Transcript: Reps. Van Hollen, Cannon on 'FNS'

The following is partial transcript of the July 8, 2007, edition of "FOX News Sunday With Chris Wallace":

"FOX NEWS SUNDAY" GUEST HOST BRIT HUME: Joining us now to discuss the controversy over President Bush's commuting of the prison sentence of Scooter Libby are two key members of Congress, Democrat Chris Van Hollen, who runs his party's House Campaign Committee, and Republican Chris Cannon from the Judiciary Committee, who comes to us this morning from Utah.

Congressmen, thanks for being with us.

REP. CHRIS VAN HOLLEN, D-MD.: Good to be with you.


HUME: First to you, Congressman Van Hollen. The president, exercising authority that no one seems to dispute that he fully has, commutes this sentence, stops short of a pardon, leaves the Libby conviction — felony conviction — standing, leaves his $250,000 fine standing and leaves his probation in place.

Might seem reasonable to some people. What do you think?

VAN HOLLEN: Well, I think it shows a contempt for the concept of equal justice under law, and I think the facts tell the story.

Scooter Libby was sentenced by a judge that was appointed first by President Reagan, promoted by President Bush. He was convicted by a jury on four counts — lying to the FBI, two counts of perjury before a grand jury, and obstruction of justice.

And the judge, who heard all the facts in the case, sentenced him to 2.5 years in prison, which is a prison term that has been pushed by the Bush administration under similar scenarios, except this one.

In this one, they said, "Our guy at the White House gets special treatment." And I think what it does is undermines people's faith in the impartiality of the justice system.

It essentially says that the Bush White House guy got special treatment. It's an example of political cronyism.

And worst of all, it sends a signal throughout the Bush administration that if you lie in a national security case as part of an effort to cover up that you will be essentially given a free pass by the White House.

HUME: What about that, Congressman Cannon? Special treatment? Free pass? What do you say?

CANNON: Well, it's clear that Scooter's not going to go to jail, but he's paid a pretty substantial penalty, a big penalty, $250,000. His career is affected. He's never going to be the same after having gone through this process.

But I think there's a more fundamental issue here that we need to be concerned with, and it's not a Democrat issue or a Republican issue. It's a prosecutorial issue.

And that is, you know, are we going to prosecute Valerie Plame for saying something different in Congress than what she said in her personal e-mails about whether or not her husband was — she encouraged her husband — or encouraged the CIA to hire her husband to go to Africa to check out the yellowcake issue?

Are we going to get in those kinds of details? And really, when you look back at this, should we have prosecuted Bill Clinton, who was a public official? Everything that Chris said about Scooter Libby is true about his public position and the responsibility that comes with that.

The president has a much higher responsibility. And while everybody on earth knows that he committed perjury and obstruction of justice, this president did not propose or follow up on prosecuting him in court.

If we're going to get thoughtful support for the president, we have to have an environment where people can give advice without being concerned about having to answer for that five years or six years or a few years later, as was the case with Scooter.

What he did was — he said something in — before with FBI interviews and before the grand jury that was slightly inconsistent with the memory of other people.

That is not the kind of harsh environment where we're doing bad things by commuting a sentence on a fellow.

HUME: Well, let's take a look at something, Congressman, that you said about this very question of perjury earlier on — related to another issue.


CANNON: Perjury and obstruction of justice are akin to bribery in many ways. Perjury and obstruction go to the corruption of the judicial system. Bribery amounts to the corruption of a bureaucrat. Both prevent citizens from enjoying their rights under the rule of law.


HUME: Well, what about that? You seem to have softened your view.

CANNON: No, no, not at all. Scooter Libby has been convicted. He's paid a penalty. He's gone through the process.

I think that we probably should have prosecuted Bill Clinton for the issues that I was talking about in that clip, because it does go to the — by not having prosecuted Bill Clinton, we have said people get a pass.

And I think that we've healed. And having prosecuted Scooter Libby I think goes to some degree to vitiate the problem that we created by a president of the United States who lied and obstructed justice.

People now know that you actually could go to jail for those things or at least have huge penalties.

HUME: Congressman Van Hollen, you were not in Congress at the time that Bill Clinton left office, I believe.

VAN HOLLEN: I was not.

HUME: But may I assume that you were similarly indignant when he issued, what, 141 pardons on his final day, pardoning, among others, his half brother, the fugitive Mark Rich and others all at once? Were you outraged?

VAN HOLLEN: I do believe that the Mark Rich and some of the other pardons were inappropriate. And interestingly, the Democratic leadership at the time, like Senator Daschle, who was the Senate Democratic leader, said so at the time. They said it was inappropriate. So did Senator Leahy.

