Transcript: Sen. Dick Durbin on 'FOX News Sunday'

The following is a partial transcript of the Jan. 22, 2006 "FOX News Sunday."

"FOX NEWS SUNDAY" HOST CHRIS WALLACE: And we're joined now by the Senate's number two Democratic leader, Dick Durbin, who joins us from Chicago.

And, Senator, welcome back to "FOX News Sunday".

SEN. RICHARD DURBIN, R-Ill.: Good to be with you, Chris.

WALLACE: As we said, Karl Rove, the president's top political strategist, went before the Republican National Committee on Friday and made it clear what he thinks the number one issue in the 2006 election would and should be. Let's watch.


KARL ROVE, WHITE HOUSE DEPUTY CHIEF OF STAFF: Republicans have a post-9/11 view of the world. And Democrats have a pre-9/11 view of the world. That doesn't make them unpatriotic -- not at all. But it does make them wrong, wrong deeply and profoundly and consistently.


WALLACE: Now, Senator, Democrats want to change the Patriot Act. You feel that the NSA wiretap program is unconstitutional. And some of you -- not you, but a lot of Democratic leaders are calling for pulling troops out of Iraq. In fact, don't Democrats have a pre-9/11 mentality, world view?

DURBIN: First, Chris, it's no surprise to hear this from Karl Rove. This was four years ago that he went before the same group and said let's use the war as our campaign weapon. I think that's truly unfortunate because, as Senator McCain said, there is bipartisan support for America's national security.

When Senator McCain reaches across the aisle to find Democrats to support efforts to make America stronger, he finds plenty of us standing, willing to help him and many other Republican leaders.

Karl Rove is just trying to exploit what he considers a fear factor in American politics to try to overlook the obvious. He doesn't want to talk about the corruption scandal in Washington, D.C., that has enveloped the Republican leadership on Capitol Hill. He wants to change the subject.

Now, when it gets to issues -- specific issues like the Patriot Act, take a look at the coalition that is trying to talk to the White House and Republican leadership about change. It is a bipartisan coalition.

Senator John Sununu called me this week. We're talking about the two or three areas that we need to modify in the Patriot Act and get it reenacted and reauthorized in the next few weeks.

WALLACE: Senator, let's talk about the NSA wiretap program, though. We all saw that Usama bin Laden tape that came out late this week. If someone from Al Qaeda in Pakistan is calling someone here in the U.S., don't you want to know what they're talking about?

DURBIN: Absolutely. And that's why we created the FISA court. And basically, 20,000 times the president and other administrations have gone before this court and said we want to listen in on that conversation, and they've been given permission in all but about five instances. So they have a legal way to approach it.

Let me read to you what the president said on April 20, 2004 about wiretaps. He said a wiretap requires a court order. Nothing has changed. When we're talking about chasing down terrorists, we're talking about getting a court order before we do so. President Bush, April 20, 2004.

This president, every president, has a mechanism, a procedure to follow, to wiretap terrorists and wannabe terrorists. I want them to follow that legal procedure, and when they do, they'll make America safer.

WALLACE: Let me ask you, because there are a lot of national security experts who believe that the FISA court and the law as it was passed, in fact, would not handle the kind of situation we're talking about here of mass surveillance.

And let me pick up on what Senator McCain said. If the president were to go in and say look, we need some adjustments, would you -- would the Democratic leadership in the Senate say look, this is too important, national security, we'll give you what you need to live within the law and protect America?

DURBIN: Certainly. That's what happened with the Patriot Act. One of the elements of the Patriot Act...

WALLACE: I know, but now you're fighting the Patriot Act, Senator.

DURBIN: No, no, Chris, don't take this further than it goes. We overwhelmingly support the Patriot Act. There are three or four sections with modifications which passed the Senate, incidentally, on a bipartisan basis, unanimously -- three or four sections that we're talking about, and they can be modified and it wouldn't compromise our security.

But we modified FISA under the Patriot Act. The administration came and said we need new tools -- just as Senator McCain said earlier, with Blackberries and cell telephones. And we said we'll give you the tools. We want to keep America safe.

But what we're saying here, on both sides of the aisle, with Senator Specter calling for hearings and the Democrats standing behind him, we want this president and every president to follow the law. No president is above the law.

WALLACE: But again, specifically, if he came in and asked for reforms, you're saying that the Democratic leadership would give him the power to do what he's doing now?

DURBIN: Well, I don't know what he's doing now because, frankly, it's been reported in many newspapers, but I've never been briefed on it. But if the president came to us and said there are changes in technology, changes in the threat to America, we need to change and modify the law, you bet he would have a Congress ready to work with him.

That's exactly the way he should have done this and should have handled it long ago.

WALLACE: Senator, when the Clinton administration authorized the search of Aldrich Ames, the Soviet spy's home and office back in the 1990s, they said the president has the inherent constitutional authority to do so. No Democratic leaders that we could find squawked at that point about what President Clinton was doing.

