This is a rush transcript of "Special Report With Bret Baier" from August 4, 2009. This copy may not be in its final form and may be updated.
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JOSH BOLTON, FORMER U.S. AMBASSADOR TO THE UNITED NATIONS: Well, obviously bringing a former president to North Korea is a lifeline of legitimacy for Kim Jong II's regime, and other rogue states are watching this very carefully, I think to our detriment.
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BAIER: Well, maybe so, but we expect in the next two to three hours former President Clinton's plane to leave North Korea with Laura Ling and Euna Lee, expected to leave with the former president on this scheduled flight.
The president meeting — former President Clinton meeting with Kim Jong II in North Korea today. Here's how the North Koreans describe it — "Clinton expressed words of sincere apology to Kim Jong II for the hostile acts committed by the two American journalists for illegally entering the country.
The meetings had candid and in-depth discussions on the pending issues between North Korea and the U.S. in a sincere atmosphere and reached a consensus of views on seeking a negotiated settlement of them."
Well, maybe not. But let's bring in our panel about this move and about today's events, Steve Hayes, senior writer for the "Weekly Standard," Mara Liasson, national political correspondent of National Public Radio, and the syndicated columnist Charles Krauthammer.
Charles, what about this? If, in fact, the two journalists get on the plane in the next couple of hours, success?
CHARLES KRAUTHAMMER, SYNDICATED COLUMNIST: Well, it's the return of hostages in exchange for stuff. And we will learn about that stuff. It's clear that this was wired in advance.
There probably was an apology. After of all, the secretary of state, the president's wife, had said openly, as we say earlier, that we were sorry about the incident, and we were asking for amnesty, which was implying the legitimacy of the arrest and the trial. So we have already issued an apology.
Secondly, it is obvious that he was an envoy of the Obama administration despite our denials. This is the one time in history in which the official news station of the North Koreans told the truth, but it does happen once every 50 years. But thirdly, there was obviously a quid pro quo. The first of it we saw because we had Kim Jong II, who has had a stroke, he's been wobbly and unsteady, and you can understand in a dictatorship like his how that begins the rumors of succession. So by standing up in the photos that we just saw, obviously engaged with Clinton, he looks like he is back in charge. That helps him personally.
Secondly, by getting a very high level envoy, you can't get higher level than a former president of the United States, it does help the North Koreans in their legitimacy, and it's a demonstration of direct negotiations with the United States, which is what Pyongyang has always demanded. So it's getting it. It got a lot.
And it probably has gotten stuff that we haven't even heard about and we may never hear about, aid in food and oil. All of that stuff will happen quietly in the future.
But it was a hostage ransom. No question at all.
BAIER: Mara, the White House insisted that the former president was not carrying a message for President Obama, despite what the North Koreans said in their release, that, in fact, he was carrying a message from President Obama.
But there is no one in Washington who believes that this was not coordinated with the National Security Council and the secretary of state, his wife.
MARA LIASSON, NATIONAL POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT, NATIONAL PUBLIC RADIO: It would be unthinkable that you would send Bill Clinton over there without knowing he would come back with the women. That would have been just a disaster of epic proportions.
However, I think it's still not clear exactly what they got other than the ability to write that statement and to sit down with Bill Clinton and to get the kind of legitimacy that just the visit itself conveys. Now we don't know what else they're going to get.
One thing that the U.S. might have gotten out of this, they got a lot of information. Somebody, Bill Clinton, has actually sat down with Kim Jong II and probably can provide a lot of information about how he seemed, his health, his physical situation.
I think that, you know, relations between North Korea and the United States are at an impasse. I can't imagine that this is going to be the beginning of direct one-on-one talks.
I want to wait and see exactly what transpired between them.
BAIER: We should point out this came a couple of weeks after North Korea called Secretary of State Clinton a "schoolgirl and a pensioner in a market."
LIASSON: We know she has a thick skin.
KRAUTHAMMER: It is hard to be a schoolgirl and pensioner at the same time. Maybe in that part of the world it occurs but I have never seen it here.
BAIER: Mixed message — Steve?
STEVE HAYES, SENIOR WRITER, "THE WEEKLY STANDARD": I think we have to pause and at least note the irony that the North Korean statement was probably more accurate than the White House statement.
The White House, Robert Gibbs put out a statement this morning saying that President Clinton was there on a solely private mission. That is false. I think we can say that is not true, and we will likely learn the details of just how coordinated this was in advance.
But I think Charles is half right. This was definitely a quid pro quo, but I'm not sure that we will learn what else the North Koreans have gotten. In my view, they have gotten everything he wanted to get. Remember, during the latter two years of the Bush administration, all they wanted, what they wanted most was bilateral face-to-face meetings. If they could do it with a high profile official, they would do it with a high-profile official. They got those, but with lower level officials and sort of in hush-hush meeting around the world with the Bush administration. This is legitimacy. John Bolton is right. This is a lifeline to a regime that is a terrorist regime that has proliferated nuclear technology to a terror sponsoring state in Syria, that brutalizes its own people. And there Bill Clinton is, in effect, begging to get these journalists back.
BAIER: There is a report that the journalists were told to contact their families and tell them "Give us former President Clinton and we'll let you go." We'll see if that turns out to be true. Charles, what about the negotiating with terrorists or terrorist-supporting states?
KRAUTHAMMER: It's always humiliating, but in the end, you have to do it. And it's been done by the Reagan administration, by the Bush administration, father and son, and Clinton. But it's not a triumph on our part by any means. We have had hostages in Iran, and we quietly released a bunch of killers, Iranians who were caught in Iraq, and we released them months later. And again, we want to hide what the exchange is about. That's why I suspect we won't learn about the further ransom until a lot later.
