This is a rush transcript of "Special Report With Brit Hume" from October 31, 2007. This copy may not be in its final form and may be updated.
BRIT HUME, HOST: Last night in that Democratic presidential candidates' debate, the subject of a plan by New York's Gove rnor Eliot Spitzer to grant driver's licenses to illegal aliens came up. Here is some of what was said.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
SEN HILLARY CLINTON, (D) NEW YORK: I just want to add, I did not say that it should be done.
Do I think this is the bes t thing for any governor to do? No.
JOHN EDWARDS, (D) PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: Unless I missed something, Senator Clinton said two different things in the course of about two minutes just a few minutes ago.
BARACK OBAMA, (D) PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: I was confused on Senator Clinton's answer. I can't tell whether she was for it or against it. And I do think that is important.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
HUME: There you go. That was a sample of the—it wasn't a big brawl, but it was about as rough as the other Democratic candidates have gotten on frontrunner Hillary Clinton, who is way ahead in all the polls, and seems to be way ahead in all the early states as well.
Some thoughts on this debate now from Fred Barnes, Executive Editor of The Weekly Standard, Mort Kondracke, Executive Editor of Roll Call, and the syndicated columnist Charles Krauthammer, FOX News contributors all.
Fred, your assessment?
FRED BARNES, EXECUTIVE EDITOR, WEEKLY STANDARD: If you got through the boring first hour of the debate, you were richly rewarded in the second half, because it was pretty exciting—a number of the other Democratic candidates, particularly John Edwards and Barack Obama jumping on Hillary.
And she was extremely evasive. She wouldn't answer questions. She would come up with some wild reasons why she couldn't answer questions.
The one about the driver's license for illegal immigrants, she seemed to say no, we have to have comprehensive immigration reform. And if we don't have that, then the state is just trying to fill some gap left behind. It was unclear.
But the lack of national comprehensive immigration reform seemed to be the impediment for her, so she couldn't state an opinion on giving driver's licenses to illegal immigrants. And she did that on other things.
It was always somebody is out there blocking her from expressing her opinion. This was her worst debate by far.
HUME: So how much does this hurt? Does this matter?
MORT KONDRACKE, EXECUTIVE EDITOR, ROLL CALL: I think she got nicked in this debate, but I don't think she was mortally wounded.
I think that driver's license issue will be back in the general election, where all the Republican candidates are primed to use the A-word, "amnesty" against whoever the Democratic nominee is. It's going to be ugly on the immigration issue.
But I thought that the first hour of the debate, actually, was pretty interesting. And the bottom line of it was in a dangerous world, which of these candidates would you want to be president of the United States?
Hillary Clinton said that we have to apply aggressive diplomacy, including tough sanctions, against the Iranians. She said we have to leave troops behind in Iraq in order to fight Al Qaeda.
The rest of the candidates were pretending as though George Bush, not Ahmadinejad, is the most dangerous person that the world faces. They want to bug out of Iraq.
So I think on foreign policy issues, she won hands down.
CHARLES KRAUTHAMMER, SYNDICATED COLUMNIST: Until the collapse on the driver's license, I think that she did rather well, considering— considering that she had won all the other debates. So she obviously did not on this one. That was going to happen, and it happened here.
And considering that she was alone in the OK corral, except for Bill Richardson, coming out of Iraq once or tries to fire a shot on her behalf, it was seven or eight against her, including the moderators, and she withstood that.
It's quite a show, actually. I think it was rather amazing that anybody could withstand relentless attack from six or seven others and stand up.
And also because she is the only grownup in the crowd—she is not running to the left. She is running a centrist campaign, which, of course, in this environment is difficult, and she had to thread her needle. But on Iraq and Iran, she is the only grownup in the crowd.
On things like Social Security, which is a looming issue, she is evasive because she doesn't want to box herself in, being the only person with a serious chance to actually become the president.
And on other issues, she obviously threads the needle because she is running as a centrist in a left-wing party. And until the license issue, which you can't thread—either you are going to give a license to an illegal or you're not—that will become a symbol of her evasiveness.
But this is not serious damage. If she repeats it again—
HUME: You seem to think that for much of the time she was winning, and then she got hurt on that.
KRAUTHAMMER: She held her own, and, given the fact that it was a seven on one, that's rather good.
BARNES: Charles seems to think it's like Davy Crockett at the Alamo. This was a nationally televised presidential debate, for heaven's sake. There is a lot of give and take.
KONDRACKE: It was all about her.
BARNES: It was aimed at her. But, look, Hillary Clinton gets away with sounding hawkish compared to those other people just by saying on Iraq or on Iran, I wouldn't do nothing.