DURBIN: Well, remember, at that moment in time, the FISA law did not cover physical searches. It only dealt with wiretaps. So what the president did was not violating the FISA law.

WALLACE: No, but he was violating other laws, wasn't he? I mean, here he was authorizing a search without -- a physical search of somebody's home without any court order.

DURBIN: Let me finish, if I might. President Clinton then came to Congress and asked to amend FISA to cover physical searches. In other words, the president was willing to step forward and say let's create a legal standard that will apply to me and every other president so that our administration will follow a law and have court approval even before physical searches.

So the intent and the actions of the Clinton administration are in sharp contrast to what we face with this administration. If the president came forward and said there's a real threat, we need to change the law so that I have the power to deal with it, you can bet Congress would work overtime to get that done.

WALLACE: Let me switch subjects with you. This week Republicans and Democrats up on Capitol Hill, in a kind of feeding frenzy, were both offering lobbying reform packages, which seemed, at least to the layman, to be pretty similar. Shouldn't it be easy to work out a compromise and get new legislation?

DURBIN: Well, I certainly hope so.Jack Abramoff, of course, has inspired this reform movement. Jack Abramoff was evidence of what happened when the K Street Project that was started by Congressman Tom DeLay and other Republican leaders on Capitol Hill ran amok.

Here was a man making millions of dollars, giving trips to members of Congress, going overboard in terms of his activity, and he was caught red-handed. And now there is a sentiment for reform. I don't disagree with Senator McCain when he talks about the earmark process.

Part of our reform says that every one of these appropriations bills has to be there and lay on the calendar, on the table, for a period of time so we know what's in there before it's voted on. But I would also add another element that should finally be part of this. We have to talk about the way we finance campaigns.

The reason these lobbyists and the groups they represent are so involved is because they're so necessary to provide the millions of dollars that we have to raise to pay to Fox and NBC and all the other networks to buy television time.

We've got to get down to the basics here. Until we make campaigns affordable, then we're going to have too many members of Congress out rattling the cup with special interest groups.

WALLACE: Senator, your boss, the Democratic minority leader, Harry Reid, says this is a Republican scandal. He was here on "FOX News Sunday" and said that. He said don't shove it off on the Democrats.

But in fact, doesn't this cross party lines? I'd like you to take a look at something if you will, sir. According to the Center for Responsive Politics, you've received $14,500 in contributions from Abramoff-related lobbying firms and Indian tribes, and you've given away $11,000 of that money to charities.

Aren't you and aren't the Democrats just as guilty as the Republicans? And let me ask it a different way. Are you the ones to clean up Congress?

DURBIN: Well, let me tell you, I've never met Jack Abramoff, his wife or had any meeting with him. He and his wife donated $204,000 to politicians over a five-year period of time. Every single penny went to a Republican congressman or senator.

Now, let's be very clear about this. He had clients that sent unsolicited contributions to my campaign and others, among them some Indian tribes, and the political action committee at the law firm that he used to work at, even though I understand he didn't contribute to it.

What I did was try to clear the books. Whatever I could find that was tainted with the possibility of an attachment to Abramoff, I got rid of it, gave it to a Native American charity here in Chicago. Now, others say well, they're legal contributions, I don't have to give them back. I'm not going to quibble with that.

But it is dead wrong for the Republican National Committee to be arguing now that the K Street Project that Tom DeLay and many others created on Capitol Hill had something to do with Democrats. It was all about a Republican strategy to link up with the lobbyists on K Street so that they would get the amendments they wanted in bills and, in turn, give the generous contributions in campaigns to Republican leaders.

WALLACE: We're starting to run out of time, Senator Durbin. I want to get into one last issue. You've been urging Senate Democrats to vote against Judge Samuel Alito, saying that the vote count matters a lot. Are you getting ready to make a campaign issue of what Justice Alito may do on the court?

DURBIN: Well, I haven't been urging others to vote as I'm going to vote, against Judge Alito. Each senator of both political parties has to make their own individual choice based on what they think is right for America.

We have so few opportunities to really take a hard look at this branch of government. We're talking about a lifetime appointment to the highest court in the land, a court that really is the refuge for our freedoms and liberties, and I am concerned that Judge Alito, and his 1985 memo reflects this, brings a point of view to the court that is not positive in terms of these rights and freedoms.

WALLACE: Senator, let me ask you directly, because we've got about 30 seconds left. Do you think that if he issues conservative rulings from the court during his time after he is confirmed, and apparently he will be, do you think that's a legitimate campaign issue in the 2006 elections?

DURBIN: It will be. If he issues rulings as Sandra Day O'Connor did, it will be no issue at all. But if he goes to the court and comes forward with rulings such as we've seen from Justices Scalia and Thomas time and again, it will be an issue.

WALLACE: Senator Durbin, we're going to have to leave it there. We want to thank you so much for talking with us. Happy to have you any time.