BAIER: And Iran, Mara, do you think they are looking at this with three Americans just who have crossing the border from Iraq, they might be charges of spying, according to Iran, do you think they are pushing for former President Clinton, too?
LIASSON: I don't think that's what they want. North Korea is a strange and inscrutable country, and maybe what they really wanted, as Steve suggests, is that kind of visit.
I think Iran is a lot more complex. There are a lot more pressure points with Iran. Iran's government is much more unstable and in much more turmoil there. I don't think that they would be satisfied with just a visit from Bill Clinton.
BAIER: We'll see.
Politicians are getting a little more than they bargained for at these town hall meetings dealing with health care reform. The panel tells us what is happening across the country, or may be, next.
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UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: What I see is a bureaucratic nightmare, senator. Medicaid is broke. Medicare is broke. Social Security is broke. And you want us to believe that a government that can't even run a "cash for clunkers" program is going to run one-seventh of our U.S. economy. No, sir. No.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: It is the White House's contention that the anger that some members of Congress are experiencing at the town hall meetings especially over health care reform is manufactured?
ROBERT GIBBS, WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY: I think some of it is, yes. In fact, I think you've had groups today, Conservatives for Patients' Rights, that have bragged about organizing and manufacturing that anger.
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BAIER: That was from the White House podium.
The Democratic National Committee put out a statement about these town hall meetings and how rowdy they're getting. "These mobs are bused in by well-funded, highly organized groups run by Republican operatives funded by the special interests who are desperately trying to stop the agenda for change the president was elected to bring to Washington.
This type of anger and discord did not serve Republicans well in 2008. It is bound to backfire again."
We're back with the panel — Steve?
HAYES: This is the Democrats and I think the White House going back to campaign mode. It worked for them to a certain extent in the campaign. They painted Republicans who are concerned about the president and sometimes said stupid things in town halls as extremists, and painted with a broad-brush. And I think the media was, frankly, complicit in that.
I think we are seeing the same thing from the media today. And the perfect example is the "New York Times" coverage of this today, in today's paper. The "New York Times had a piece that focused almost exclusively on the political machinations of conservative groups and Republican operatives that got people out to these things.
When during the Iraq war debates, the Iraq war protests, did you see the "New York Times" or other mainstream outlets, NBC did the same thing, when did you see them focus on how the protestors got there? They didn't. They simply carried the message of the protestors.
I think it is going to backfire that the media is doing this, and I think there is a reason that media outlets like the "New York Times" are losing market share.
LIASSON: I think that there is anger out there, real anger, particularly at the public option, which is one part, and a part that might not survive of the health care reform effort. But I also think there is a risk that if the people who go to these town hall meetings, instead of asking questions, and I thought that woman ask add legitimate question — especially Cash for Clunkers is like a mini- Katrina here. It's not good to start a program and not be able to execute it.
However, if they're just screaming and shutting down town hall meetings and not letting anybody speak, I think that will look pretty bad, and people who come to the town hall meetings could be frustrated because they can't get what they came for.
BAIER: Yes, but it could be that people are worked up about this possibility. It could be.
LIASSON: They are. There is no doubt that they are. I'm just saying...
BAIER: And perhaps afraid that the single-payer stuff that is talked about, that some lawmakers are open about getting to a single-payer system...
LIASSON: I think the biggest piece of this health care reform that is in the biggest jeopardy is the public option. There is not a single liberal Democrat in Congress today who will lose their job, their seat if there is not a public option in the final package. But there are many moderate Democrats who might lose their seats if there is a public option in the final package. So that, I think, is where the politics of this are. I think in the end, there won't be the Medicare-style public options that so many people fear will be government health care, and, you know, that liberal Democrats want. That's going to have to go.
KRAUTHAMMER: There is a certain irony in an administration denouncing ordinary Americans who get together to express what they believe and to confront authority when that administration is led by a man who began his career as a community organizer, whose job, as I understand it, is to take ordinary Americans, get them together to express what they believe, and express demands against the authorities.
So it's unbelievably hypocritical, and, of course, as we just heard, this only happens when you have a conservative protest. It is called a mob. If is a liberal protest, it is called grassroots expressing themselves.
Remember, just a year ago under the Bush administration, dissent was the highest form of patriotism. And today it is a kind of either organized anger, it's a facsimile of anger. It's unpatriotic. It's whatever.
Look, there is a genuine revolt against the idea of remaking a system when over 80 percent of Americans have health insurance. Five of six of those are happy with their health care, and four of five are happy with their health insurance.
You have an administration arrogantly deciding it is going to tear it all up, start all over, and people are surprised that there are protests, and say that it had to be manufactured? Of course it is spontaneous. People go together on a bus, that's entirely legitimate, and it ought to be encouraged.
BAIER: President Bush was asked about Cindy Sheehan outside his ranch in Texas, and she had a small group, not a large group, a rather small group, and he was asked numerous times about it, and said it's a great country that people can protest and speak out.
Is the White House making the wrong political move by responding this way, Mara, to these protests?
LIASSON: Yes, I think they are. And I think they should let these guys fall of their own weight. If these groups are going to be out of line and screaming and yelling and not letting other people get their questions asked at a town hall meeting, that is the best outcome for the White House, not to try to say that people who come to a town meeting and express opposition to something are somehow doing something wrong.
HAYES: Yes. And if we people have been frustrated to this point, we will see more when people realize that Robert Gibbs today said that the president wasn't going to read the bill.
BAIER: That's it for the panel.
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