But I agree, I think she did fine on that part. But we already knew that. We already knew that she was the most hawkish and responsible on foreign policy and national security policy. This was on the other stuff.
Mort, there is a lot of territory between being nicked and being mortally wounded. And what happened to her was somewhere in between those two.
HUME: More than nicked but less than mortally wounded.
BARNES: About the record, here—she brags about her 35 years of experience, including those eight years at the White House, but then pretends like it's not up to me to decide whether the records of the advice I gave the president then, which would either back up or not her claim that that was really crucial experience, well, I don't know about getting them out. That's not my decision. It's the archives.
That was pretty pathetic.
KONDRACKE: That was evasive, but she doesn't want a document dump that everybody is going to be able to go through and prove what she said and what she didn't say.
HUME: I understand that. But is she eventually going to have to do that?
KONDRACKE: I hope so—in the interest of full disclosure, yes.
HUME: Does anybody think that she is not the frontrunner anymore, or that she is not still way ahead?
KRAUTHAMMER: I'm a doctor—flesh wound with no internal injuries.
HUME: All right. The last word from you, Charles.
When we return, the investigation of Blackwater USA, and the furor over a State Department immunity grant, supposedly, to security personnel in Iraq. Stay tuned.
HUME: The issue is Blackwater. And the irrepressible Chairman of the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee Congressman Henry Waxman, the investigator of California, is saying this in a letter to the Secretary of State.
"This rash grant of immunity was an egregious misjudgment. It raises serious questions about who conferred the immunity, who approved it at the State Department, and what their motives were."
And what grant of immunity is he talking about? He is talking about a grant of what is called "use immunity" to certain of the Blackwater USA personnel who were involved in that shooting incident last month in which 17 Iraqi civilians were killed.
There is a big investigation going on. The State Department conducted its own, and immunity was granted.
Now, is this all total immunity from prosecution? Who better to ask than Mort Kondracke?
KONDRACKE: This is called a "Garrity warning," and it refers to a 1967 Supreme Court case in which police officers and others public officials whoa re required to testify and give evidence or lose their jobs cannot have what they say be used against them.
HUME: Used against them, but it can be used against others, though.
KONDRACKE: But it can be used against others. So—
HUME: And they are not immune from prosecution, but they just cannot have their own words used against them.
KONDRACKE: right. That is the warning that was given in this case.
Now some FBI people, and Jennifer Griffin quoted one of them last night on our air, saying that this is going to make an FBI investigation more difficult, especially because, apparently, some of these guards are using the Garrity, this limited immunity as an excuse not to talk to the FBI, which I do not think is allowed, but, nonetheless, that is what they're doing.
The bottom line here, it seems to me, is that these are professionally trained people. And they ought to be able to do both things that they are required to do—protect Americans, including Congressman, in Iraq, and not kill civilians at the same time.
And the early evidence suggests that on September 16 there was not enemy activity—we do not know this for sure—but there was not enemy activity and they shot up a bunch of civilians.
KRAUTHAMMER: We do not know that there was no enemy activity.
One of three things happened. Either there was shooting, in which case the response of the guards was appropriate. There was not, but they imagined or thought or had the impression that they were under attack, in which case it is a tragic error, it requires discipline, but not locking them away.
And the third option is that these are psychopaths who are itching to kill civilians wantonly while running protection for Americans in convoys.
The way that Democrats have attacked these guards and this operations implies—I think it seems as if they are assuming that third option, and acting accordingly.
Look, this is a proxy way of attacking the U.S military. The Democrats learned 30 years ago that if you attack American soldiers in war the way that John Kerry did 30 years ago, you suffer politically for 30 years and more. And nobody does that in this war.
But these contractors, who are called "mercenaries," are fair game. And it is a way to actually do that.
I would call them honorable Americans earning a living in a way that is helping a war effort, and at high risk to themselves.
HUME: They are protecting the hindquarters of members of Congress who visit over there all the time, not one of whom has had a hair on his or her head harmed.
KRAUTHAMMER: That is absolutely right.
HUME: They have, however, lost some 30 of their own.
KRAUTHAMMER: I think 30 of their own have died.
BARNES: There are strikingly different versions of what happened on September 16, and I don't think they have been sorted out yet. Obviously, people in the Iraqi government believe what they heard from some citizens, which was that there was no provocation for this killing of the civilians.
Blackwater does a fantastic job. I have actually been protected by Blackwater when I was over there and going around with American officials there. They are very good, they are very professional. Most of their work is done by competitive bidding. They are not overpaid.
They often get killed. They have had casualties, and they do a job that it would take 15,000 troops to do.
Why is this an issue? Because the war is going well. Democrats do not want to talk about that, so they have made up a Blackwater scandal.
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