What's interesting about this case is that Republicans who also said the pardons of Rich were inappropriate are now defending this decision by President Bush.

Of course the president's entitled to confidential information. That doesn't mean that people can go out and lie to the FBI, commit perjury before a grand jury and obstruct justice. Those are serious crimes.

And this administration has pursued stiff sentences against other people who have committed those crimes. Their own guy gets a free pass.

HUME: Well, it's not quite a free pass. A $250,000 fine is...

VAN HOLLEN: It is with respect to jail — not a day in jail. And the fact of the matter is with obstruction of justice, the average time spent in jail by people who go to jail for that is longer than the entire sentence for Scooter Libby.

HUME: Let's talk a little bit about the case itself. Congressman Cannon suggests that this was a case where the prosecutor, having found no underlying crime, that the underlying crime he was originally assigned to investigate had not occurred, knowing almost from the outset who the actual person was who leaked Valerie Plame's CIA identity to the media, and it wasn't Scooter Libby, nor anyone in the Bush White House — having known all that all along, he forged ahead with an investigation, and the crime he ended up prosecuting did not even occur until the course of the investigation.

Now, that doesn't mean it wasn't a crime, but it does create a set of circumstances in which one might argue that some leniency is indicated. Your response.

VAN HOLLEN: Well, I think that the entire integrity of our judicial process relies on people telling the truth. In this case, he lied repeatedly.

HUME: Understood. But first offender, long time in public service, well regarded until this moment, really, in terms of his integrity, and then you had the case of a prosecutor, long after he'd found that the crime he was investigating hadn't been committed even, pursuing this, some say, remorselessly.

Doesn't that argue for some mitigation?

VAN HOLLEN: I don't think it argues, certainly, for a commutation of 30 months of sentence by a judge who, unlike you and unlike me and unlike the president, heard all the facts in the case, knew all the information you just talked about, and decided that 2.5 years was appropriate under the circumstances.

Here we are trying to substitute ourselves for judge and jury, and I think that's inappropriate. The integrity of the...

HUME: Well, is that what the president did, in your view?

VAN HOLLEN: That's certainly what the president did.

HUME: But doesn't the Constitution confer upon him the ultimate authority in this matter?

VAN HOLLEN: It does, but I think there's also an expectation that he will do it in a fair and consistent manner. You know, 4,000 people have requests pending for the president to have their sentences commuted.

He has pursued much stiffer sentences for people who committed obstruction of justice in other cases, and yet he's letting his own guy not serve a single day in prison.

It's a terrible message to send, especially in a national security case.

HUME: What about that, Congressman Cannon? What about that point that Congressman Van Hollen makes?

CANNON: Well, I think the important distinction in our views here, and it's not that great, is that you have a judge, an individual, who made a decision in a system that is complex.

Now, Patrick Fitzgerald is a great prosecutor by all accounts. I don't know him personally, but I know people who are very close to him, and I know them well, and they think very highly of him.

He was a guy that had a mission, and you can't just say to one of these guys, "Stop prosecuting." In fact, we don't do that. We never do that.

And so he took an issue that developed out of the course of the investigation. Here, you're saying — Mr. Van Hollen is talking about lying and obstructing justice, but what you have is a guy who had a memory issue over courses that happened long earlier and people who remembered those discussions differently. That is not the same thing.

And it is highly appropriate for a individual in whom we've invested the authority of the presidency to rethink that of a judge who may or may not — I don't know the judge and don't want to comment on his competency.

But it is clearly within the construct of our government that the president has the opportunity to review what a judge does. And the judge, having done it, is not definitive and has never been considered definitive in our system.

HUME: Now, Congressman Conyers, the chairman of the committee on which you sit, Congressman Cannon, the Judiciary Committee, says he's going to hold hearings into this whole question of presidential executive clemency, and pardons and the rest of it.

What do you expect to come out of that investigation?

CANNON: Well, you know, when we started the investigation of the firing of the U.S. attorneys, the whole issue was corruption.

And I pointed out in the very first hearing that there had better be corruption. And now we're talking about the politicization of those firings rather than corruption.

If you look at all the investigations — and Mr. Van Hollen and I are on the Judiciary Committee together and also on Government Reform, or now called Oversight and Government Reform.

And thus far, we've had dozens of hearings in Congress and come up with nothing. This is the kind of thing where you might say — you can play on what Mr. Van Hollen is saying here consistently, that this somehow is inappropriate, but it's the system.

And it's clearly within the authority of the president. To go after the president on this issue shows a dearth of any opportunity to go after something substantive in this administration.

