive orders and also directives.
There you see ethics commitments by the executive branch, presidential records, keeping them open, a freezing White House pay, and also a memorandum on transparency, open government, and the Freedom of Information act.
He also made some phone calls today to four Middle East leaders, Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak, Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert, the king of Jordan, and also President Mahmoud Abbas of the Palestinian Authority, all about the conflict in Gaza.
So what about day one? Some analytical observations from Fred Barnes, executive editor of The Weekly Standard, Juan Williams, senior correspondent of National Public Radio, and Mort Kondracke, executive editor of Roll Call — FOX News contributors all.
Mort, a lot of focus on accountability and opening things up on this first day — no real surprise there.
MORT KONDRACKE, EXECUTIVE EDITOR, ROLL CALL: They were all fulfillment of campaign promises that he made. He's continuing his mini-jihad against lobbyists. Lobbyists seem to be the root of all evil in Washington, according to Obama.
And, frankly, I think, one, he is depriving himself of talent, people who have worked, who understand how laws were put together and how policies work in the healthcare area or energy, or something like that, if they have ever lobbied are banned — unless, there are certain cases of people who have lobbied for non-profits, like the head of the Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids was a lobbyist, Bill Corr, and is now the deputy secretary of health and human services.
That's OK. But if you are a lobbyist for a hospital, for example, hospitals, you can't lobby about health care.
Furthermore, he is saying that if you leave his administration, you cannot talk to the administration while he's president about the stuff that you worked on. So suppose you leave the energy department and you want to talk to them about how to get the electric grid going, or about nuclear power. You can't do that.
I think that this is — that he is depriving himself and the country of expertise.
JUAN WILLIAMS, SENIOR CORRESPONDENT, NATIONAL PUBLIC RADIO: I'm not sure that he means you can't talk to them in terms of trying to help or saying here is some information or perspective. You can't lobby them. That's a little different, Mort.
My sense is this is the kind of stuff that he promised during the campaign, and to a certain extent it is window dressing. But it does signal a shift in attitude. As a reporter, how can you not appreciate the idea that he says we now stand with people who want information out as opposed to people who are trying to increase secrecy in government.
I was a little surprised, though, Bret, when I saw that he got to work at 8:35. I thought that was a pretty good deal. President Bush used to get in I think sometime between 6:00 and 7:00.
BAIER: Well, he stayed out until about 1:00 in the morning. I can tell you, we covered every ball. Fred, your thoughts on day one?
FRED BARNES, EXECUTIVE EDITOR, THE WEEKLY STANDARD: I liked that order on transparency and openness in government. I plan on sitting in on the next Cabinet meeting. That ought to be interesting.
If I had known about this, I would have asked to sit into his meeting today with Admiral Mullen and Bob Gates, the secretary of defense.
Look, I think that was probably the most important thing that happened today. All these things, as Mort pointed out, the executive orders are the ones he promised. And the Freedom of Information act is some that probably should be opened up a little bit more. But Iraq — Iraq is important. And I hope the president realizes that he doesn't have to stick to this 16-month timetable. All our troops are going to be out by the end of 2011.
Incredible progress has been made — it hasn't got much attention — by the military over there even in ways that don't involve combat, and that is turning over the green zone. Bret, you have been to the green zone. That was the nerve center of everything — the military, the Iraqi government, American embassy and everything, for years and years.
And now Iraqi soldiers, it's been completely turned over. So there has been huge progress. You don't need any artificial deadline other than the one negotiated with the Iraqis.
KONDRACKE: I thought it was a good sign on foreign policy, too. One, he started naming his special envoys — George Mitchell to handle the Middle East, Richard Holbrooke will handle India and Pakistan, Dennis Ross, I understand, will cover Iran.
And he, you know, these calls that he made were for the purpose of, one, reconstructing Gaza, but also trying to prevent the Hamas organization from getting rearmed. That's a good sign. You notice he didn't make any calls to Hamas.
BAIER: And one that wasn't completely smooth. Timothy Geithner, the Treasury Secretary Designate, was on the hot seat today for this hearing and took some tough questions.
Also Eric Holder, the attorney general designate, now we are understanding that that has been pushed back, that confirmation.
WILLIAMS: Which is really interesting to me on Holder. Last week those hearings went very smoothly. And, initially, it had been thought that the hearings would focus on the Marc Rich pardon, which is highly controversial, as well as the commutation of some of the Puerto Rican terrorists.
But it didn't turn out to be that. Instead what happened was lots of talk about Eric Holder's report, and the people ranging from Fran Townsend, who has been President Bush's Homeland Security aide, testifying on his behalf. I think the Republicans there now have second thoughts, and it may become more difficult for Eric Holder, although I would still expect that he will be confirmed.