I would prefer that we not waste our time in Congress on these witch hunts and frivolous activities.

HUME: Dearth of substance, Congressman Van Hollen? Waste of time?

VAN HOLLEN: Well, my friend, Mr. Cannon — I mean, what we're getting used to is a Congress that actually begins to hold the Bush administration accountable.

The U.S. attorney scandal is a perfect example of the fact that under a Republican Congress, all of that would have been buried. You wouldn't have gotten any of the documents.

It would have been just, "White House, do whatever you want, even though you're essentially abusing the system of justice in the United States."

This is another example. This is a misuse of the president's authority here because, essentially, he has given very special treatment to one person because the person worked at the White House.

HUME: We've got you on that.

CANNON: You said that. Yeah.

VAN HOLLEN: But the point...

CANNON: What have we found in the U.S. attorney issue that has been corrupt? What have we found there that's even relevant to America?

VAN HOLLEN: Well, I think that...

CANNON: Nothing.

VAN HOLLEN: Well, the U.S. attorneys case is very important to America, because every American that goes in a court of law expects to have a fair administration of justice.

You don't expect to have U.S. attorneys who are essentially being rewarded or penalized by the Bush administration based on whether or not they're going after Republicans or after Democrats.

CANNON: But that has absolutely not been shown to be the case. There is no evidence of that at all. And in fact, you have the senior career people who have been very clear that that is not what happened in this case.

VAN HOLLEN: Chris, you've got more than six high-level officials at the Justice Department who have already had to resign as a result of this. Monica Goodling...

CANNON: They didn't have to resign.

VAN HOLLEN: Monica Goodling testified that she...

CANNON: They're people that went on to do other things.

VAN HOLLEN: Yeah, they just decided coincidentally to go on and do other things.

HUME: Well, hold on a second. Hold it a second. What about Congressman Cannon's point that the politicization and the conduct of justice has not been uncovered, has not been shown?

VAN HOLLEN: Well, I think it has been...

HUME: In which case?

VAN HOLLEN: I think it has been demonstrated in the New Mexico case, where it was essentially said that if you don't go after people with respect to voting issues...

HUME: It was voter fraud. Do you think it's not OK to go after...

VAN HOLLEN: No, of course it's OK to go after voting fraud. But the fact of the matter is it was after phone calls by Senator Domenici. Heather Wilson called as well.

It was clearly a case of trying to push somebody who exercises his independent judgment — didn't think the facts were there.

HUME: And did he do so? Did he exercise his independent judgment?

VAN HOLLEN: There was an effort to — yes.

HUME: I don't understand. So did the effort succeed?

VAN HOLLEN: Yes, he did exercise independent judgment. And as a result, he was fired. That's the whole point. He exercised...

CANNON: No, no. He was fired because he's an idiot.

HUME: Go ahead.

VAN HOLLEN: No, the whole point is he did exercise his independent judgment, and as a result of that, he was fired because he didn't take orders from the White House.

HUME: What about it, Congressman Cannon? What do you — what about that?

CANNON: There is...

HUME: Did the guy get fired because he exercised...

CANNON: There is no evidence that that was...

HUME: ... his judgment or not?

CANNON: There is no evidence that that's the case. There is clear evidence of appropriate activity by phone calls from political people in New Mexico. That's appropriate. Calling it inappropriate does not make it inappropriate.

This is a guy who is clearly not competent to do his job and one of the few people who were decided — it was decided that he should leave his job because of competency, as opposed to, say, Carol Lam, who was a wonderful prosecutor. Everybody thought very highly of her, but she didn't do what the president wanted her to do.

CANNON: So show me where anything has come up or describe anything that has come up that has shown inappropriateness in the firings of these people and I'll be astounded.

And by the way, the career people — Dave Margolis, who sort of oversaw the process — thinks it's a wonderful process. He's a healing, helpful, growing process for the department, not something nefarious that the Democrats are trying to make of it.

HUME: Congress Van Hollen, let me give you the last word here.

VAN HOLLEN: Well, look. I think it's not just coincidence that the U.S. attorneys who were fired are U.S. attorneys who were not either pursuing political cases against Democrats or defending Republicans. That is an abuse of the process.

Of course the president has the authority to hire and fire U.S. attorneys. It's the exercise of his judgment that is important.

And the fact of the matter is in both this case, where Scooter Libby did not spend a single day in jail despite a 2.5 year sentence, and the U.S. attorney case, it's been a perversion of the system of justice.

HUME: All right.

VAN HOLLEN: And Americans deserve better.

HUME: Congressman Van Hollen, thanks very much for being here.

Congressman Cannon, thanks to you as well.