On Timothy Geithner, the most controversial one, I think his testimony today did not help him. It did not assure people. There are some who are saying it really was an acceptable mistake that he didn't pay these taxes, that he took these tax breaks for summer camp for his kids.
But I think there is a sense of public outrage that's building and now starting to infect his confirmation.
BAIER: Fred, he apologized numerous times, but did it sell?
BARNES: No, it didn't sell at all.
And for 15 minutes, Senator John Kyl tried to get him to answer a simple questions, and that is when he was audited by the IRS and found out that he owed some taxes for 2003 and 2004, the same thing applied to 2001 and 2002, and all Kyl asked was did you understand that you owed that money, that the same thing applied, but the statute of limitations freed you of that? Is that why you didn't pay that money, or did you just not know about it?
And he wouldn't answer that question. He danced around and around. I think what he doesn't want to say is yes, I knew about, and I didn't pay, and I don't want to say now that I claimed the statute of limitations.
In any case, look, he's probably going to be confirmed, but, boy, I agree with Juan. He was not a good witness today.
BAIER: All right, down the line — does he get confirmed?
WILLIAMS: I think this is going to get worse for him.
KONDRACKE: I think he will get confirmed.
BAIER: President Obama didn't waste any time in signaling some changes for the Guantanamo Bay detention facility. In fact, some breaking news-we know he'll sign an executive order, actually, three of them, tomorrow. We will get some updates and thoughts from the panel about Gitmo when we return.
BAIER: Well, as promised, the Obama administration is moving fast to close the detention facility in Guantanamo Bay, Cuba. In fact, late today White House council Greg Craig met on Capitol Hill with the House Minority Leader John Boehner, talking about that very issue.
And we have some reporting tonight that President Obama will sign three executive orders and one presidential directive tomorrow regarding Guantanamo Bay, that the detention facility will be closed within one year from tomorrow.
Some thoughts on all of this and some of the other details from the panel — Fred, as you look at what we are reporting tonight, what do you make of that?
BARNES: The administration, this order they say they would like to get out, they want to get completely out of Guantanamo, or at least the prison out of there. We are not going to give it up. It's a Marine base and a Navy base — but get all the prisoners out in a year.
Obama has also said in an interview that he would consider it a failure if he had not gotten out of Guantanamo at the end of his first term. That's four years. So they realize it's a problem.
And when you see how they divided these prisoners up into categories, I think most of them — the first category is ones who can be sent back to other countries. Well, you know, there are not going to be many of those. They would have been sent back already.
What have they said? Mort, you probably know this number — 400 or 500 people in the prison have already gone home.
And then the second category is those where there is evidence to prosecute them, I guess, in a federal court. There is not going to be many of those. There is not a whole lot of evidence. The soldiers do not collect the evidence on the battlefield.
And then the third one is the bad actors, the ones they know they can't have in federal court. They're going to have a panel, and they still do not know what to do with them.
BAIER: Juan, Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, the alleged mastermind of the 9/11 attacks, was scheduled to start this trial next week, this military commission. That has all been put on hold.
What do you think the political fallout here is about trying terrorists, not trying them, whether they should be in the United States or not?
WILLIAMS: On the Khalid Sheikh Mohammed case, that's quite separate. That was a ruling by a judge, not necessarily related to any action taken by President Obama.
BAIER: Sure, but it's one case that was moving forward. There are others in the line.
WILLIAMS: There are others in the line.
The key thing is here whether or not you can have military courts handle these. Lindsey Graham of South Carolina, the senator, has said that he believes the military courts can do a very good job here.
Now, military courts, as you know, have different standards, but it is not the case that anybody would complain with the level at which they admit or discard evidence. I think people would feel satisfied that these people are getting their day in court. And I think that is key thing here that is driving the Obama administration, making sure that American values are treating people with some justice, making sure that they have the opportunity to explain their circumstance, is satisfied.
I think the most difficult case here is rendition. You can't send people back to be tortured and possibly executed. And you don't want to let people go who are going to a threat on the battlefield in the future.
BAIER: Some of these cases are tough to make with the evidence that they have against these guys.
KONDRACKE: There is a law that was passed by Congress establishing these military commissions. The question is, is Obama just going to throw all of that aside. And, if so, is he going to go to Congress to get some new authority to try them in a military court.
The UCMJ, the Universal Code of Military Justice, applies to a U.S. serviceman. It does not apply to foreigners normally. So some law would have to be passed in order to have that done.
So I don't know what's going to happen to these guys.
BAIER: And, also, we expect an executive order on interrogations techniques tomorrow as well.
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